I think I’re been on what they call in AA a pink cloud after the amputation of my left leg below the knee. I left the the hospital within 3 hours after the surgery with a temporary prosethetic that allows for 10 percent body weight for balance, The stump was wrapped up so I never saw it. I looked at my new mannequin foot like it was my own, and I swear when I think about wiggling my toes, I can actually feel my toes wiggle. I can also feel my ankle and my shin, even though both of those are now a metal pole. This isn’t true when it’s just the stump sitting there looking at me like a piece of pork at the butcher shop. I feel nothing and yet I tried. I tried to imagine moving my toes or what my ankle feels like and I felt nothing (cue “Nothing” from A Chorus Line).
Seeing the stump for the first time on Tuesday was shocking. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this short, weightless leg without a shin, ankle or foot on the end. My mind couldn’t quite process it. What my eyes were seeing wasn’t jiving with what my brain said was “normal.” It was if I was looking at Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump and wondering how they had so perfectly CGI’d his legs away. Someone clearly was playing a joke on me. I suddenly wanted my old painful, misshapen leg back. I told the doctor that I’d changed my mind, which he thought was hysterical. He said it takes a while to process and we leave surgery feeling excited, but upon seeing the actual result of the amputation, reality sets in and it can be difficult for a period of time. I took a video with my phone of the unveiling, but it was too creepy and gross to post on regular social media. Maybe later when my fetish stump porn site is up and running (I’m kidding, I’m kidding…although never say never). I quickly text a picture of it to my husband and tell him I fear he will find it too gross and disgusting to ever have sex with me again. He texts back from London that I’ve got nothing to worry about. Maybe I should check his phone to ensure he didn’t immediately erase the picture the same way I quickly change the channel when starving children or abused animals appear onscreen. But what’s so weird is that if it were him or some random hook-up guy with an amputated limb, it wouldn’t bother me at all. I wouldn’t find it grotesque, but would probably be more turned on by the uniqueness of the person. I don’t look at myself the same way. I expect physical perfection, which has never been attainable, yet anything less is a dismal failure on my part, genetics be damned. This basically leaves me in an always fucked, no-win position. The good news is that it’s much better than it used to be after lots of therapy and 12-step meetings.
I visited the prosthetist after the surgeon for a leg adjustments and the guy working with me, Jahir, is so adorable that my desire to impress him overtook the freak show that I’d just witnessed. He assured me I was doing great and flirted back just a little. He knows how to play to his audience despite being straight, and it makes me feel a little special even as I tell myself that he’s flirting with the old lady that was in the lobby in the same manner. No matter his inclinations or intentions, I felt better as I left. I also had my temporary leg on again and could shove the thoughts of a stump into the back closet of my mind.
Which leaves me here today, two days later, tired from not sleeping enough and worried that the piece of flesh I saw on that medical bench was not healing like it should. Suddenly I’m gripped with fears of infection or that the incision won’t heal and they’ll have to go in and chop more of it off. These fears are not totally unfounded. I’ve been through it over the last fifteen months with wounds that wouldn’t heal, screws that quickly pushed their way to the surface, all metal holding things together removed and an ankle that by the end was falling over worse than it had before the whole business started. And despite my anxiety, the doctor says it looks pretty good and to avoid putting much pressure on it. I’m not sure how to accomplish this because what is too much pressure? I use the prosthetic to balance and to push off with each step while using a walker (left behind by my 90-year-old mother-in-law), but is this too much? I vow to elevate it more often and not test my balance out by pressing the stump into the plastic cup that encapsulates it.
I’m an amputee now. It is no longer simply an idea of what might happen or could happen. It has happened. As with all things, it will take some time to adjust. And just like before when I would bitch to myself about how long it took me to put on braces and shoes, I’m sure I’ll do the same thing regarding the new leg. Self-pity is my secret drug, but the good news today is that I no longer have to wear this emotion on my sleeve. I can tuck it away and know that it is not real. It is just my mind playing tricks on me, just like that CGI’d leg. How do they do that?