Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Revolution Will Be Prosthetized (IEEE Spectrum)

This is seriously cool! Imagine having a prosthetic arm and still being able to feel sensations through it like heat or textures. It's one of those cases where the truth is stranger than the fiction, and the truth absolutely blows my mind.

I saw this article in the IEEE Spectrum hard-copy and thought I was going to have to re-write it here word for word until a quick google search found the exact same article online.

"The Revolution Will Be Prosthetized: DARPA's prosthetic arm gives amputees new hope"

A few teaser excerpts:
"...research is part of a nationwide effort to create a neurally controlled prosthetic arm. That arm has been the focus of much media attention, but that focus obscures the truly groundbreaking research typical of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 (RP2009) program.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is pouring at least US $71.2 million into the program in the hope that it will let amputees do what most people take for granted: make gestures, test the water in a teacup, turn a key, even peel the shell off an egg. Words like bionic and thought-controlled have been thrown at the project, but they don’t do justice to the sheer ordinariness of its purpose. DARPA isn’t looking for a superstrong “Six Million Dollar Man” arm; it just wants an arm that moves exactly like a real one does."

Canadian connection:
"In October, a Canadian hospital announced that it had used part of the control mechanism of the DARPA arm to steer regular, nonrevolutionized prosthetic arms in two patients. Simply borrowing that one technology has made huge improvements in commercially available prosthetic devices."

Read the whole article here:
"DARPA’s device is the world’s first truly neurally controlled prosthetic arm."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Tallisman

Around Christmas time, I received an amazing gift in the mail that I'll always treasure. It's a little piece of home. It's a Canadian icon. It's got a funny name. It's a Canadian Loonie!

The letter that accompanied this coin not only gave me strength, it solidified my resolve to get back to life and to live to the full extent of what "living" really means.

That's because this isn't just any Loonie. It came from an excellent friend. It's been used to inspire determination in someone whom I respect very much at a time he needed it most. It bears the image of his hero: Terry Fox.

Terry Fox is a Canadian icon whose Marathon of Hope has raised over $400 million for cancer research. Terry lost his leg to cancer at the age of 18 but vowed to collect $1 from every Canadian for cancer research by running across Canada. He intended to run 42km each day, the length of a full marathon, until he reached his goal.

From the foundation website:
Terry trained for 15 months, running 3,159 miles, running until his stump was raw and bleeding, running every day for 101 days, until he could run 23 miles a day. He took one day off at Christmas, only because his mother asked him.

Once, just before Christmas, when he had run only a half mile, the bottom half of his artificial leg snapped in two pieces, and Terry crashed to the pavement. He picked up the two parts, tucked them under his arm, stuck out his thumb and hitch-hiked home. There, he clamped the two parts together and ran another five miles.

After 18 months and running over 5,000 kilometres (3,107 miles) to prepare, Terry started his run in St. John’s, Newfoundland on April 12, 1980 with little fanfare. Although it was difficult to garner attention in the beginning, enthusiasm soon grew, and the money collected along his route began to mount. He ran 42 kilometres (26 miles) a day through Canada's Atlantic provinces, Quebec and Ontario.

However, on September 1st, after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres (3,339 miles), Terry was forced to stop running outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario because cancer had appeared in his lungs. An entire nation was stunned and saddened. Terry passed away on June 28, 1981 at age 22.

The Terry Fox run is now run worldwide. In 2004, even Kabul, Afganistan had its first Terry Fox run. First run in Australia: September 1988 in Brisbane (legacy from Expo '88) raising $ 22,000 (AUD).

The following is an excerpt from Terry's letter requesting support for his run called "The Marathon of Hope":

"The night before my amputation, my former basketball coach brought me a magazine with an article on an amputee who ran in the New York Marathon. It was then I decided to meet this new challenge head on and not only overcome my disability, but conquer it in such a way that I could never look back and say it disabled me."

That's the choice we all face when we come up against a challenge that seems insurmountable: we can lay down and give up or we can stand up, dust ourselves off and play the hand we've been dealt to the best of our abilities. Sometimes that's going to take a little extra problem solving and some extra determination but we all have the ability within us to achieve.

