Welcome to Anne's blog!

If you are new to the blog, you probably want to start at the beginning of the whole sad story. To get there, use the "Blog Archive" tool in the right column of the blog and click on "2009," and then "January 25." From there you can continue to click on each week to see the weekly entries.

I would love to hear from you! If you would like to leave a message, you can reach me at aheetderks@wcsmiami.org!

October 29, 2010

Well, today was a big day. Not only has it officially been one month since my surgery, but I am now a LEGAL DRIVER! I at first had thought that I needed to go through occupational therapy at Baptist Hospital to become a certified left foot driver. But, after talking to an amputee friend of mine, I found out that I could order the left foot accelerator online, install it myself, and then go to the DMV to get a driver's test. So, this week, the accelerator device came in the mail and Dad made a nice base for it so it wouldn't move around at all in my car. Then, this morning, I woke up extra early at the DMV to take my driver's test.
The last time I took a driving test, I was in California, 16 years old, and driving my parents' yellow VW van (the one with the 3 foot long stick shift thing). I remember stalling out in the middle of my three point turn and having to start the van up again to complete the maneuver. So embarrassing.

Well, this morning, I was in my good old box car (the Scion xb toaster car) with (thankfully) an automatic transmission but with PEDALS REARRANGED! During the tests, I kept saying to myself, "The brake is in the middle. The brake is in the middle. The brake is in the middle." Amazingly, I passed.

The people at the DMV were positively lovely. When presenting my situation, they knew exactly what I needed to do to become legal. But more so--they were all so stunned that I was ready to start driving just one month after my surgery. They kept saying, "Your attitude is so great. You are an inspiration!" One lady said, "I woke up feeling sorry for myself this morning. When I see what you have gone through and how you are handling it so well, I just need to shut up and be grateful." Very sweet.

Anyway--Dad and I spent a lot of time together this week having lunch dates, celebrating his birthday, getting my car jazzed up, and going to doctors. It has been positively wonderful being able to spend so much time with him. I don't think I have spent this much "alone time" with my Dad since the days when he was teaching me to drive in that old VW van! He is such an incredibly giving and caring man.

I have decided to have a man named Eugene Silva to be my (lawfully wedded) prosthetist. I think that we will work well together and he was recommended highly by Dr. Hutson. Now I am looking into meeting with a physiatrist before choosing a physical therapist. This type of doctor would look at the physical medicine and rehabilitation involved in getting me back together and then help me to choose the right people to work with each of my issues (and let me tell you--I have plenty!!!) :)

I thought you might enjoy this picture of Eugene's work room where he makes the prosthetics. It is a very fun combination of medicine and art.

While I still enjoy doing the braided bread ace wrap technique to bring down the swelling in my leg, I REALLY LOVE my first new official shrinker sock. It makes my shorter leg look so nice. It feels really good to have everything squished together tightly.

I have been doing some interesting reading on phantom pain. Basically, the nerves are severed during the amputation and--despite the fact that the foot is gone--the nerves keep sending messages as if it is still there. Last week, I blacked out for a moment and found myself on the floor with major bruises on my hip and arm, a bent crutch, and a rug burn on my elbow and foot. Funny thing is--the rug burn on my foot was on my missing foot. It was as if my body knew that--if the foot HAD been there--it would have been injured during my fall. So, for about 5 days, as the rug burn was healing on my elbow, sure enough--the rug burn feeling on my foot started to slowly go away, too. So weird.

So anyway, I was reading this article that was discussing various ways to help alleviate phantom pain. One way--they said--was to redefine the feeling as a phantom "sensation" rather than "pain." When you think about it, your nerves are sensing feelings all day long--the fabric of your shirt touching your skin, the tightness of your shoe around your foot--but your brain knows that these feelings are not "dangerous" so they tune them out. They said that the nerves that were severed are sending me "danger danger" messages because no one has told them that everything is OK. My brain needs to learn to tune out these messages and learn that the nerves are kind of "crying wolf."

So--I tried what they said. At night when my pain is worse, I will consiously think to myself, "That is not pain, that is a sensation . . ." and NO KIDDING--the pain goes away. It is the weirdest thing. The only problem is that when I stop saying it to myself, the pain comes back. I experienced the same thing with the mirror therapy, too. When I see my "leg" in the mirror, the pain is relieved. But when the mirror is taken away, the pain comes back. So, I guess I just need to keep strengthening this "mental muscle" to the point that my brain will finally believe that all is well and stop responding to the messages. Time will tell.

We have been having sweet experiences this week that are helping the family feel like we are getting back into proper "alignment." Doug is so wonderful.

Anyway--we are taking part in a Cancer Free Kids walk tomorrow morning (I will be pushed in a wheelchair) and then getting the girls ready for a million Halloween parties. Should be fun.

Love to you all!


October 26, 2010

Well, hello again! When last we met, I let you know that I was going to try to join in with the rest of society and stay awake during daylight hours. That didn’t last long. The day after my appointment with Dr. Hutson, I woke up with Doug and the girls around 7:00 am and stayed awake all day until they all went to bed around 9:00 pm. It wasn’t pretty. I kept myself busy during the day visiting my prosthetist, bringing my car in for some routine maintenance, writing some thank you cards, etc. etc. However, by the time the kids came home, I was feeling very ornery and in need of some shut-eye. By the end of the evening, we all agreed that I was either going to have to move out of the house and live a solitary life watching a lot of cable TV and learning to knit, OR get at least 5 hours of sleep during the day. That night, I slept through the night and allowed myself to sleep in until about 11 am. That is now my new routine and it is keeping all of us very happy.

