Monday, June 24, 2013

Amputation Complaints and a DC Burger Taste-Off

The Art of One-Legged Balancing

I'm finding out this below-knee amputation thing isn't easy.  And while I've tried to be humorous about my amputated circumstances, I'd like to highlight some of the unexpected, but perhaps obvious and definitely frustrating changes to my new life with one leg.  These are things that can wear you down, physically and emotionally.  But, as with everything in life, only if you allow it.

Even with crutches, I'm surprised at how frequently I balance on my left leg when standing up  usually right after I get up from a sitting position.  Once my leg powers me through the tough transition of sitting to standing, my core, leg and foot push, shift, and adjust continuously to keep me upright.  I find myself ballet dancing in front of the bathroom sink to wash my hands and brush my teeth. 

Getting dressed is also quite challenging.  I try to do some of it sitting down, but that's not always possible if I want to keep my highly touted gluteus maximus clothed.  All of the bending, leaning, and hand time away from crutches to do things like button pants or fasten a belt requires coordination and strength from my left leg and core.  I can't imagine how much worse I'd feel if I hadn't worked out for five months before the surgery.

A New Center of Gravity

For thirty-one years my center of gravity was slightly below my belly button, as it is with just about everyone.  Now it's probably somewhere closer to my left leg.  The good news is balancing on one leg is likely easier for me than it is for you.  But my quadriceps and hamstring are constantly sore and barking every time I stand up.  And this is my first complaint.  

Complaint #1: I'm sore.  Really sore.

One of the big risks to new below-knee amputees is knee and hip contracture.  Muscle contractures are common when muscle atrophy makes it difficult to keep your leg straightened.  As the muscles that keep your leg straight shrink, so do the tendons.  Eventually straightening the leg out again becomes nearly impossible without surgical intervention.  This would be devastating to a new amputee trying to walk on a prosthesis with a permanently bent knee.  It just wouldn't work.  

The Evil Knee Brace

So I wear a knee brace.  I always wear a knee brace.  It's grip around what's left of my right leg never lets go.  I woke up from surgery with the brace.  I sleep with it.  I sit with it.  I shower with it.  I crutch around with it.  I only take it off to do physical therapy or let the leg air out for a moment.

I hate the knee brace.  I've started waking up at night from the restlessness in my straightened right leg.  My response has been to tear off the brace immediately in a sleepy stupor, only to bring my residual limb up towards my body to relieve the tension from forced straightening.  Then I realize I'm totally contracting my limb.  Back goes on the knee brace.  Back comes restless sleep.  And this slides in as my second complaint.

Complaint #2: Knee braces are one of the worst things ever made.

Fentanyl and Bupivacaine Epidural Helped Treat Nerve Pain

In the last few days I've started experiencing nerve pain in my residual limb.  This is expected.  I just had several major nerves dissected.  I'm not sure at this point if this is phantom limb pain, but it could be a precursor or light version of it.  I don't feel any burning or crushing sensations in my phantom toes or the bottom of my phantom foot.  In fact I'm having a hard time determining whether I've got phantom sensation.

The nerve pain hits me only occasionally.  When it does I get a shocking sensation in my stump that jolts me from whatever it is I'm currently doing.  I'm taking 300mg Gabapentin (Neurontin) every 8 hours to treat neuropathic pain.  Fortunately it's not jarring or long lasting.  It's just annoying.  But it's enough to be my third complaint.

Complaint #3: Nerve pain is stupid.

Let me first start out by saying this is challenging to discuss, so of course I left it for the end of this post when most people have already stopped reading.  While I was preparing for my amputation, I knew I'd experience some emotional discomfort along with the physical pain.  But I wasn't prepared for the overwhelming sense of vulnerability and anxiety.  I was surprisingly anxious when I went to the gym yesterday and today.  I felt like all eyes were on me.  And there really wasn't even anyone else in the gym.  Maybe three people.  Normally I do not have this kind of problem.  So those feelings were a big surprise to me.  I think it suggests that I'm still going through a process to get used to the new me.  I'm still not quite comfortable.

