This is our journey from amputation to living our dream life
“If you are not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space” Jim Whittaker – First American to summit Mt. Everest
I chose to write about Dave’s leg amputation as a form of not only therapy for both of us but as a way to engage with other readers that may be going through something similar. If you take anything away from this blog, I hope it is the idea that we can do anything and we can heal our bodies and minds with hard work. We don’t have to roll over and die when a huge crisis hits. Dave is remarkable. His story needs to be told. So here it is.
Before the amputation
The man of my dreams
Let me introduce you to Dave. He is my better half. My rock. My world. We’ve been together for over 16 years now and things get better every year (despite the odd challenge every now and then). Dave is not only a fantastic husband, dad and grandpa but he also has the most incredible drive to live and experience all that life offers him. He is so inspiring to me and I have learned a great deal from him. He helps me reach my goals, he’s taught me how to wrench motorcycles and to build hotdog stands from scratch, he is a plethora of knowledge.
I’m honored to be his partner in life. His challenges can be tough to deal with sometimes but when you love someone, you step in and assist whenever possible. Dave was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 12. Back in the day, diabetes was very complicated. There was no internet. Insulin had just been discovered and sugar testing was difficult. It meant that life from that point on, for Dave, would be challenging. It was and still can be terrifying some days.
Diabetes doesn’t care who you are and sugar lows and highs can creep up anytime they want. It takes a serious amount of discipline and commitment to keep yourself alive with a disease like this. Sometimes, Dave teaches me more about resilience than anything else.
Life in the fast lane
From the time he was young, Dave was a freaking daredevil. His love of all things fast is what propels him to this day. Fast bikes, fast cars, living on the edge. Anytime I feel like I cannot do something, he just gives me a little nudge and says “What are you afraid of? Dying? Don’t worry about it.” He’s one of the biggest reasons I ride a Harley, have climbed treacherous mountains on the ATV or decided to toughen up and leave my nursing job, after 16 years, to pursue writing.
Always eat the cheesecake
He just has that way of convincing people that life is too short to not eat the cheesecake. So, I sit here reflecting on Dave before the incident and it is the reason I can write about it today. We have no regrets. He did what he wanted and paid the ultimate price. This is how everything started.
Big projects ahead
It was a beautiful spring day in Nelson, BC. We lived in a gorgeous spot nestled against a mountain with trails and animals galore. We were living the dream. We just finished a huge project together. We built the bear proof chicken coop and filled it with a dozen chickens to get ready to sell eggs. It was so much fun being parents to those birds. Each one was hand raised by Dave and I. They were coddled to the point that they would sit on my lap during my morning coffee. I had a few favorites and I had a few that were going to become dinner if they didn’t quit being assholes!
Our little farm
It was a big deal for us to raise those birds. We were so excited at the idea of farm fresh free range eggs to eat and to sell. We were happy but still wanted to do more so the next thing on our list was to create the garden. The chicken coop was such a success that we got to work cutting out the plot of land and fencing it. Carefully removing every rock and cleaning up any weeds. It was so nice to see the fruits of our labor and all we had in there was dirt!
It was a beautiful morning…was
Fast forward to a sunny morning when we decided to have our coffee outside, surrounded by chickens and our old golden retriever, Jett (may he be chewing on a bone in doggie heaven right now – RIP buddy). I was in the garden, barefoot, picking weeds and setting up stakes for the peas and creating little mounds for zucchini around the perimeter. Dave decided that it looked too good to just sit by and watch so he removed his shoes and his socks and set his feet down into the warm soil.
The tiny rock that changed our lives
What he didn’t know was that a tiny rock was sticking up in just the perfect position to get caught on his virgin foot. It was the first time he had been barefoot outside in all the years we had been together. Well, you can just guess what happened. He cut his foot. That tiny little rock cut his foot open and this was the beginning of a horrific journey that to this day, still makes me cry. If only I had stepped on that rock first, felt it and removed it. We didn’t think much of the cut but this is where you have to shift gears with a diabetic. A few things happen when you have diabetes. Circulation, especially to the feet, disappears.
Little did we know it, but that sore was not even registering in Dave’s mind. He couldn’t feel it. He had very little feeling in that foot. Unfortunately, we decided to go in the house, put a bandage on and hope for the best. Thinking back, we should have rushed to the hospital to have it looked at and cared for. The next few days were very scary as the sore began to rapidly increase in size. Dave was working at a job that required he wear steel toed boots, do lots of walking and climbing and he just continued to work through the pain.
After a week, I got very concerned and told him we needed to call wound care to get this thing looked at. He agreed. We drove to their office and the nurses looked at it. They were shocked at the condition after only a week. Sadly, it continued to get worse. Despite our twice daily care of the wound and doctors not giving a strong enough antibiotic sooner, it became gangrenous (localized death and decomposition of body tissue, resulting from either obstructed circulation or bacterial infection) and it just never stopped. There was negligence, on our part and on the part of the hospital and doctors that brushed it off thinking the antibiotics would work.
Hospital time – the longest 8 months of our lives
A week later, he had surgery to remove 3 toes, then a short time later, another surgery to remove more of the foot. After the second surgery, we told the doctors “We have to stop this now, just take the leg!” It started to sink in that his foot would never get better. Gangrene had taken hold and it wasn’t letting go. It was frustrating, terrifying and daunting to care for. The pain was intense and no amount of pain killers would help.