I won't forget Terry's legacy and I'll keep this little reminder with me for the days those challenges seem overwhelming. On those days, I'm going to look at my Loonie, man-up and remember to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

"I am not a dreamer... but I believe in miracles. I have to." Terry Fox, October 1979

Monday, January 26, 2009

Indoor Climbing

We gathered up the old crew (minus one Smiffy) and went indoor climbing this past weekend. I wanted to work out some techniques in the safety of the gym before we try it outdoors.

I've been visualizing this for a few weeks now, trying to get my head around how to do it with one leg. The body mechanics of climbing are about using slow/strong/finesse movements, not jerky/hopping ones. Lucky for me, my technique was never all that great to begin with so starting over wasn't going to be a huge change!

Also handy was the fact that I signed the waivers and got my membership before the accident. When we came in to pay, the guy behind the counter took a long look and said "Guess you won't be climbing then huh", to which I cheerily replied, "you're damn right I am".

Matt and I devised a way to protect the end of my stump using some packing foam with cut-outs to give the bone tip some breathing space. The MacGraham Boney Knub Protector 6000 is patent pending. A bit of high density foam and some tubi-grip is all we needed.

The climbing went really well. I did seven climbs and didn't fall once all night. The climbs were some of the easiest ones in the gym but it felt good to be back in action, even if it was indoor. I had a few stares but assumed it was probably due to my amazing physique and dashing good looks!

I started out using far too much hopping and not enough strength. It didn't take long to get tired enough to start thinking about technique again. So here's what I learned...

A quick "how-to" on climbing with one leg:

- Keep your arms stretched above you at full reach. You can hang from outstretched arms all day. You're a hairless ape, get used to it -- that's why we have lats.

- Look for foot holds much more side-to-side than higher up. Don't do the giant hop to the next hold "up" as the motion may tear your hands free. Use a controlled "swing" to get the next one to the side, slightly higher than the one you're on.

- Turn your knee and foot inside to use the outer edge of the foot on the holds. This centers your weight and allows your knee some freedom to bend without putting you off balance.

- As your leg gets higher, keep the arms stretched out rather than bending the elbows. Allow your body to "tent" out from the wall a bit until you can straighten the leg and stand up high enough to reach the next set of hands.

- Abseiling down takes a lot more balance. Find your center and move the leg back and forth to keep you from barn-dooring.

- Remember, you're indoors, this isn't real climbing and your life isn't on the line: protect the stump at all costs.

This might sound strange, but I really want to enjoy this period of time between getting my new leg and losing my old one. It's a huge challenge and it comes with a lot of problem solving. I've been enjoying it in a perverse sort of way. Exploring the phantom sensation and discovering that the brain has more to do with pain than the body does has been fascinating!

UPDATE: Here's the video of my third climb. I was still trying to work out a technique so don't pay too much attention to form. I stayed on the blues to make it more challenging (harder than yellows) but I did far more (too many) big hops than I needed to. This burns out the leg and makes it difficult to go the distance.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hiking on Crutches

We went for our first hike since the operation this week. Hiking on crutches or "bushwalking" as it's known here really is as difficult as it sounds and far more of an extreme sport than hiking is meant to be!

It was great to be out in the woods again doing what we love. I had to be a LOT more careful about what was on the trail, including vines, slippery patches of leaves, the edge of the trail drop-off, tree roots and small lizards. All in all, the trails are well maintained here so we had a nice little walk to a lookout and back again.

We had a great time checking out the scenery and going for coffee afterwards but I wouldn't recommend this to anyone else who can only count to fifteen if you're still on crutches.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

My Maton

I received a delivery of a book and letter last weekend, and wow, I was absolutely blown away! My friends and coworkers back in Victoria, BC, Canada pulled together something really special here!

The book is awesome! It was just what I needed and really cool. It's filled with photos of us from Victoria along with letters from my coworkers and friends back home all bound together in a coffee table book. On the back cover there's a great quote by Plutarch: "The measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune".

The letters offered encouragement and really made my month. That book will stay with me and I’ll read it anytime I struggle or start to get frustrated. I had been saying to Lisa that I wanted to put together a binder with all the emails I received so I could pull it out when I needed it. These people beat me to it!