It's also not unusual for me to have anxiety over, well, just about anything.  I'm a perfectionist.  Anxiety is a useful tool to make things perfect.  Unfortunately, healing anxiety gets annoying.  For instance, if I hit my limb on a crutch handle, I'll worry that I've harmed the healing process in the bone.  If I do too many quadriceps exercises, I'll worry it will put too much stress on the limb and, again, delay my healing schedule.  

Anxiety blows.  Feeling vulnerable blows.  This is my final complaint for the blog.

Complaint #4: Feelings are dumb.

I wanted to finish the post with something awesome Brooke, Scott, and Christy did yesterday.  They embarked on a quick road trip to purchase four plain cheese burgers from four local Washington, DC establishments and held a good ol' fashioned taste-off.

The locations:
  • Ray's to the Third
  • Five Guys
  • Shake Shack
  • Good Stuff

I got the opportunity to document the taste-off on camera as it unfolded.

Here are the four delicious hamburgers.

Scott fell in love with Ray's.

Brooke prefered Shake Shack over Five Guys. 

Christy took notes during the test. 

This is what the end of a burger taste test looks like. 

Spunky anxiously awaits dropped morsels.

The results were close but not unanimous.

  1. Ray's
  2. Shake Shack
  3. Five Guys
  4. Good Stuff
  1. Ray's
  2. Five Guys
  3. Shake Shack
  4. Good Stuff


  1. After all you've been through to get where you are, I'd be surprised if you weren't anxious! I would guess it'd be something very hard to turn off unless distracted.

    Sorry you're in so much pain!

    1. I guess you're right, the anxiety should be expected. But don't worry, I'm really not in much pain. Just annoying and occasional nerve stuff. Likely phantom pain.

  2. Ah. I really hope it isn't phantom pain, but if it is I am sure you will kick its ass.

    Well, if you ever need more Gabapentin, I have a GIGANTIC bottle a friend gave me. WHICH I AM SURE IS TOTALLY LEGAL TO SAY ON THE INTERNET. :)

    I deal with a lot of restless leg stuff too, but since it's not because of a knee brace I don't know if I'd be of any help. I just take Suboxone (I was a heroin addict for a month, now I take medication for it for a year! what.) and Klonopin.

    Anyways you have a really nice living room set-up! It's like straight out of an IKEA catalog.

    I have a weird question. Do you ever get really high and stare at the owl tissue box? Just because it's right next to some pill bottles. But omg! Owls don't poop. So it's kind of cruel on your note to look at them when they don't have to worry about opiod constipation :(

    I'm so weird sorry

  3. Sorry, that was such a rude question.

  4. Dude, you just made a pregnant woman crave burgers at 8:39 in the morning. And I live in a country where there are exactly ZERO good burger joints. Thanks a lot. Ass. :)

    Seriously though, I'm sorry that you're having pain and anxiety. But your anxiety-fueled perfectionism is going to help you dominate the healing and prosthesis process. (I just used the word dominate in a sentence. Apparently if I read a lot of Tony, I start talking like Tony.)

    In closing, if I saw you at the gym I would think you were totally awesome. Complete and utter admiration for the brave, strong, tough-as-nails guy with one leg. But who am I kidding. I never go to the gym.

  5. I agree with the above. .. you'll dominate and I'd also think you were awesome if I saw you at the gym. ♥

    As for the fan knee brace. I hear ya. After two of my knee surgeries in i had a brace just like that, from hip to ankle, for a month after surgery, both times it sucked. You'd think I would've been used to it the 2nd time. Hell no. Sleeping in them is a beast. It helped me to elevate on some pillows, so I'd sleep with my legs like a scissor almost with the braced leg on top. It was the only comfortable position. I hope it gets better for you.

    You're doing amazing things Tony. Life is going to get better and better. *hugs* my friend.