07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Saturday, April 15, 2017

True Life of an Amputee by Kathleen Delaney

A few years ago I read a mystery about a man who’d recently had his leg amputated. Recently as in a couple of weeks. He was released from the hospital with a prosthesis, got involved with killers at a race horse barn, lost his prosthesis and saved himself by climbing over the wall of a horse stall and dropping down in the stall next door.

The only part the author got right was that horse barn walls never go to the ceiling for the purposes of air circulation so squeezing through might be a problem, but theoretically it’s possible. The rest was, well, it was plain bunk. 

I know. I’m an amputee.

It never occurred to me that one day I would lose a leg. I’ve never been in the army, I don’t ride wild bulls, race cars or go rock climbing. I don’t do much of anything dangerous or even slightly adventurous. I have tried to live a healthy life, eating oatmeal instead of Lucky Charms, grilled chicken instead of deep fried, lots of leafy greens, you get the picture. But in spite all my efforts, I got vascular disease, needed an arterial by–pass which failed, and ended up with the amputation of my left leg.

Overnight, I was a disabled person. At first I was in too much pain, and shock, to take in the implications of what that would mean, how much my life had just changed. The reality of just how much sunk in gradually. Well, not gradually, more a series of jolts.

The first one came when someone, I forget who, asked me if I planned on getting a prosthesis. I think I was in rehab, learning how to hop behind a walker, get in and out of bed from a wheel chair without ending up on the floor, and how to maneuver it close enough to a toilet so I could make a safe transfer. Amazing how tricky that can be, especially while traveling. All handicapped stalls in public bathrooms are supposed to be wide enough so you can get a wheelchair in, but not all are spacious enough to turn one around. That can present a problem. I  think it was after one of those episodes I decided I was definitely getting a fake leg. Never during this period which covered the first couple of months after surgery did I feel as if I could scale a wall, with or without the leg. Learning to stand on one leg was challenge enough.

It turned out managing the prosthesis wasn’t so easy, either. The man who made my new leg was also an amputee. He knew what you had to go through to make it all work, he knew about the swelling, about the pain, and how blasted hard the whole thing was going to be. First he came to my house where he made a plaster cast of the stump. This would change a lot as the swelling went down. That took a while. But the time came when he said I was ready and so was he. I was going to get my leg.

He came to a therapy session for my first attempt at walking. With much fanfare, the stump was inserted into the leg, I was lifted to my feet and, with a therapist on each side, I was instructed to take my first step. I couldn’t. My brain went into revolt. There was a strange thing on my leg and the only way to stay safe was to not move. Try as I might, I couldn’t pick it up. It didn’t stay rooted on the ground, of course. Eventually I took a couple of steps, then more, then one day I was walking again. I learned to climb steps, step off curbs (a good way to trip) walk on grass or over stony paths, sort of, but I was getting around.

I started to drive again. That was a huge breakthrough. Depending on someone else to drive you, take you, or your grocery list, to the store, to the doctor, to the library, is hard to accept if you’ve been on your own for a long time. I chafed badly at being so dependent on others but it was a huge motivator. If I could drive, I could still live alone, a way of life my two dogs and I liked and were determined to continue. It also meant I could join the Silver Sneakers classes at our local Y. My first class was pretty much a disaster, I spent a lot of it trying to do the exercises seated in the chair, but I did persist. Eventually I could do them all and on my feet. Not especially well or fast but I could do them. The next step, swimming.

When you only have one leg, swimming isn’t easy. You don’t go straight. You don’t go much of anywhere. But, you can hang onto the side of the pool and kick; you can do jumping jacks, and all kinds of other things impossible to do on the gym floor. All you need is a noodle and a little bit of reckless courage. The tricky part is getting in and out. Especially out. I found a municipal pool in a neighboring town that had a handicapped lift. Perfect. I got in and out with ease, only needing a little help getting into the wheel chair. I was pretty proud of myself. 

Then, one day, I saw a man, about my age which is not young, hopping around the side of the pool on his one remaining leg. He disdained the lift and got himself in and out of the pool with ease. Stung, I resolved to learn how. Not the hopping part, but getting in and out of the pool without the lift. It took some time and the help of several white knuckled life guards but I learned. Getting in is easy, getting out still requires someone to hold the wheel chair and to sometimes give me a little extra help getting over that top step and into it, but…I can go into any pool anywhere I want. And I do. Hotel pools, our community pool, friends or relatives pools, I’ve been in and out of them all. That, my dear friends, is freedom.

