I want to mention there are physicians who know amputation is often the best choice for their patient. For a person who first faces limb loss this can be a traumatic experience and the word "amputation" tough to hear. Since they have not had time to process the situation or arm themselves with knowledge about the procedure, they often make a choice they may later regret. I recall an article about Dr. Tom White, a national class runner and physician himself, when faced amputation after an accident exclaimed: "Doc, I'm a runner!...Save my foot. Please save my foot!"
Dr. White would go through many years of pain and suffering to come to the conclusion that amputation was the best possible outcome for him. He simply did not know, or was able to understand, that loss of limb does not mean loss of life, it preserves and can enhance life far beyond anything one can imagine.
My surgeon, Dr. Blake Ohlson, never made me feel like the doofus I can be on occasion. The fact that I thoroughly researched the history of the Ertl procedure, knew that with a prosthetic foot I could run again, and, I think, my outlook was positive with an intense desire for success, made us know this needed to be done. I did not want it, but not having it was a far worse alternative.
I know my decision has helped others struggling with this choice - for some it may seem like a no-win situation. Far from it, this is NOT true and there are many stories of miraculous success that stand as solid proof. The typical story is not that a person regrets having the amputation, only that they regret not having it sooner.
|Kelly Luckett, multiple Boston finisher, ultramarathoner, mentor|
|Scott Rigsby undergoing reconstructive foot surgery|
Scott then did the unthinkable, becoming the first bilateral amputee finisher of the Hawaiian Ironman competition.
The driving force behind this post are people who have contacted me through this blog who are researching and deciding on elective amputation. In most cases these folks have far worse injuries than mine; they are in excruciating pain and on high levels of painkillers/narcotics just to get through the day. Some are unable to work or enjoy any semblance of a normal life and personal relationships are under pressure. Several have had many surgeries only to face more and more that will not ease their pain and possibly/likely increase their discomfort. Every surgery is another chance for complications to set in from infections to more tragic results. I know suicide has an appeal to some, to end the pain and suffering at the hands of...yes, the one who has sworn an oath to do no harm.
The absolute tragedy and inexplicable behavior by some - not all - physicians is telling a patient that they are crazy to want amputation, in fact they need to have a psychological evaluation for suggesting such a thing. The patient should want 10, 15, 25 or more surgeries to "fix" the condition that will never be corrected, never mind each surgery brings risks as well as trauma to the body and spirit. Ask these surgeons if they can "fix" the patient and you will get sidesteps and indeterminate answers at best. They cannot promise on any level that anything approaching normal mobility will be possible when dealing with crushed feet, missing heels, mangled limbs.
Certainly an able-bodied person without any injury who wants amputation as some sick form of mutilation needs to be evaluated and possibly committed, but hopeful anyone with an ounce of common sense can differentiate this from a person in an aircraft crash and a damaged leg, or suffering from a nerve condition where they feel nothing so they unintentionally destroy their legs as their feet flop about.
The patient is to be satisfied to live a life in wheelchair or scooter, on crutches or a walker, in unwieldy braces or orthoses, all to save a useless and painful limb because the physician believes this is the best possible outcome. It is the doctor's implicit belief that being on high level of pain medication is the best protocol, the side affects and addiction are acceptable results, and that loss of a limb is the same as a lost life.
Placing the patient in a brace or orthosis will cause the body to compensate, putting inbalances in place that can and will cause additional problems to the "good side" in a unilateral patient. As the "bad side" atrophies it may take years to recover from the losses. Then even if amputation were to occur the patient might have problems caused by the efforts to stave it off in the interest of protocol. Note I am not talking about minor injuries, but patients who have had significant trauma or other condition that has caused them to seek amputation as relief. My initial accident was not a cause for amputation at the time, it was the effect of arthritis destroying my joint that ultimately lead to my decision.
As living, breathing truth, I am here to tell you it is wrong and borders on incompetence for a physician to insinuate that someone with a damaged limb is crazy to want to discuss and have amputation. A loss limb is not a loss of life, far from it. Done under the skilled hands of a talented surgeon, an amputated limb is often the best possible outcome, for it ends the life racked by pain. Narcotics and their destructive properties to organs are terminated. Finally, with a modern prosthesis, there is little to nothing a person cannot do. Mow the lawn again? Check? Play in an orchestra? Check. Go snowing boarding or skiing? Yep! Golf, scuba dive, drive the car? Check, check, and check.
Run a marathon? Become an Ironman? Climb Mt. Everest? All true.
|Cadie Jessup (center) in mountain climbing training|
Physician, check your premises. If you are unable to help your patient, refer them to someone who can. It may be ironic, but losing a limb may be gaining a life. This is particularly true for anyone who wants to be active again, who has dreams and goals as a human being, who knows every life is sacred and none are to be flippantly tossed aside into the 'good enough' trash heap of the uncaring. It is not my intention to be contentious here, but having seen and heard from people in constant pain because their doctors refuse to help them causes me to bring this into the open.
There is music to be played, races to be run, mountains to be scaled, life to be loved.
And on this Father's Day, catch to be played with a child someday.
Let them live.
|The unstoppable Jason Gunter|