Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ankle-Blades and the Stone Sandal

Mile Marker 406:

When my good friend Marla called on Tuesday, I should've let my phantoms answer the phone.

“Rebecca’s not here right now,” they would have said, “but her Ankle-Blades are.  She’ll call you back tomorrow when she’s wearing her Stone Sandal.”

What??

I know you're thinking, This is it.  She's finally cracked!

My body disagrees.

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Marla and I have been friends for almost 30 years.  When she calls from Nashville, I love to talk.

But as we caught up on the latest news, my end of the conversation faltered.  I paced the kitchen impatiently, phone pressed to my ear.

As the minutes passed,  my focus fell apart.

Blame the Ankle-Blades.
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From what I've learned, I'm not ALONE.

Most amputees get phantom sensations.

Lightning bolts, burning, tingling, clenching, numbness.  Some are painful.  Some are not.  I've experienced many over the past year and a half.

But those are not my USUAL phantoms.

I call mine Ankle-Blades and the Stone Sandal.

How can I explain the sharpness of invisible razor blades stabbing my ankle from all sides?  Especially when I don’t even HAVE an ankle!

On my prosthesis, I can show you the exact spot.  Just above the foot, along the metal tube that connects to my Genium.

In my socket, Ankle-Blades magnify the suction.  They tug my leg downward, milking it like a cow.

Sometimes the pinch is a sharp, quick squirrel-bite.   Other times it's slow, and hot, and burning.

Like many amputees, I take medicine.  I use imagery and massage.  I open the windows and wear shorts like it's summer.

But Ankle-Blades aren’t just physical.   

They fill my head with static.  Not the kind that breaks into neat little cubes on your digital TV screen.  I'm talking about that old antenna static.  The kind made of gray snow and white noise.

On an Ankle-Blades day, concentration is scarce and comes only in short bursts.  As the day wears away, so does my tolerance and comfort.

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Phone conversations -- even with best friends -- are wrapped up as quickly as possible.
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But there is RELIEF.  A moment when the pain dulls and the fog clears.

I call it the Stone Sandal.

The Stone Sandal is Ankle-Blades’ alter ego.

It’s a sensation like wearing a flip-flop made of cement.  Or a tightly-laced hiking boot.  Or a clunky, rock-hard Mary Jane.


It’s heavy and secure.  Soothing and stable.

In the Stone Sandal, my leg (and invisible foot) feel quiet.  Held securely in place just where they need to be. 

On Stone Sandal days, I see the potential of my new life.  Places I want to visit.  Things I want to do.   My thoughts are clear, and I begin to feel like myself again.

With the Stone Sandal on, I could talk to Marla for hours.  I'm even tempted to buy an airline ticket to visit her!

I'd travel back in time to live with The Flintstones if it meant I could wear a Stone Sandal everyday.  (That is, if their cars didn’t run on foot power!)
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Phantom sensations are like nerve impulses from the PAST.

Some say they’re signals leftover from the injury; the nerves continue to send painful messages even though the moment of impact has long expired.  

Others say they're just overactive nerves that've been folded or cut during an amputation.

But why do they go on and on?

A physical therapist explained it to me this way:

When we burn our finger on a hot stove, our mind says, “Move away!”   Our hand moves, and it relieves the pain.

When I feel Ankle-Blades, my mind says to move away.  But I can’t.  My ankle no longer exists. 

So the nerves keep sending the message.  Over and over and over.

Heavy stuff, I know.

About as heavy as a Stone Sandal. 

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On the angriest Ankle-Blade days, I ice my leg with a bag of frozen peas.

“I know you remember that pain,” I tell it.

But if Ankle-Blades remember the injury, then the Stone Sandal remembers the cure.  

The stability of the splint.  The tightness of the tourniquet.  The RELIEF of rescue.
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In the weeks following my amputation, the doctors performed 8 additional surgeries on my leg.

Each time, the nerves inside got shuffled.   When I woke up, my leg felt different.  Sometimes it felt like my toes were squashed under my knee.  Sometimes my ankle felt twisted beneath my thigh.  Each sensation was uncomfortable in its own right.  Until the next surgery. 

Until the phantoms changed again.

Finally, mine have settled into a rhythm.  Ankle-Blades and the Stone Sandal.

Two sides of the same coin.  Every other day.  Almost like clockwork.

Now, at Mile Marker 406, I worry about LOSING them.

I'm not crazy about my phantoms, but at least they're familiar.

With surgery next Monday, I don’t know who’s coming to visit.

What if a meaner sensation moves in?  One that wakes me at night, or radiates electric jolts, or feels like my leg will explode.  I’ve heard some awful stories.

Or what if – THEY LEAVE?

It may sound strange, but I don't want my phantoms to disappear.  They’re MEMORIES after all.

They're all that's left of my leg.

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So, where does that leave my phone call with Marla?

We hung up, at last, when Ankle-Blades had me so agitated I could barely form a sentence. 

The rest of our chat will have to wait.

Till a Stone Sandal day.

I wonder... do they have phones in Bedrock?

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I will be thinking of you on Monday. Violet has been requesting that we say grace every night at dinnertime and you have become a regular in our prayers. They are so lucky to have you as a source of inspiration and an example of a woman with great strength and will.

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  2. I bet they have chocolate chip cookies and confusing showers in Bedrock!

    So sorry you are struggling, but anytime you need a distraction - even if you can't form a sentence, I can entertain with the lastest comings and goings on my end. And, anytime you are ready, we would love a visitor.

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  3. As always, beautifully written. I am honored that your are sharing your journey with us. Of course, it will be awesome to eradicate those ankle blades once and for all, but I also totally understand your apprehension about it as well. Those ankle blades are more than phantom pain--they are loaded with meaning and memories. No matter how painful or how much they interfere with your life, it makes complete sense to me that the thought of losing them altogether can be hard because of all of the memories they represent. My hope is that Monday's surgery will bring you more pain-free days--and that you will find comfort in the new memories you make as you continue to step forward.
    Thinking of you all the time....Big hug!

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  4. Thanks everybody! Your comments made me think of the host of the TLC show "Clean Sweep." He always tells people (as he's purging their house...), "It's not the item, it's the memory. And you still have the memory inside you."

    I guess I should think like that. Here's to more pain-free days! Sonté! L'Chaim! Amen!

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