Dad and I went to visit my prosthetist and he taught me how to wrap my shorter leg with an ace bandage (my official shrinker sock needed to be ordered). The method of wrapping makes my leg look like a flesh colored loaf of braided bread—all for the purpose of slowly shrinking my limb. Very cool.

In my search for a prosthetist and a physical therapist, I spent a lot of time last week talking with amputees. Good grief—such happy people. Literally—any one of these people would drop everything to help me out. They have lived what I am going through right now and they are so eager to give me whatever advice I need. One guy is helping me navigate through the process of driving left footed (legally), while another woman is sharing her experience with different types of prosthetic feet. Some themes seem to come up a lot . . .

1) Most have a certain amount of regret about pushing to get into their prosthetic too soon. Everyone is encouraging me to wait until my doctor is extremely sure that my limb is ready for a prosthetic. So many of them talk about the pain, sores, and other issues they dealt with because of their insistence to get fit with their first leg. Good to know.

2) Along the same lines, they all caution me to release the feeling that you have something to prove once you get your first leg. They all felt this pressure to let everyone know that they were OK and functioning “just like before the accident” with their new leg. They all said to be sure to start off slow. Your body will thank you for it.

3) They all admit that there are struggles with being an amputee. Whether it is phantom pain, soreness at the end of the day, the stigma of being “different”, or keeping up with the maintenance of socks, liners, leg, etc.—they all quietly confide that the appearance of being “normal” does come with a certain amount of physical/emotional pain. HOWEVER, what they all share is an effervescent, absolutely unstoppable, completely contagious and inspirational LOVE OF LIFE. They are all SO GRATEFUL to be up and moving again—and so appreciative of the parts of their body that work perfectly (without assistance). It is almost as if the loss of one body part has made the other parts seem all the more precious and valuable. And that alone is reason to CELEBRATE!

It almost makes me wonder if the process of losing a limb brings you to a crossroads of either jumping in and embracing the experience—or just fading back and letting it define you. There is a woman across the street from me who is missing an arm. I have never seen her leave her house—in fact the only time I ever see her is when she takes her cat outside for a little while. I don’t know how she lost her arm, but did the experience change her? Was she always quiet and secluded? Or is she just embarrassed to be seen?

There is definitely something to going out in public with a missing limb. I am already used to getting a lot of stares because of my scooter. But the stares I get now are very different. You can almost hear the collective, “Ahhh . . .” when I move around on my crutches. It is hard to tell if people pity you, are repulsed, interested, intrigued—so you are tempted to work really hard to exude this vibe of “I am totally OK with this and am so stinking happy to be an amputee.” I think that would become tiring to keep that up forever.

So instead, I am choosing to take the perspective that the average person is good, honest, well intentioned, and a bit curious. I can remember when a woman in our church had her big toe amputated. I SO wanted to look at her feet just to see what that looked like, but I didn’t want to get caught looking. Did I pity her? No. Did I feel bad for what she had experienced to reach the point of amputation? Yes. Was I dying to really look at her foot up close? Absolutely. Once I looked, would I need to look at it again? Not really. But most of all—did I think that she was any different now from when she was a ten-toed woman? Not at all. She was still the amazingly talented, beautiful, and interesting mother of two that she was before she lost her toe. No big deal—move on.

So—I invite people to look. Be curious. And I don’t have to put on a big show that I am OK. I am OK. I am just fine—I just don’t have two feet anymore. And if people pity me, I guess I would just hope that eventually they would realize that there isn’t any need to feel pity for me. I am still the same me--just a little shorter on one side. I hope that as I transition back to going to work, driving around, being out, etc.--that I don’t lose that feeling.

My biggest inspiration is a little girl in one of my Art classes who was born without her lower arm. Believe me, when you are five, you are surrounded by other five year olds who are all too eager to point out that you are missing a left hand. But she lives life without apology. I don’t care what project we are working on; she comes up with a way to do it in her own way.

It would be so easy to say, “Oh, look at that poor little girl who has to live like that.” But what a waste of breath! Poor little girl? There is nothing poor about her. She is more amazing, more admired, more inspirational, and more beautiful simply because of having one hand. When a boy came up to her recently and said, “Your arm looks weird.”—She looked at him like he was an absolute idiot (you really should have seen her standing there with her hand on her hip) and said, “I was born this way. God made me just the way He wanted to.”

She lives this verse to the fullest: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

I may not have been created by God with one foot, but circumstances have led me to this point. I need to have the quiet confidence that I am still wonderfully made. I am not something that is gross, or repulsive, or embarrassing—just a little different. And I still believe to my core that I am already better for it.

Anyway—those are just a few things I have been thinking about.

I feel so blessed that things are just progressing along beautifully—no drama, no late-night emergencies, no draining liquids—just a nice, healing leg and a sleepy lady.

I love and appreciate all of you so much—