Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Low Points: the Wheelchair Incident

Waiting for my leg, I hit several low points. These coloured my experience just as much as the high points, so I've decided to record a few of them here to serve as a reminder of how far I've come.

After the final decision was made, I started doing chin-ups in the hospital bed using the old traction rack that my leg used to be tied up to. I managed to get outside into the sun for the first time in 8 weeks the day before my last surgery and within two days after it. I was feeling healthier already. Things were never going to be as bad as they'd gotten again so every day was a good day.

I hit a bit of a low point several weeks later on December 18th. I was a month out of the hospital and finally getting to go in for my assessment at the amputee clinic. This was the day they would check over my stump and tell me if I would be selected for a prosthesis or not. Up to that point, I didn't know there was any risk that I might not get one. This was a frightening day for me but I wasn't overly worried.

I was taking every precaution and being safe so I took the wheelchair that day instead of the crutches. I rolled myself out of the parking lot near the hospital and down a little sidewalk ramp at a crosswalk to cross the road. When the chair hit the road at the bottom of the ramp, it bottomed out on my foot peg, throwing me face first onto the pavement in front of a car with tremendous sling-shot action.

I landed HARD on my stump. Yep, my freshly amputated limb broke my fall.

Imagine kicking your big toe, barefoot, into a brick wall as hard as you can and you're only part of the way to landing on a freshly amputated leg with all your weight on pavement.

To add insult to my injury, the wheelchair folded up and toppled over behind me, leaving me with nothing to pull myself up off the ground with. It was flat as a pancake. The car driver didn't move, he just waited patiently for me to come back out of my fog of extreme excruciating pain into consciousness, push myself up off the pavement with sore arms and stand up on my one good leg.

Several people passed in cars or on foot a few meters away but none stopped to help. I got up on my own, then had to hop over, bend down (one leg, not easy), pick up my useless wheelchair, unfold it and set it back up for sitting in. I was bleeding and very sore but my pride was really bruised.

I sat back into the chair, utterly demoralized. The very thing that was supposed to keep me from hurting myself (the chair) had just hurt me, badly, 20 minutes before I was to be inspected for suitability of a prosthetic and not a single person stopped to help me up.

I limped my chair across the intersection only to find that I had to climb a very steep hill on the other side. The thought of climbing that with bleeding hands was all starting to be too much. I was feeling defeated in that moment. It didn't last long.

I have no idea where this next one came from, but I started singing "Eye of the Tiger" in my head right then. Wow, I'm so freakin' lame. What's up with that? Have I ever even *seen* the Rocky movies? I need to update my iPod.

Either way, it sparked something inside. Feeling very battered but with renewed strength, I started climbing the hill with a little fire. My pain turned into anger and anger into adrenaline. I was moving at a huge pace. I felt strong again.

The hill to the clinic gets much steeper than the hill to the main entrance. If you take the road, like I did, you find out quickly that it's not meant for wheelchairs. The angle eventually became too steep. I was far too stubborn to go back for the main entrance.

With each push, the chair made about a centimeter worth of progress until it couldn't go any further. Pushing hard on the wheel rims just resulted in a wheelie instead of forward motion.

On top of everything, I didn't want to fall backwards and crack my head open on the pavement. To keep from losing control all together, I had to put both brakes on fully and stop dead in my tracks. Another moment of "what's next" self-sorrow swept over me. That didn't last either.

I was only half way up and I had ten minutes left to get inside. The chair was heavy and trying to hurt me, again. No help there. What would MacGyver do? Eye of the Tiger!

I stood up, went behind the chair, leaned over it putting my hands on the arm rests to center my weight and I started to push it the way one would push a grocery cart if they were riding it. I got some momentum up and pushed the chair the rest of the way up the hill, on one leg. So much for safely sitting in that one.

It was pretty fun, I think I even started smiling when I got the speed up enough. I was up the hill in no time flat. I even passed a car on the way!

When I got inside, I was taken in to meet the team right away. Ironically, they complemented me for using the "safety of the chair" instead of "risking the crutches". Up to that point, I'd never had a single fall on the crutches.

That was a very rough December day but I learned a lot about having some grit and soldiering on in spite of myself.

What I took from that experience:

1) You won't get help unless you ask for it so don't complain if you didn't. People are often afraid of offending you by offering it up. People LOVE to help, they just need to know it's alright to give it.

2) Problem solve: take advantage of the disadvantage. Make it work for you, not against you.

3) Listen to old 80's fight-movie soundtracks. Knowing the words might save your life one day! Or at least, your schedule?

Lucky for me, I had someone back at home to kiss my bruises and listen to me belly-ache about how rough I had it. Poor girl, she's the real champ in all this.

It's easy to be the one who's injured/sick/etc and much harder to be the care giver. I'm very lucky to have Lisa.


  1. You are lucky, Michael. Not only to have Lisa to be there for you, and with you, but lucky to have determination and the attitude that allows you to overcome the challenges, to laugh, and to move forward one step at a time.

    Months ago I went over backwards in my wheelchair taking a running (rolling) run at the small ramp at my front door. No one told me that I needed to back up it instead of approaching it forward. I went over in slow motion, so I did not hurt myself and was able to “roll” onto my side to get up. I can laugh about it now.

  2. Thaaaaanks, so nice to have "Eye of the Tiger" in my head. :)

  3. Just found your blog. I'm am amputee, have been for fourteen years. I've always been pretty sedentary and I think, deep down, I used the leg as an excuse for it. Finally getting over that! Great blog, hoping to keep reading and being inspired!