Robert, who recently had his left leg amputated, talks candidly about his experience
I limped out of my house on 3 July and went to St George’s Hospital, London, to have my left leg amputated below the knee a couple of days later. By the time of the operation I had no emotional attachment to my foot – as far as I was concerned it was a swollen lump and not a foot anymore.
The operation took four-and-a-half hours and I woke up in intensive care. I was in pain but was given morphine and that helped. It wasn’t long before the physiotherapists pounced on me – while I was still in intensive care. I think I wowed them because straight away I was able to get from the bed to a wheelchair on one leg. Having a wheelchair gave me a bit of independence and luckily I instantly adjusted to having one leg.
The doctors were ready to discharge me after 10 days, but there were no available beds at Queen Mary’s Hospital, London, where I was due to go for rehabilitation. My family didn’t like the idea of me going home as I live on my own. Luckily sanity prevailed and I stayed in hospital for a month before being transferred to Queen Mary’s at the beginning of August.
Though I had mastered the wheelchair successfully, Queen Mary’s rehabilitation unit was like going back to school. I had to be in the gym for about five hours every single day. The idea is you build up your upper body muscles before you get your new leg. I learnt pretty quickly not to tell the physio I found something easy as they’d straight away make it harder! They ‘cast’ my leg the week after I arrived, and another week later it arrived. From there I started walking between two parallel bars, then I went onto two sticks, and then just one.
Initially I had closely supervised physio sessions, but as the days went on I was left to walk round the gym on my own and chat to people and sit down and get up. Just when I thought I’d got the hang of it I had to attend something called the ‘Gait Laboratory’ where they analyse how you walk. Turns out I wasn’t putting enough pressure on the new leg – but I guess that’s understandable after 10 years of having a lousy left foot.
Training continued to be intense. We practised doing steps, going outdoors, stepping on and off of curbs, managing slopes and coping in wet conditions. Then it was time for the home visit with the physio and the occupational therapist. We looked at everything from how rugs were placed so they couldn’t trip me up, to me only sitting in chairs with arms so that I could get out of them easily, and ensuring that I could get in and out of bed easily and wash myself. Getting up and down stairs isn’t a problem as I’ve had a stair lift for a long time because of my bad foot.
I came out of hospital on September 17. It is great to be home but there was a wonderful camaraderie at Queen Mary’s because you are all going through this big life-change together. For me this has been brilliant. After three years of being housebound, unless there was a cab to drive me everywhere, I am venturing out on my own. I can walk to church and I can even go to my favourite café for lunch. It might not sound much but it’s wonderful! I’m trying to take it gently but to keep on expanding my horizons. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to tackle the bus and then I can go to the cinema. I’m still a bit nervous about crowds and how I’ll manage on an escalator but I’m determined to do it.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Three days after getting home I fell over after my legs just seemed to get caught up with each other. Thankfully we’d practised in rehabilitation what I should do if I fell over. I got onto my knees and found a stable chair to propel myself upwards, using my upper body strength. The prosthetic had jarred a bit but I put a dressing on it and there didn’t seem to be any harm done. In the same fall I fell hard on my elbow so had a bit of a bruise, but I’ve put Arnica cream on it and it’s fading fast now.
I can honestly say that having the amputation has given me a new lease of life. I’m determined to make the most of my new-found freedom!