A walk in the park on a crisp fall day, tossing a ball with your kids in the backyard, or running through the rain. These are the simple pleasures we have in life that we enjoy every day but don’t give much thought to. They are the little things we take for granted when we have mobility. I have leapt though tires on one leg, ridden my bike for 28 miles and skied down a trail as steep as a wall since becoming an amputee. These are truly amazing accomplishments that I am extremely proud of, but there are many simple pleasures that I have regained as a result of the amputation. These are the simple everyday things we take for granted that I have become well aware of and am now grateful for.
Amputating a leg is a pretty major step to take. Living with a leg amputated is not easy and wearing a prosthetic leg brings with it a whole host of daily issues. I won’t lie – I’ve had plenty of mornings where I have woken up and thought how nice it would be to just swing my legs out of bed, stand up on two legs and walk without thought. Instead I grab my crutches and hop off to the bathroom, and at some point, depending on the day, I roll on the prosthetic liner, decide how many socks I will need to don, force my stump down into the socket of the prosthesis and pull up the sticky sweltering hot suspension sleeve. There are days where it takes several tries to get the leg comfortable, days I have to change the liner midday due to sweating, and days I go back and forth between the prosthesis and crutches many times, just to keep my day full and productive. My perspective is kept in check when I remember what it was like to drag a dead painful leg around. For me, having choices in how I ambulate is now a luxury. For all the times I lifted that painful aching leg in and out of bed and thought how nice it would be if I could take the leg off and get a break from the pain, I now have that simple pleasure.
One of the things I like the most about the amputation is having a choice in how much pain I am willing to endure. A week or two before the amputation I stood against the back of the elevator at work dreading the stop at my floor. Standing with my crutches holding me upright, the deep bone-aching pain was just too much to handle, and the thought of moving was paralyzing. I was at the point where I honestly didn’t know how I would stand living like that for another minute. Pain was not a choice – it was constant. The comfort level of the prosthesis is like the weather, constantly changing. It can go anywhere from surprisingly comfortable, to having discomfort, to tolerable pain, to ‘I can’t stand on this thing for one more minute’, all in a matter of hours depending on what I am doing. I am actually able to tolerate quite a bit of pain because I know that the second I release the prosthetic from my stump, I will have instant relief. I also know that I can switch over to crutches and move pain free. Recently, while out at dinner my prosthesis was causing a painful pressure point on my stump. The burning pain became pretty intense. I then realized I had a choice; I didn’t have to be in pain, so I slipped the leg off while I ate dinner. Having the choice to sit and enjoy dinner without pain was a simple pleasure that was priceless.
A few weeks ago, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few items. I parked the car, got out, walked into the grocery store, grabbed a cart and proceeded to walk around the store grabbing the things I needed. After paying I picked up the bag and headed for my car. As I was freely walking across the parking lot it hit me just how amazing it felt to simply be strolling along like everyone else. I took the opportunity to truly enjoy living and everything around me. The prosthetic had the discomfort equivalent to wearing a tight uncomfortable shoe, but I didn’t even notice at that time. Life was too wonderful! I am not a shopper, but being able to wander through Target with my wife is another simple pleasure I will never take for granted.
For seven years I was torn between walking in pain or sitting in pain. It was always ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. The more I did, the worse the pain got, but as soon as I sat down to relax the aching pain became unbearable. Unfortunately with pain, when you relax your mind slows down and the pain becomes the focus, so relaxing simply became an exhausting battle of fighting pain. A couple of weeks ago I was away at a conference for work. I wore my prosthesis all day and had done a lot of walking. By the time I got to my hotel room that evening I was limping heavily in pain and desperately wanted out of the prosthetic. I slipped the leg off and sat on the bed with Stumpy elevated on a soft pillow. The pain was released from my body and it was truly heaven. That is where I remained, relaxing comfortably for the rest of the evening. Ah, the simple pleasure of relaxation.
Enjoying family time. It is hard to enjoy anything when you are in constant pain. For years it seemed like every time family got together everyone had fun but me. Ultimately I would end up sitting in pain and wanting nothing more than to be alone. It is hard to be in pain, but even harder to hide pain. The more I tried to hide my pain, the more I wondered how my family could be enjoying themselves when I was in such agony. Then the anger would get the best of me. I can now take an exercise class with my kids, spend the afternoon rock climbing with my daughter, laugh with my son as we are lifting a heavy safe into a shopping cart that is rolling away, spend the morning skiing with my wife or enjoying a family hike through a local park. A year ago all of these activities would have resulted in frustration, pain and avoidance. The simple pleasure of spending time with family makes life wonderful.
Lack of sleep, no matter what the reason, will eventually take its toll on you. My evenings got to the point where I couldn’t sit in pain for one more minute, yet I dreaded going to bed. Once in bed it was impossible to get comfortable because the priority was to get my leg in a position where it would be in the least pain. Most of the night I would be awoken by massive foot and ankle cramping that then left me lying in unbearable pain for hours. By morning my mind had taken all the pain it could and I would desperately leave the bed in hopes of relief. Immediate post-amputation surgery pain is horrific and for the first week or so sleep is barely possible. I don’t remember exactly when it happened – I would say about three weeks post-op – but I woke up and realized that I’d slept the whole night through without pain. It was amazing. It took a few more weeks of painful nights, but I now look forward to crawling into bed. I sleep comfortably and soundly all night long. I think that for the rest of my life, every morning I will take a few minutes to just lie on my back and appreciate the simple pleasure of pain-free sleep.
This past Saturday I went to the gym and worked out without my leg, came home, put my leg on to do some household chores, and then took the leg off to take a swim. After cooling off in the pool I put the leg back on to mow the lawn and do some yard work. After the yard work I removed the leg to cool off in the pool and then re-donned it to make dinner. After the yard work I became frustrated with taking the leg on and off. I almost let not wanting to deal with taking it back off keep me from going into the pool. It just seemed unfair that this was what I had to go through just to walk. I reminded myself what the last seven years of my life were like and how fortunate I was that I could amputate my leg and free myself from pain. So many people live with unresolvable pain and with much worse circumstances. I once again became grateful, to now have the choice between using my prosthesis or my crutches to live a fully mobile life and enjoy simple pleasures again.
Take a few minutes to appreciate your simple pleasures. Then live each day never taking them for granted; life can change in an instant and the simple things you never gave a thought are suddenly huge.
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