I hadn’t even noticed the letter in the box until Lisa got home as it was stuck to the packaging. We were both absolutely floored. They'd collected together enough cash to buy me a new guitar since I'd be spending some more time at home!

I took the advice in the letter and tried out a Maton on Saturday. It was heads and tails above anything I’ve ever played/owned. I really liked it. These guitars compete with some of the best made top end instruments on the market.

Maton handcrafts every guitar from Queensland Walnut and Queensland Maple. Both are excellent woods that give the guitar a really gorgeous and rich sound. This is a serious guitar, sort of one of those “once in a lifetime” purchases. Maton’s quality control practices are second to none. These guitars are made in Australia with Australian (Queensland) components and woods so it’s going to be a great souvenir of living here!

On Sunday, we called around asking every shop in town if they carried Matons. Most do as they’re Australian made, but few had any in stock. We finally found one shop that had 4 models in stock to choose from, including the one I’d already researched and picked out from looking online. We went straight away.

I was able to try them all out hand pick the right one. We got a GREAT deal on the guitar -- the "leg tap" powers and the fact that it was a gift really made them go the extra mile. I managed to get myself a brand new Maton 325 series, fresh from the factory, never been played, still in the box. It’s gorgeous. I also managed to get a leather strap (Maton custom), a stand and a Maton custom case for it. All in all, a 100% Maton package.

This really meant a lot to me knowing what kind of effort went in, so I really thank you all! What an amazing set of people you all are, thank you so much for your thoughts and the amazing gifts!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My payback

During my time in the hospital, a common theme was people wanting to help me in any way they could. I wanted to let them help but I didn't know how. Afterall, you don't need much when you're in the hospital. As you can see from my last post, they found ways to help me anyways.

The constant offers got me thinking: what could I use this army of volunteers for? Was it time to unleash my plans for global domination? Nope... probably need more people for that. Not enough people to create a nice sized cult either... at least, not one that would pay very well. I could start my own religion but... too hard to pick a deity and "follow me as your god" just sounds arrogant...

I wrestled with this one for a while until one day it came to me. I was receiving (at least) my 13th unit of blood (not counting the blood I would have received during any of the 11 surgeries or on that first night). The following is the email a friend of mine sent out the next morning:

As you know, Michael MacKenzie was involved in a serious accident. In response to the question “What can we do to help?” he’s asked that people consider donating blood to replenish some of the stock he's used. Someone’s donation has saved his life.

Rachel from the Red Cross has offered to do a free pickup of anyone who’s interested in donating blood.
I’m suggesting that we go and give blood on: Friday 14th November, 10am pickup. Please let me know if you are coming so I can let Rachel know how many people to expect.

Thanks to his efforts, 11 people went in to donate that day! They sent me this picture (not all stayed for the photo) afterward. You can click on the photo to see a larger version. Notice the flash arm bandages!

People still tell me that if there's anything I ever need, just ring. If you're one of those people, maybe you could donate blood in your community to help me pay back some of the karma I owe. I won't be eligible to give for some time so until then, I have to rely on my friends and family for my payback.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My friends, my family

I have some amazing friends and family. I really do. I've only been overseas for a year but what a difference they've made in my life, near or abroad. So, at the risk of being sappy, I wanted to share a bit more of how they affected my life in the hospital.

Lisa was my rock. I can't imagine how she must have felt the night of the accident, receiving a phone call at work around 9pm saying that I had been brought in by ambulance and was heading in for surgery. She left the lab for the hospital and waited until 3am having no idea what to expect when I got out. Hers was the first face I saw.

I had the easy part being the patient with all the attention, the sleep, the painkillers, the surgeries, the sponge baths, the prepared meals, etc. She had it rough. What happened to me happened to her, day in day out, only she had to go home to a very empty house, bills, dishes, a job, reality. She handled every bit of it with grace. She was incredible.

Mostly what I'll remember from our time there was the fun we had. She always managed to keep me entertained! She baked for me, brought in contraband chocolate, bought me Subway and Nando's when the food got repetitive and managed to find a way to fit two of us in a tiny hospital bed to watch a DVD while I was still tied up in traction. We went for wheelchair whizzes, snuck off hospital grounds together for haircuts (try explaining that one), played two-headed patient (photo) and clowned around with anything we could get our hands on. I'd have lost my mind without her!

