The original event which led me to the rehab hospital occurred over 40 years ago. I fell off my bike at the age of 8 and fractured my left ankle. Although it was not a bad break it did damage the growth plate. Five years later, my left leg was 2 ½ inches shorter than my right. After 2 surgeries on my left leg to add some length and 2 surgeries on my right to prevent any further growth, I started high school in a wheel chair with a long cast on each leg. Following that experience I became an extremely active person, my life revolving around hiking and biking.
The next event happened in 1999 while driving my car. While attempting to stop at a busy intersection, my left ankle froze up and I was unable to push the clutch in. Exploratory laparoscopic surgery indicated severe osteoarthritis. In 2000 I got a total ankle replacement.
In 2002 I began having bad pain despite perfect x-rays. In 2004 the joint replacement was removed and an ankle fusion was performed using a bone from my hip. The ankle bone beneath the hardware was necrotic (dead) from insufficient blood supply. The fusion was not successful. The next 3 years brought 3 more fusions, each being unsuccessful. After seven years of severe chronic pain and immobility, I decided to amputate.
Well, obviously, I chose NCH rehab because I had worked on that unit for several years as a Registered Nurse. The greatest thing about the rehabilitation hospital is being in such a supportive encouraging, positive and caring environment. The therapists know just how hard to push you and when you need to take a break. The entire staff was perceptive to your emotional, as well as physical needs. The case managers make sure that care continues after you go home. I was surprised at how tiring the program was. The three hours of therapy is divided up throughout the day and it is suggested that patients lie down and rest between sessions.
I had no doubt going into surgery that I was going to get my life back. My most important goal was to be pain free, or at least to have tolerable pain. I know that life as an amputee would be far less painful than what I was living with. My next goal was to be active and especially to return to my job. My goals were met and exceeded. I was off crutches 6 weeks after surgery, walking 2 miles three month as later and back to 12 hour nursing shifts in one year.
My amputation does have an effect on my everyday activities; showering, with one leg, finding comfortable shoes, keeping my weight consistent so my prosthesis with fit properly are a few these inconveniences. However they are a small price to pay having my mobility back.
Being a patient on the rehab unit made me a better nurse and also reinforced the importance of having a support system during tough times. I still do some of the exercises which the therapists taught me because to be successful as an amputee, certain muscles must continue to stay strong.
My biggest accomplishment was jogging again. An organization called CAP, Challenged Athlete Foundation, provided me with a jogging prosthetic. I can run further than I ever ran with my own two legs.