I’ve learned, these last seven years, being handicapped is as much a matter of mind as it is physical. Of course, I have only lost a leg. There are people out there who have much harder physical obstacles to overcome than that, but somehow we adapt. We find ways. Not all the same way, but if you look hard enough, you’ll figure out something. I can make a mean omelet even when I’m confined to the wheel chair and can even make the bed. A challenge but it can be done.

Things will never be the way they were, walking is still difficult for me, and now I’ll never learn to tap dance, but I did ride a horse again. Dismounting was pretty funny, but I did it. I’ve traveled a lot these last years, some by myself, some with family but I’ve done it. Alaska, Spain and Portugal, 
California several times, driven all over the east coast, done appearances at libraries and bookstores, in vineyards and parks. I’ve visited national parks and while kicking the trails isn’t on my agenda it’s amazing how much I can still see, and do. My first solo trip was to Colonial Williamsburg. I drove by myself, got on and off buses with the chair, in and out of all the venues, found wonderful people who helped when I got stuck, and had a wonderful time.

I’ve also written six books since I lost my leg, a couple of short stories and I have no idea how many blogs. I don’t write because I can do it without having to put on the prosthesis, but that is a perk. I’ve also moved twice, this last time into a much smaller house and yard. Less vacuuming and dusting, which, as I get older, I appreciate. A couple of small wayS I cope. And I keep in mind what Robert Frost said, I’ve “…miles to go before I sleep.”  I plan to make good use of them.

So, back to our man who had just left the hospital with a new leg. He might have been discharged but not with a leg. Too much swelling and even under the best of circumstances, getting fitted for a prosthesis and learning how to deal with one is a long and painful process. Learning how to hop or just balance on one leg is as well. As for scaling the walls of a horse stall after several weeks in the hospital….maybe not.

So, dear friends, if you are ever faced with this challenge, take heart and give yourself time. There is life after amputation and it’s a good one. Things get better and you’ll find you can pretty much, with a few adjustments, live the same life you had before. It just might not include scaling horse stall walls.

The first in Kathleen Delaney's new Mary McGill canine mysteries, Purebred Dead, is available in both hard cover and ebook form, and has recently been released in soft cover, just in time to greet the release of the second in the series, Curtains for Miss Plym. The 3rd in this series, Blood Red White a Blue is scheduled for release in the US July 1. Perfect timing for a 4th of July book!

Kathleen Delaney came to the writing life a little late. Instead, she raised five children, heaven alone knows how many cats and dogs, more than a few horses, and assorted 4 H animals. She also enjoyed a career as a real estate broker in the small California town of Paso Robles. Somewhere in there she found she wanted to write as well as read, and her first book, Dying for a Change, was a finalist in St. Martin’s Malice Domestic contest. Since then she has written six more books that have received praise from Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist. 

Kathleen resides in Woodstock, Ga with an exuberant dog and a grouchy cat. She recently moved from a fairly large 4 bed home into a small 2 bed home and loves it. As she brought along  her sofa which has been taken over by the dog, and her reading chair which has been claimed by the cat, they are content as well.

Facebook: Kathleen Delaney Mystery Writer


Diana McCollum said...

Hi, Kathleen,
I admire your struggle and all you've achieved. Interesting to know how long getting "back on your feet" takes.

Thank you for sharing today!

Do your mysteries have other-abled-body characters? Are they all amputees or are there some with mental, blind, or deaf . . .?disabilities?

Thanks, Diana and happy spring and Easter!

Judith Ashley said...

Kathleen, So glad you could join us this weekend! Your perseverance and persistence are a gift to the rest of us. I know I'll enjoy reading your books because I know they'll be well-researched and authentic. Love your covers! Is the spaniel yours? At least I think he's a spaniel...cocker maybe?

Barb said...

That you are inspiring goes without saying but I love that your post says so much more. People don't take the time to know the full story all too often and that is sad because readers are discerning.
A pet hate in writing is colouring in for the sake of the fiction. It happens a lot with murder/thrillers/police involvement or as I found recently in writing about someone with coeliac disease and their diet when you haven't researched it first.
Great post from someone with courage and someone that knows how to write so we actually understand.

Kathleen Delaney said...

Thank you all for your comments and Happy Easter and Passover. Hope you all have a wonderful day.
None of my mysteries have featured anyone with a physical handicap, at least not yet. Haven't found a way to do that in a way I'd like. The dog is indeed a cocker. This cover it's an American cocker, the first two books the dog was an English cocker. In the stories, Millie is an American cocker, as the stories are set on California's central coast. And, I agree about the research. It shouldn't be confined just to disease, either. People have all sorts of problems, and are in all sorts of situations. Doing a little research on what you are going to throw at your characters seems to me essential.