Sunday, March 17, 2013

Why Am I Choosing Amputation?

In three operations over six months, orthopedic surgeons reconstructed my ankle with staples, stitches, screws, metal plates, a skin transplant, a bone transplant, and external fixators.  Each surgery was painful.  Each recovery was exhausting.  Each setback -- and man, were there some setbacks -- took a toll.  I've had more holes drilled in my leg than a Victorian home renovation project on This Old House.

But, hey, at least the orthopods saved my leg.

It's the protocol.  Save the leg and buy options.  Amputate and lose them.

Ankle distraction arthroplasty was the most recent option we've endured.  It came with two more surgeries, a third external fixator, and more pain.  The risk was low.  It didn't eliminate any other option in the ankle arthritis treatment protocol.  The reward was potentially high.  Pain relief.

Unfortunately, in the twelve months following the procedure, the pain increased and reached new heights.  More setbacks.

I lost my leg the moment I snowboarded into that tree three years ago.  When I tell people about my choice to amputate my right leg six inches below the knee, I'm greeted with concern, doubt, fear.  Remorse.  Why are you doing it?  Have you run out of options?

I'm making a choice between 1) keeping my leg at the expense of a lifetime of more surgeries or 2) regaining my quality of life at the expense of losing a leg.  I don't get to pick both.  This New York Times article from last year does a good job explaining my rationale.

It's an easy decision on paper, but it was still emotionally challenging to ask Dr. Jeng, "can we amputate this leg?"  It was a surreal moment when I heard those words leave my mouth in a hospital in front of a surgeon that can actually do what I'm asking.

I'm excited about what I'll gain with an amputation.  I want to go on walks with my wife, run around with junior, reign over the basketball court, and strap back into my snowboard.

I face some hurdles between now and Cutting Day.  I'm sure I'll have to justify my decision to friends, family, medical professionals, and even myself, for the rest of my life.  We'll all have doubts.  But I'm done with living in fear of pain and doubt.  We're getting my life back, and I can't wait!

When I asked Dr. Jeng for the amputation, he asked Brooke if she was on board with my decision.  She told him she was in favor of an amputation.  Dr. Jeng was shocked.  He told us he'd never seen a spouse so supportive of an elective amputation.

This is why Brooke dominates.  I love that woman.  I wouldn't be able to endure any of this without her -- especially the constipation.


  1. So proud of your strength! I know it's began a long road, & you are so tired of hurting. I completely understand your decision and Brooke's support. ..I wouldn't want my hubs in pain either. She's a wonderful woman. ♥

  2. Tony -

    Just noticed that you have been updating your blog again... I have to admit, I was a bit shocked about your decision - but you know what? You don't have to justify it to anyone except yourself. Only you know the pain you have endured these past 3 years, not only from the injury, but from the surgeries and recoveries and everything else. You say you are "excited about what you will gain with the amputation" - what a fantastic way of looking at what lies ahead for you! Good for you! Time to get on with quality of life! And Brooke does sound amazing!


  3. Hey....for some reason I never read this post (till now...not sure why). I totally get it (and am in the same place....needing to justify to folks who are aghast at the "choice.") Nonetheless, I maintain that the thing is not fixable.

    You haven't updated your blog in a while....I'm assuming it is because you've gotten your life back! :) The snow will be flying before you know it.

    You will be on the slopes, I hope.....and I'll be where you were back in June.

  4. I thoroughly appreciate your documenting this journey. My ankle is ridden with PVNS. I have never had a fracture that I am aware of. I have had 3 months of distraction followed by month after month of swelling and constant pain. Right now I am considering a fusion, but it's inspiring to know that life can get exponentially better after amputation. It gives me hope for the future even in an end stage scenario.