The harsh reality
Something to remember is that once things are so far gone, you cannot back paddle and change the outcome. We realized at that moment, he was going to lose his right leg, no matter what. No amount of wound care would stop this from happening. This shit got serious. You go through a gamut of emotions when something like this happens. As a care nurse, I saw this kind of thing every day. I dealt with wound care and the diabetic diet daily with several clients.
A rollercoaster of emotion
What I never expected was how emotional I would become when it happened to Dave. I felt a sense of complete hopelessness and fear of what would happen to him, his mental state, my mental state and our future. How could I help the man I loved so dearly to get through this ordeal? The one thing that I forgot at that moment was the type of person Dave is and how he deals with stuff. He surprised me completely as he immediately got to work on his recovery after the surgeries and used his months and months of hospital stays to work on himself and his body and get used to having no leg.
Always moving forward
He was way stronger than me. He worried about me being alone and caring for all of the chickens and the house in the winter. It must have been an awful feeling knowing he couldn’t help me out, at least in the beginning. Dave spent a long time in a wheelchair in hospital and used this to his advantage to start going on long rolls down every back street in Kelowna. As long as there wasn’t snow, he was rolling. He would call me at night and tell me of his accomplishments.
The journey to recovery
I was so proud of him. He would tell me stories of how the majority of patients with the same type of amputation would just give up and start booking construction of ramps for their homes. Dave would have none of that! I would make the 4 hour drive to visit him as much as possible and supply him with healthy foods and some of the “devil’s lettuce” to keep his pain down while he exercised everyday, usually twice a day. He realized that he wanted more privacy at this point (especially when showering) and forced the doctors to let him start using crutches.
It wasn’t long before he was a pro on the crutches and started doing laps around the outside of the hospital, taking breaks on a bench in the sun to have a hoot. 5 months in, he was gaining his strength back and building his confidence with every cruise around the property. Eventually, he opted out of the disgusting meals they served him and we worked it into the budget to let him go to the cafeteria for a hot, delicious and healthy meal at least once a day.
Building the new leg
He lost quite a bit of weight during this ordeal. It was probably for the best as he would be on crutches for a few more months while his new leg was being built. Might as well pack less around, right? During this entire process, Dave was in conversation with doctors, rehab therapists, prosthetic fabricators and fantastic nurses helping him get ready for his future with 1 leg. Dave has an incredible prosthetic builder. Mike listened intently as he told him what he intended to be doing in a few months time.
Months of rehab
He wanted to ride the motorcycle, gold pan, travel, drive, walk, work and more. Mike created the buckets and the feet to help him get started. He needed many adjustments and improved parts as the months went on. Each piece giving Dave more movement and flexibility. After the most agonizing 8 months of rehab, he got to come home. It was the best day of my life! He was so happy to be home, in his own bed, far away from disgusting hospital slop and people in his room crying out in pain.
A normal life
For the next year, we were focused on getting Dave back to a normal life. We bought shower chairs and created railings where needed. We leveled off the yard so he wouldn’t trip on anything. Whatever made life a little easier. Unfortunately, the first night back, he didn’t calculate the front step and fell hard on his face. The one and only time he fell. Balance was the most important thing and within a few weeks, he was getting around without issues. We were still waiting for the new leg to be built. That felt like an eternity.
We worked hard getting in shape together by walking a bit and when summer came around, we started working out at our outdoor gym in the park. He began to feel like himself again. Stronger and full of confidence. I worked out too so I got nice and fit as well. I needed to be able to keep up with him. Once we made that trip to see Mike and get the new leg, there was no stopping Dave.
Getting ready to drive again
After only a few more short months, I asked him if he was ready to drive yet. He said “I don’t know but I am gonna try.” I handed him the Jeep keys and out the door he went. Did I mention it was a stick shift and his gas/clutch foot was a piece of metal and rubber with zero flexibility? Well, that day must have been terrifying for him. He hopped in and started down the long dirt driveway to the bottom of the mountain. When he came back, he was beaming.
Challenge number one was a success! From that point on, it was no holds barred in our house. It was time to start living! Back in 2018, we acquired my dad’s Harley when he passed away and it was a dream for Dave to ride again.
How it’s going now
Dave hopped on that bike and with minimal effort, he was riding. Just like he never lost a leg. He got his freedom back! Shortly after he started riding the bike we decided to buy a sweet all-terrain vehicle so that he can take off with the dog anytime and go into the mountains for some “Dave time”. So far, anything he has wanted to do or get back into, he does. He never complains, he just starts doing things.
He continues to operate the big logging machinery he grew up on and navigate through rough terrain on foot. He is on his second leg and I think third foot. This new setup is very flexible and helps him keep his gait in check. Occasionally, he stumbles but it doesn’t take long for him to get his balance back. There is not a thing that he won’t try. We haven’t had a chance to gold mine in a creek since before the incident but that is another one of our passions.
The electric bikes are a gamechanger
We recently bought some electric bikes and those are an absolute blast for both of us and for Sadie. She rides on the back of mine. We can go anywhere and do anything we set our minds to. I don’t know what else we have planned for the future. We kind of go with the flow now. I am sure with Dave at the helm, an adventure can’t be too far.
I’ll be riding shotgun!
Remember that despite a major bump in the road, like an amputation, if you set out to do something and put the work in, it can happen. I rarely think about the fact that Dave doesn’t have a leg anymore. He is still the same guy I met 16 years ago. Full of vigor and a zest for life. I hope that never changes. I will always be by his side riding shotgun and ready to take on the world.
Just keep going
Dave has the last word here and he says “The moral to this story is just keep going. No matter what. Until your six feet under, just keep going.”