My Dad, Mom, sister and other members of my family spent hours upon hours talking with me by phone or in person during that period, 24/7, all hours of the day, sorting me out. I took them each down a dark scary path and none of them backed down. They were invincible. No one flinched. Each one of them is a superhero.

There were countless amazing emails of support from friends and family, both near and abroad. At one point, I told my Dad that I felt really lucky for getting to hear so many nice encouraging things about myself from everyone without having to attend my own funeral!

I also had a constant stream of good people coming to visit me. There was even a local attempt to organize a bit of a schedule for visitors so I wouldn't be overwhelmed on any given day. As you can probably tell, one of my good friends here is a project manager!

A few rallied together and bought me a chess board, then came around to have afternoon games with me. Others sent in DVDs or kept me stocked well with chocolate and amazing baked goods to help keep the weight on as I wasted away in bed.

Two people in particular made life a whole lot better/easier for us here. One bought an early Christmas present for his kids, a dual-screen DVD player, and gave it to us to use for as long as we wanted to cut the drudgery of the day. He and his sister (my friend the project manager) kept us extremely well stocked with DVDs for the whole stay. Together they took care of everything outside the hospital that Lisa and I couldn't get to.

On leaving the hospital, a friend of mine from overseas got us a gift certificate for pre-packaged gourmet meals to make the transition back to home and back to worklife that much easier. This wasn't an easy thing to do from so far away.

There are a few more things I want to mention and tons more people I need to thank, but I've decided I need to post about those ones separately. Please watch for future posts about "my payback", "my tallisman", and (as of today), "my Maton"!

There is no way I can thank everyone enough and there's no token I can give to show my appreciation to you all (that and I'm cheap). Instead, I vow this to all of you: I will get better, I'll live harder than ever before and I won't let your amazing support be in vane. I'm a lucky person to have seen the true value of friends and family in my life and I won't soon forget it.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Airbag training

I went in for my first official clinical rehab appointment on Thursday morning. This was great!

Up to now, I've only had physio appointments from a mobile physio whose job it was to make sure I was stretching and strengthening my atrophied muscles. This wasn't what you'd call a good match. The rest of her clients were generally (a) not amputees and (b) born sometime around the second world war. It was a very low impact workout.

Thursday's clinic rehab was excellent. The people there deal exclusively with rehab for amputees and really know their stuff. It was refreshing and exciting!

Other than some other less exciting but necessary exercises, the highlight was the Airbag training. As you can see in the photo, a very long cylindrical "donut" is inflated around the end of my leg, sitting inside a steel cage. Air pressure and friction hold the apparatus firm around the outside of my leg and I can walk/stand on the end of this.

It was nice to be upright without crutches. My whole back breathed a sigh of relief and my hips felt better too. It's not quite like walking for real yet, far too squishy, but this is the first step in a chain that includes getting my interim leg, then my definitive leg, so I'm glad to be (finally) on my way towards that.

The bag is meant in theory to give me the "impression" of what it will feel like to swing a prosthetic leg through as well as supporting weight via the pressure on the outside of the leg rather than on the tip/end of it.

My physio therapist at the clinic is a great lady who's travelled the world, including seeing Canada coast to coast. Funny how she's seen much more of Canada than I have and I've seen more of Australia than her! She's also dealt with amputees since she was fresh out of university 20 years ago.

She introduced me to Mark, another person like me who can only count up to 15 now. Mark was hit on the street by a drunk driver when he was 21. He fought back and has been surfing on the pro circuit ever since! He told me he didn't quit because of his leg, just his "old guy lungs" kicking out on him when he's trying to hold his breath underwater!

The best part about this injury may very well be the inspiring people I get to meet, talk to, etc. I'm pretty lucky!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My license, my arguments

I was a bit surprised to learn that after a small piece of you gets buried on a foreign continent, some people see it fit to tell you you're not allowed to drive a vehicle. This is of course due to the fact that a small piece of your brain, the piece that effects your ability to drive, is commonly believed to be located in the extremities, not the head as one might imagine.

