It is amazing how a person’s life can change in the blink of an eye. A brush against a coffee table started a chain of events that ended with a below the knee amputation of my left leg.
Everything that was normal suddenly became abnormal to me. I had to relearn the most basic of daily routines, including how to walk. My life was no longer my own, instead there was a new set of complex circumstances that demanded my attention.
What follows is my account of the events that led to the amputation and how I was able to maintain my faith in the midst of health complications and setbacks.
Under normal circumstances, a simple collision with a piece of furniture is not a cause for major concern. To a diabetic, small things can quickly turn catastrophic. For over 20 years, I have been battling Type 2 diabetes with minor adjustments to my daily life and eating habits.
Until recently, my diabetes and other health complications were being managed with insulin and routine doctor’s visits. I was able to tend to my ailing parents, maintain a household, and care for my dog.
I could come and go as I pleased, with little thought to the wear and tear on my body. This all changed one morning in March 2008.
I was rushing about the house, preparing to attend a birthday party. I did not leave enough space between my foot and the coffee table and hit it head on. Naturally, the coffee table won.
I could tell that something was wrong with my toe due to the amount of pain I experienced. I thought that an ice pack would work, but by the next morning, I knew I needed a doctor’s care. There was so much swelling, bruising, and pain that I could not apply pressure to my foot.
I went to an emergency room in West LA and was ordered to podiatry where my toe was de-gloved. This meant that all of the skin and part of the muscle from my toe was removed to stop any further complications. I was told that I could return to my normal routine and check back in a week.
Unfortunately, this course of action was not aggressive enough. In a week’s time the pain persisted and my toe ulcerated. My return visit to the hospital turned into a three-day inpatient stay.
I was supposed to have a cut and drain of the liquid surrounding my toe during my stay. My bone was exposed and I was in severe pain. For reasons still unclear to me, the cut and drain never happened.
I was sent home with a nurse scheduled to visit every other week, the frequency of which did not match the level of attention my injury required. At this point, my spirits were low. I went from being independent and efficient to needing a family member to drive me here and there.
My mother had recently succumbed to complications with diabetes and I was acting as the sole caregiver for my father. Not functioning at full capacity limited both of our livelihoods.
I was scared, but also upset. I was not getting clear answers to my questions and felt my care was being compromised. I decided to seek a second opinion about my foot.
In April 2008, I visited with a new doctor, who immediately performed a cut and drain to my toe. The pressure release was instantaneous. The tightness was gone and I had relief!
At this point, I thought my struggles were over, and that I would be able to walk without pain and resume my daily routine. In retrospect, it seems as though this is when my real battle began. For 15 months, I would endure, pain, swelling, and other health issues until only one option remained.
In November of 2010, I developed a bubble blister on the side of my foot. My doctor was out of town, so I was treated at a nearby hospital. After receiving treatment, I was not able to walk and my foot became gangrenous.
I now understand that I developed Charcot Foot and my foot bones had all but deteriorated. But at the time all I knew was pain. Excruciating pain. My foot turned to the left and I was unable to walk straight. I tried everything to numb the pain.
I became very ill in December of the same year and went to the Centinela Hospital Emergency Room. It was there that I met Dr. Jacqueline T. Hanna, who was the on-call orthopedic doctor at the time.
My meeting with Dr. Hanna confirmed my worst fears. She informed me that my foot could not be salvaged and that amputation was my best option. At that point I knew that something would have to be done to address the pain, but I still was holding on to the hope that I would not lose my limb.
Dr. Hanna stressed to me and my family that what mattered the most was my health and quality of life. She promised that the surgery could help my tomorrows be better than my yesterdays. After much prayer and deliberation with family, I elected to have the surgery. I thought back to my mother’s battles and the complications that were sure to come. If she was able to find strength, then I would too. I only had one request for Dr. Hanna, that she do everything possible to save my knee!
Even with my consent, Dr. Hanna was apprehensive to perform the surgery due to an abscess that developed in my calf. Surgery was my best option, but she could not operate until the abscess receded or the complications would be too great to perform the operation.
By the grace of God, the abscess healed within a matter of days and I was green-lighted for surgery. On December 17, 2010, Dr. Hanna performed the surgery.
While the amputation prevented more serious health complications, my recovery was anything but smooth. My first prosthesis was loosely fitted which led to a blister that prevented my leg from healing properly.
Dr. Hanna decided that two more inches would need to be removed from my leg in order for me to balance properly. I remember praying many nights for the Lord’s will to be done.
I may not have understood why I was going through these trials, but I knew that by me waking up every morning confirmed that He had more planned for me. After my leg healed from the second surgery, I had to learn to walk again. I had extensive rehabilitation for several months to learn how to walk the same way I did before the surgery. It was during this time that I encountered the most caring and devoted physical therapists in southern California.
The first thing they did was to assure me that I would learn to walk. They let me know that an amputee designed my prosthetic. This comforted me to know that I was receiving equipment designed by someone who faced what I was facing.
The personal relationship that I developed with my trainer lifted my spirits tremendously. He asked me about my faith, which is very important to me. He asked if I believed in God. He then challenged me to let go of the walker and believe that God would not let me fall.
His words comforted me more than he will ever know. In that small facility in Marina del Ray, I found the courage to take one step at a time. Those steps eventually led to paces, which led to me walking and balancing on my new leg.
Fast-forward to today, and you will see a woman who was not broken by her illness. I am learning to renegotiate my space. During the day, I walk with the prosthesis. At night, I use a wheelchair or crutches.
Stairs remain a challenge and I have to be very careful with my leg- it weighs over ten pounds! I cannot rush or do high-energy tasks like walk my Rottweiler. While I miss those activities, I know that things could be worse.
Everything is not perfect, but two years ago, death was knocking at my door. I am in a much better place now than I was then. What I have learned is that we cannot cry over the hand we were dealt. I am comforted by the fact that God loved me enough to save my life.
While there are days when I am fatigued, the battle is not over. I am committed to moving forward. I am still here! I can still walk, and my health is slowly improving. I have realized through my struggles that I am cut from my mother’s cloth.
She never gave up on life and lived each day with purpose. Her life was a testimony that the battle rages on and I honor her by giving every day my all.
Instead of thinking about what I lost, I have been focusing on what I still have. I am able to take care of my father, who just celebrated his 90th birthday. I was able to see my nephew get married- and even danced at the wedding! I can still drive to the market. I am thankful for every obstacle that I have made it through.
My life is proof positive that God will not give you more than you can handle. Even bleak situations can turn around. What is meant for harm can always be used for good.
I will continue to give God the glory for what I have. He has carried me this far, and he will not let me fall. Be encouraged.