Break a leg? How about *Lose* a leg?
On Tuesday, my partner, Liz Wachsler, took this lovely portrait of my two older cousins with me.
On the left is my maternal older cousin, Lauren Taft Balk. On the right is my older paternal cousin, Susan Davidoff. They live closeby in metro Boston and traveled by Amtrak together to meet me in Connecticut.
The three of us plus Liz had a fun lunchtime social. Unfortunately, you may spot that I am in a wheelchair. And the location is a physical rehabilitation center in Fairfield, Conn.
But this time, I am as hopeful as I can be. I have a new physical challenge and it excites me. I am, as my mother used to implore, an optimist.
It’s time to cut to the chase: On February 22nd, I underwent a below-the-knee amputation on my left leg.
The reason lies in all the other hospital trips, going back all those years. An infection buried into the bone of my left foot kept acting up. Despite years of intravenous antibiotics and surgery followed by rehab stays, the infection was still there.
This impinged in a major way on my relationship with Liz, my ability to earn a living, and my ability to simply enjoy life. Every good moment (like the moment shown below at Montauk, Long Island) was followed by a left-foot infection, hospital stay, and rehab stay — for months at a time and several times a year.
Doctors hinted for years that I might eventually need an amputation. Liz encouraged me to think about it for my own health and for our lives together. But I wasn’t yet in the right frame of mind. Give up my foot?
Last year, in April 2022, I learned the infection in my foot seeded an infection in my thoracic spine. The infection was sitting on my spine inches from my heart. I could die; that’s what the spine surgeon said.
The spine doctor also said: It’s time to get rid of your foot. It’s nothing but trouble, and now it’s threatening your life.
During eight hours of surgery, I received two rods in my spine and a bunch of screws. Two of my vertebrae completely crumbled from the son-of-foot-infection and were replaced by a metal box.
During recovery, I really pondered amputation. Liz helped me visualize a more active life with a prosthetic. She pointed out that I wouldn’t be going to Bridgeport Hospital for weekly wound care. I also did a lot of online research. I talked it over with other doctors. I bought the idea.
But the amputation never happened. Why? Life. Then in early February of this year, the infection in my foot again caused major levels of pain. I wound up at Yale-New Haven Hospital. (And I ruined an outing with Liz to Newport, R.I.) The doctors said I could face more infections or I could learn to walk on a prosthetic and enjoy life. They even linked me up with a terrific surgeon. I readily agreed. So it happened.
I’ll see my first test prosthetic leg from that prosthetist in about two weeks. Meanwhile, I’m getting ready. I’ve been doing arm exercises, core exercises, and leg exercises. I’ve learned to hop with a walker. I’ve learned that anchoring your left hand is very important to preventing a fall when your right foot is the only foot you have. And this week I’ve learned to shift my weight and accomplish a range of motion for my left hand while standing with my right foot and my right hand holding onto something.
Preparing to go home, I’m cooking an omelette in the therapy kitchen on Monday. More exercises to come.
Several editions of test prosthetics will follow. Finally, I hope to meet my first permanent prosthetic. When I go home, I’ll have physical and occupational therapists coming in to see me. The physical strengthening will continue.
Liz has been my closest and constant support. She has been so from the start in 2016. I am ever grateful, but it was not until we knew each other better that I realized she really did understand through her own painful experiences what I was going through. Liz has lymphedema. Frankly, it’s an awful lifelong disease for which there is no cure. Liz has been hospitalized and undergone surgery more than a few times. She underwent painful surgery on her right leg in December 2021. She goes through heck every day just putting on her compression garments — awful — or squeezing her lymphatics with a full-body lymphedema pump for a couple of hours.
We take care of each other.
My family has also been wonderful. Brother John Davidoff (a newly minted Ed.D. by the way) stays in close touch. Cousins Laurie and Susan are always checking in. My three other Davidoff cousins, Carla, Dan, and Tom, are in touch. I’m in touch with my son, Rob in Pittsburgh, and my daughter, Sarah, in Indianapolis.
And friends come by to visit. Thanks to two recent visitors, Pat McInerney, and Jay Lipp.
I’m going home in a few weeks. Let’s not mask that it’s going to be, at times, a difficult transition. But by hook or crook, walker, cane, or crutch, I will be up on my flesh and prosthetic feet. And Liz and I will one day go back to walking on the beaches here, or in Cape Cod, or in the Florida Keys. We’ll walk in Boston or New York. I’ll fly west to see my children and my brother and sister-in-law, Jacki. And without open wounds on my left foot, I will go swimming!
I am also supported by my parents. I feel them every day.
I’ve been writing this post in my head for weeks and drafting it on my iPhone.
But the draft changed after Liz, Laurie, and Susan had that lunch together. And just today, I completely scrapped my draft when I read a message to me from an old friend, Gary Varvel, a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist and the onetime cartoonist for The Indianapolis News and then The Indianapolis Star.
Gary wrote: “I know that you know this, but your body is not the real you. Your soul is the real you and it lives inside your body which is your home on earth. Your home may have been downsized a bit, but the real you, your soul, is still the same.”
The best news is that my soul is feeling invigorated, optimistic (yes, that’s for Mom), eager, and confident. There’s more life to live. I’m coming for it. With two feet.