This didn't sit well with me so one of the first things I did on getting out of the hospital was to go get medically certified to drive again. My license was invalid the moment the doctors fired up the power saw so I needed their permission to get behind the wheel again.

Most amputees get their licenses back, however, it usually comes back with one or all of the following restrictions:

a) vehicle must have an automatic transmission
b) if manual transmission is required, vehicle must be modified
c) no more riding motorbikes

In Queensland, a manual transmission license must be earned by doing a roadtest so an "automatic only" or "CA" restriction on your license can be very difficult to remove. To earn your unrestricted motorcycle license or "R" rating you must complete a written exam, a practical course and a roadtest. Again, earning this back would be tricky.

On first pass, the doctor filled in my paperwork suggesting both (a) and (c) above. Maybe that's reasonable... and maybe if I squeeze hard enough, diamonds will drop out of my butt. To me, this wasn't a negotiation. When someone tells me I can't do something, I get motivated.

Knowing this might happen, I had taken a bit of time to prepare before hand and brought two copies of the form. I was friendly, but firm. My arguments were as follows:

(a) and (b) automatic car or modified car:
The new Porsche 911 has a clutchless gear changing system called a sequential paddle shifter on the steering wheel. So does the new SmartCar. These transmissions are considered manual. They also come standard, thus, they are not considered to be a "modification" of any sort.

Score: Mike +2, "the Man" 0

(c. No motorbikes, this could be a tough sale):
Revloc makes automatic transmissions that can be fitted to any motorcycle. This eliminates the need for a left foot when changing gears. There are also 1200cc road scooters with automatic transmissions standard but you must have a motorcycle license to ride one.

There's no "automatic only rating" for motorcycle licenses. I can't help that, but I shouldn't be restricted by it either. If that had been the argument:

Yamaha (my bike was a Yamaha *sigh*) introduced a semi-automatic transmission on its 2007 sport-touring bike (FJR1300). This can be shifted with a switch on the left handlebar where the clutch lever would go on a regular motorcycle rather than using a foot peddle. Harley Davidson also had a handlebar mounted manual bike shifter, which is similar to a mountain bike shifter, unfortunately named the "suicide shifter". Neither model requires a functional left foot to operate the bike.

Score: Mike +3, "the Man" 0

So there you have it. As you can see by the photo, my license now bears the letter "M" on it, validating the fact that I have a medical condition. It also bears the C (unrestricted car) and the R (unrestricted motorcycle) licenses. All legal.

Don't worry, I'm not going to hop onto a motorcycle anytime soon in my current state and I do own an automatic car. It wasn't about that.

I'm told I'll only be limited by my own imagination and I believe that. In this case, a little imagination went a long way. The next time someone tells you that you "can't" do something, maybe you'll remember the grinning face in that photo on my new license.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Swimming in leg limbo

I was jones'ing for some non wheelchair or crutch related cardio today so we headed down to Brisbane's oldest swimming pool, the "Spring Hill Baths", established in 1886. The change rooms are great, just little booths on the side of the pool. One side is marked for "Gents" and the other for "Ladies".

We had the whole pool to ourselves so I felt very comfortable going for it and figuring this one out. I guess its out of the way location and the flashier health club pools have taken much of the old clientel away. You know... that and the fact that none of the original patrons from 1886 show up for Saturday afternoon tea at the pool anymore.

Swimming turned out to be surprisingly simple and nearly identical to swimming before the surgery. I had expected to be swimming in circles but my left leg held its own in the water, pushing me along at about 60% of my right leg, making it easy enough to compensate with body positioning and arm strength.

Treading water was where I really noticed the difference. I used to rely a lot more on my feet for this one so having only one meant I used a lot more energy to stay afloat. Again, just a few minor adjustments to my body position helped on this one. It didn't take long to figure out that I needed to use a sort of stomping motion in my left leg rather than the "peddling" motion I used in my right.

Swimming seems like a great way to strengthen the effected leg as well as providing a nice cardio workout for someone in "leg limbo" like myself. I can't very well jog and visions of falling off my bike at crosswalks have kept me off the peddles. My scar line has healed up nicely so this seems like a great option.

