DID I MAKE THE WRONG CHOICE?
Making the decision to have a surgeon saw off a major part of my body wasn’t something I planned on at the beginning of 2018. They don’t make a “Deciding to Have an Amputation for Dummies” book. Being raised in a Christian household I’m not a newcomer to the idea of faith - but the kind of faith it takes to walk into a hospital while knowing you’re going to leave without your leg is something I’d never come close to stepping out in before. What if the opinions of so many were right, and I made the wrong choice?
I took a bad tumble off a horse when I was a kid. I shattered my ankle which began a long road of surgery after surgery throughout all my teenaged years and into my twenties. When I let those around me know I had made the decision to amputate, people asked me shocked, wide eyes, “They can’t do anything else? That’s the only option?” And the honest answer is…no. There were other options on the table, but none that would actually resolve my pain.
If there is any hope to save a limb, shouldn’t you take it? You’d think so; unless you spent fourteen years living in pain, existing daily off of narcotic pain killers, and sitting helpless as all the activities you loved were slowly taken away from you as the pain grew. Understandably, many people disagreed with my decision to amputate.
Some of the strongest voices – and the ones I cared about – were my husband, Brian, and my father. At a family dinner about a month before my final surgery, I sat at my parent’s cherry wood table, Brian to my left and my father across from me.
My dad said, “You can always choose to amputate later. Your mother and I will support you no matter what, but I think you’d be making a huge mistake to jump to this decision before exhausting every other possibility.”
Later that night, icing my ankle as I had had countless nights before Brian earnestly echoed my Dad’s words. “If there is any hope left, any option, you should take it. It’s your leg, Jordan.” Of course, there was great wisdom in their words. They were right.
The reality is that no matter what option I chose, it would end in amputation. More surgeries might buy me a few more years limping along on a scarred and swollen leg, poisoning my liver with more pain medications, allowed even less activity than I presently was – but no matter what, now or five years from now, I’d be an amputee.
At the last meeting I had with my doctor before surgery he told me it was not too early to amputate – we were at that point, but we could also move forward with other surgeries. I’ll always remember his words because he made it so clear that he trusted me with my own body – something no one ever really had done before. “Whatever you choose, the day of surgery, that’s the right choice.”
I scheduled the other surgery. My family was right – if this surgery, or the next, or the next, didn’t work, I could always choose amputation. What’s another few years in pain when I had already lived through fourteen? I write that with sarcasm, as anyone with chronic pain will know you never really get used to daily pain.
But about three weeks before surgery, I had a quiet and clear realization. I was continuing to allow the current of external circumstances to carry me through my life while feeling like a helpless passenger. I had never actually asserted my voice when it came to my body. Over the past fourteen years of hospital stays and stolen life, I went along with everything everyone else said – and it’s not that they were ever wrong, but for the first time I had clarity on what I wanted for my life.
Here’s the thing - I love life. And I was done limping through it, dragging along a body part that caused me increasing pain to the point where for the past year, I could barely walk and took varieties of prescribed, dangerous pills to try to live a “functioning” life. I wanted to run again, feel pavement pounding beneath my feet, even if one of my feet would become carbon fiber instead of flesh. I wanted to go hiking with my husband and our pack of dogs and explore our Colorado mountains, instead of having to abort short walks around the block because I took one step and was in sudden agony. I wanted to trust myself, for the first time, to make a real decision for my well-being that I realized was right.
I knew in my soul that my life would be fuller without my problem ankle. I told my family, and I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world that each of their responses was a resounding, “We love you and support you 100%,” even if they didn’t understand my choice.
The night before that final surgery, my friends came over and wrote goodbye notes to my leg in sharpie. I drew a dotted line with a pair of scissors – you know, so my doctor would remember which leg was right. Then, on October 11th, 2018, I limped into UC Health in Denver, utterly terrified, but also stepping out in shaky faith that what I knew in my heart was true.
The thing about trusting yourself to make life-altering decisions it that you have absolutely no one to blame but yourself if it all goes horribly wrong. My greatest fear in the weeks leading up to amputation focused on the moment I would awaken from anesthesia – would the illusion crumble and I only then realize with sinking certainty that I had made a horrible, irreversible mistake? But as I groggily came to three hours after saying goodbye to my family, my first thought, through the surgical pain, was, “I made the right choice.”