From the moment my leg left my body, it became medical waste. It’s not even that anymore, I’m sure. It’s… What is it? My leg existed in space and time as part of me and what I understood myself to be and it is no longer there. Amputation has made me think about who I really am. It has been at once a challenging and life affirming experience. The amputation of my leg continues to affect my identity and how I think about myself.
I am an amputee now. There’s a word for it and everything. I have resisted joining any kind of support group, organisation, or society whose members are amputees and define themselves as such. I’ve never been much of a joiner and I’ve never been one for consolation. I’m sure these aspects of my personality make my life harder than it needs to be. I believe life should be hard. That is both a blessing and a curse. I never say, or even dare think, that life isn’t fair. Nobody ever promised it would be.
After my surgery, I felt something I wasn’t prepared for; I was immediately self-conscious. In the beginning, this was debilitating. I didn’t want to see many people post-op when I was in hospital. There were only a select few who I allowed into my room to begin with. I had a room to myself. When I got out of hospital, I found it hard to muster up the courage to go out anywhere. I stayed at my dad’s place for a few weeks and the idea of going home was entirely daunting because I knew I would have to go out and be seen by people and they would see that I only have one leg. I was perplexed as to why I should care. After all, how people see me had never bothered me before.
That I would feel weird and self-conscious about my stump is, even to me, absurd. People have always stared at me. They have always noticed my wheelchair. They have always said really stupid stuff, both well-meaning and out of cruelty. I was so used to that kind of attention, I had unconsciously trained myself to block out the vast majority of it. When I joined the world again after my surgery, for a long while I could not get past the idea that everyone was staring at me. So many people stare at me when I’m out and about and I notice them now because I’m looking for it. I realised after a while though, that I probably wasn’t getting much more attention than I’ve always had, it was just that I felt uncomfortable with my new identity as an amputee and I was projecting that onto the people around me who had always looked.
Before my amputation, I was scared all the time. I couldn’t do anything much because I didn’t have the energy for it or I was too sick or I was waiting to get sick and I was scared. I’m still trying to get used to the idea I might not have to be hooked up to life saving drugs in the near future, that I might not be a patient again for a while. The thing that I thought was going to kill me is gone. I am no longer chronically ill. That sentence, that thought, has just this second dawned on me. It’s all taking a lot to process. There’s so much involved. The good and the bad consequences of my amputation do not occur to me all at once and I still can’t answer simply when people ask me if I’m glad I did it.
I’m struggling to know what to do with my time now. I got used to being a patient quickly; mind you, I’d had a lot of experience in that area already. I’m still an occasional patient but it’s really not impacting on my life in a significant way. I’ve realised only recently how small my life is. Actually, I think I’ve been aware of the walls closing in for a long while but it matters more now because I have time on my hands that used to be taken up with being a patient and with being scared.
I think I can probably be more than a patient who has disabilities and chronic illness now. I’m tentatively testing the boundaries of what I’m capable of again. I used to do that a lot. It was how I lived my life. I achieved things I didn’t imagine I’d be capable of because I was happy to accept that life is hard and that if there’s a wall I had to find a way over or around it. The thought that I might be able to get back up over that wall again after so long is at once terrifying and exhilarating.