Oh... and Lisa would like to point out that she finally beat me in a swim race. Yep, she clobbered me by about a meter. In my defense, she was standing on the side of the pool taking photos while I did about 30 lengths to get a few good shots, and she was a leg up on me. This win will be her last.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

In the beginning... (the final decision)

So easy choice, right? Wrong. I agonized over this one. I came to the realization that I'd never made an ACTUAL decision in my entire life.

In the past, I've never really made a decision that couldn't be reversed. In my entire life, I had always had a backup plan, a way out, a bargaining chip if everything went sour and the shameless courage to say "hey, I was so wrong, let's do that other thing..."

This was a one way street. No going back. No second chances. Either I made a go of having a disfigured foot to nurse back to semi-health or I made a go of having my leg cut off to live with a prosthetic.

Part of me was holding out hope that if I just kept it, it wouldn't look "that bad" and wouldn't probably function "that bad" and hey, isn't stem-cell research taking off right now? Maybe one day they'll be able to grow me new tendons and muscles and won't I feel stupid for not having kept it then? I think they call this path "fear of the unknown" or maybe just denial.

Worse yet, I felt as though I was letting everyone down by even considering taking the amputation. My friends and family were all "pulling for me" and I thought they'd feel like I'd failed them if I had it removed. I secretly hoped someone would come in one day and say "sorry Mr. MacKenzie but we've found a family of rats living in your ankle joint... Looks pretty bad, there's rat droppings everywhere... you no longer have a choice, we have to cut it off". But no, a family of rats never came. Stupid rats. I hate rats.

The decision became clear one day after talking to a very good friend. He said "your friends and family don't want you to 'keep your leg'. Your friends and family only want what's BEST for you. If having your leg removed is the 'best' thing for you, your friends and family will be glad to see it go!"

This put everything in perspective. I called each family member, one at a time and talked to each of them knowing that we were just looking for the 'best option' not the 'emotionally safe option'.

My Uncle had asked my Dad what he would do on my behalf if he had to make the choice for me. He said that he would have to take the option that left me the most possibilities for mobility and the least for chronic pain.

One by one, I was shocked to learn that everyone in my family had known all along what they thought I should do but they didn't want to sway my decision (good choice by the way, I had to get there on my own just as you did. I was just a bit slow). This wasn't a cop-out, in fact, this was the road less travelled.

So here I am today. I'm not sure what my future holds at this point as I don't yet have a replacement for old Lefty, but I am optimistic. I feel lucky that I was given the time to come to terms with losing Lefty and I'm glad to have the support of such great individuals along the way.

Friday, January 2, 2009

In the beginning... (the conundrum)

It seems easy now looking back to say that I made the right decision, however, human beings aren't wired in a way to say "yes, thanks... hmm... good menu here... tell you what, just use a small power saw to cut one of my limbs off."

Let me step back for a minute to say this: I was lucky.

Yes, lucky. Not only had I survived a short flight through the air, landing on my head, flipping a few times and coming to a rest in the middle of the oncoming traffic lane, I had done it without any internal bleeding or spinal injuries. Many have not been so lucky. Sure, my foot was laying beside my body instead of being attached to it but I was alive. It was only after I watched the first spurt/gush of blood leaving the end of my ankle that I became certain of my impending death.

I woke up very suddenly and very high on ketamine to an emergency room doctor who was telling me I would need an amputation later that night. I refused, citing an episode of M*A*S*H where either Hawkeye or BJ managed to save a soldier's leg by taking an arterial graft from one leg and wiring it up inside the damaged leg. He must of seen that one too because I woke up the next morning from surgery with a metal hat-stand coming out of my leg and grafting surgery on the schedule, but it was my leg, in tact, nonetheless.

That was surgery number one. Surgery number two was the arterial graft, just like on M*A*S*H, and just like on M*A*S*H, my foot began to turn pink again.

Surgery numbers three through eleven were known as "wash outs", not nearly the soap and water treatment the name brings to mind. Instead, I went under while a team of surgeons would open me wide and cut away dead and dying soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, etc. Here I thought soft tissue was just connective tissue between the important bits. Little did I know.

