Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Two Months of Learning the Amputee Lifestyle

Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson knows what it's like to go zero to 60 in a heartbeat.

Tomorrow marks two months since I amputated my leg.  I've tasted what it's like to have a normal ankle.  It's awesome.  My famous and distinguished pre-accident Tony stride has already made an epic comeback.  
While I'd love to dust off the old cliche and say never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be this far along at this point in time, I can't do it.

I expected to be here.

It was this stupid confidence that kept me perfectly calm, dude, just hours before my leg was amputated.  It's what will put me back on my snowboard this upcoming season.

It's also these high expectations that make going from 60 mph to zero so challenging.  I've been told by other amputees to expect a roller coaster ride for the next few months.  I live in DC.  I live and breath stop-and-go traffic.  But I had no idea how abruptly I'd come to a complete stop after dominating walking for three weeks.

I mentioned signs of a problem in last week's post.  I was losing suction as I walked.  This indicated my leg was continuing to shrink after the final socket was created.  I was unable to maintain a seal around my residual limb because my leg was smaller than my socket and liner.

My prosthetists have a tough job balancing this issue with keeping me active.  If you want to plan for a shrinking limb, you stick with a test socket.  But test sockets are fragile and can break, so you have to limit your activity.  If you're an active patient like me, this can be difficult medicine to take.  If you're in a carbon fiber socket, you can safely and dramatically increase your activity.  I was working out every morning in my final socket.  I was quickly up to 100 lbs squats.  It was great.

But I continued to shrink.  Over three days we tried to plug the holes and keep me in the socket, but on Friday we realized it wasn't going to happen.  I was wearing 12-ply socks to stay comfortable in my socket.  We planned on meeting Monday to create a new mold of my leg to start the process over again.

In the meantime, we had an awesome wedding to attend in Philadelphia in my now gigantic socket.  I was given explicit instructions not to walk all over the city.

I only walked one mile in the city, but it was enough to open up a superficial wound on top of my incision over the distal end of my tibia.  Because my leg shrank, it was banging around the socket during the swing phase of my gate.  Every step I took hammered this thin section of skin.

I also ran into an interesting swelling problem with my calf muscle.  Because I was no longer using the entire residual limb to bear weight due to the shrinkage, my calf muscle picked up the slack.  After walking for a mile, my calf muscle got very swollen.  I tried to balance out the weight distribution by shoving in cut-off socks around the distal end of my residual limb, but that ended up acting like a tourniquet and helped my calf muscle swell up.  It also made the distal end of my limb go numb.

These are all things that scream, "stop!"

So I was forced to attend the wedding without my leg.  It was heartbreaking.  My friends Lauren and Phil have been so supportive over the years.  Lauren is working on her doctorate in physical therapy with a specialization in amputees.

I desperately wanted to show up wearing my leg.  But Brooke and I decided that would be a bad idea.

The next morning, my leg felt better, so I was able to attend the morning after brunch without crutches in my sweet new leg.  Lauren immediately told me how happy she was to see me walking.  That was my single goal for the trip.

Yesterday morning I had a follow-up visit with Dr. Attinger.  He claims that the pictures from the surgery will be sent to me this week.  I plan on emailing him every night until we get them.  The x-rays of the leg look great.  You can make out the early stages of a bone bridge forming between the tibia and fibula.

Dr. Attinger commented on the wound and asked that I not overdo it.  I requested more specific instructions on exactly what he meant by not overdoing it.

After my appointment with Dr. Attinger, Brooke and I dropped by 6 Main to visit with a new below-knee amputee.  Walter had his surgery on Friday as a result of an infection from an ankle injury in May.  Walter had an awesome attitude.  He couldn't wait to get into his new leg and get started on the new chapter in his life.  We told him to keep that positive outlook.  It's exactly what will lift him and his family through this ordeal.

Tricia presenting me with my certificate of kicking ass at being a patient.

We ran into a bunch of our nurses while we were on the floor, including Allison, Lindsey, and Tricia.  It was a nice impromptu reunion, getting the band back together like that.  We all agreed it would be better to meet over beers than in the hospital again.

Later yesterday afternoon I had another cast of my leg made.  Today I picked up my third test socket.  It feels so much better to have a socket that fits.  I go back in Thursday to make more tweaks and possibly have another cast made.  We're also going to try an even smaller liner.  I'm currently at 28cm.  The game plan will be to go through a couple of test sockets before casting another carbon fiber socket the last week of August.

The last eight weeks have been a rush.  And while I've had setbacks, I couldn't be more pleased with my progress.

1 comment:

  1. Easy, killer! We want you to be active and sport your sweet leg and generally kick butt, but we also want you to be pain-free and happy! I'm sure it's a tough balancing act (pun intended), but you've been up to every challenge thus far. We love you, you crazy overachiever, you!