The problem with "wash outs" is that there's a limited number of these they can feasibly do before they've gone and cut away all the working muscles/tendons/etc. This leaves the patient in a tidy little predicament: how long does one let this go on before they accept the inevitable? I chose to give Lefty every chance at life that I could, so I opted to keep taking the surgeries.

Eventually we were successful, Lefty would live! The villagers rejoiced, queue M*A*S*H theme song, roll credits.

But as with any real life situation, that's when it got REALLY tough. At the point that Lefty was saved, he was a changed, shell of a foot. Sure he could live... I just had to agree to having my entire lat dorsi muscle removed from my back to be wrapped around Lefty like a scarf, robbing me of rock climbing as a sport but providing Lefty with a blood supply and leaving him horribly disfigured.

Lefty would never wear a shoe again, be able to walk up hills, be able to walk on uneven ground, snowboard, run, jump, fit into socks or live without constant pain, but hey, it would be my own flesh and bone down there still...

On the other hand, I could opt for taking a stunt double in place of Lefty. One made of carbon fiber that would let me run, jump, rock climb, snowboard, scuba dive, ride a bike, drive, walk up/down hills, etc. Best yet, my lat dorsi could stay where it belonged and I wouldn't be coming back to the hospital for countless reconstruction surgeries for the muscle flaps.

They told me it would cost an arm and a leg but they didn't know who they were dealing with. I bargained them down to just one leg... suckers.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

In the beginning... (life in the hospital)

I arrived home from the hospital on November 21st, 2008. I was glad to be out but already missing the room service.

In a text message to my sister back home on being in the hospital, I said I'd had an "ok time but the waitresses kept sticking their fingers up my butt." At least I got breakfast in bed, bathed (in bed) by exotic looking women and I didn't have to get up to pee in the middle of the night! Ah yes, the hospital...

Since then I've realized that I have a long gap in my year (mentally) and I need to fill that back up. October 7th happened, then November 11th, then November 21st. Nothing happened in between.

Nothing, that is, unless you count the eleven surgeries, several transfusions, being threatened with death in the middle of the night from two separate hallucinating old men in the bed next to me or having a strange old lady pour out her water jug and cackle to herself about how she'd "get those nurses next time, now they'd slip!" In the old woman's defense, the nurses in question were in fact (in her highly unqualified opinion) international terrorists in the middle of a conspiracy to kill all the patients on the ward.

Back at home, Lisa was fighting her own battles: namely, coming face to face with a spider the size of a small community. A massive and (mostly) harmless (she says deadly) huntsman spider. Now, most locals would tell you it's "good" to have a huntsman spider the size of a grapefruit in your house as they keep other pests away and it's true: cockroaches, flies, mosquitoes, other more deadly spiders, etc, are all kept at bay when the "noble" huntsman roams free around your home.

This is either because:
a) the huntsman kills/eats them all or
b) (my personal theory) they're all just as freaked out by the appearance of a spider the size of a woolly mammoth rolling around their domain as we frozen canucks are, so they back away slowly, calling him "Sir", and leave the premises with stern warning to all their friends not to go in there.

With the designated spider slayer laying incapacitated in the hospital, Lisa arrived home one evening to see the great beast perched on the wall directly over the bed where she had previously been planning to sleep for the night. Armed with a binder, a large kitchen knife and a shotgun for safety, Lisa approached and bravely slew the nasty man-eater who was momentarily distracted from his meal of three small cattle to briefly envision his own gruesome death. Splat.

Don't wish to ruin the ending but we received our first cockroach (the size of a jumbo jet, but I'm not one to exaggerate) about a month later... and no, the two hallucinating old men in the bed next to me weren't in the bed at the same time, nor were they a hallucination. The "terrorist" nurses turned out to be completely normal and in fact very sweet once the old woman was moved to another ward for special people like herself.

Final thought: The most important and best thing I'll remember about hospital life are the connections I made with family and friends. This was one long, bumpy ride and those who chose to come along will have my loyalty and friendship for life (whether they like it or not). I wouldn't have kept my questionable sanity without you.