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Tony – Amputation - What does this mean?  

Tony – Amputation

What does this mean?  - Tony

This suck, it doesn't feel right and hurts like bloody hell. It feels weird and really heavy I feel like a cripple. Everyone is going to know.  How the hell did this happen and why me? I am only 20 years old. I am so angry I just want to smash this room up, put my fist through the walls and window! But all I can do is cry. I AM SO ANGRY.


On a cold and grey morning in May 1989 I went for a run like I did every other morning but this time it felt different. Part way through I noticed a niggle in my ankle but typical of my generation where the prevailing attitude was "No pain, no gain", I kept going.


Over the ensuing four weeks what initially was an annoying pain had now graduated to the point where it was ever present, 24/7, and alternated between feeling like being hit with a hammer to someone sticking a burning hot poker into my lower shin. Yeah, the pain had become more prominent and had spread. Needless to say, running was definitely out for the time being.   


My doctor put it down to "growing pains" when my x-ray came back clear. Working as a bank teller meant standing all day, being told this was not what I wanted to hear.


After another 6 weeks of "No pain no gain" I was back at my doctor’s office. It was deja vu, Groundhog Day, same sh.t different day. X-rays came back clear but this time the doctor determined that I must have a hairline fracture which would not be picked up with the technology of that time. So, I was placed in a cast which I was to wear for two months.


Initially the stability offered with the cast alleviated a lot of pain. I felt incredibly tired however but put this down to the extra effort required when using crutches. I actually fell asleep on the bus ride back from work and ended up missing my stop. That wasn't a great experience as it meant "walking" an extra mile to my home. If it happened today I would have called someone on my flash I-phone! To be honest I became so tired that I would go to bed after tea on a Friday night and sleep all weekend, have tea on Sunday and back to work Monday. This became my routine.


After what seemed like an eternity, I was at the hospital getting my cast removed, I had been looking forward to this for ever. My relief and anticipation quickly faded when upon being x-rayed to check bones had healed it was found I had two clear fractures. I didn't understand this.......firstly why x-ray a hairline fracture that you never saw previously and secondly how the hell could something now be clearly visible (fractures), especially after I spent two crappy months in plaster? The outcome was to place me in a fibreglass cast which was expensive and a very new treatment option. I wasn't happy but what else could I do?


So I had my sentence on crutches extended another two months. I felt like a prisoner appearing before the parole board and getting "slammed" with more time to serve!


Work, sleep, work, sleep, work and sleep. Why am I so tired? Friends would visit during the week and in weekends and I would inevitably be asleep. They were mortified that someone could sleep a whole weekend. I had no social life and to be honest didn't have the zest to sustain one. My confidence was being eroded along with my energy. I was becoming depressed, depressed at my situation, depressed that I was losing weight, depressed that I thought this was in my mind............depressed.


It was now December and the vibration saw was applied to my cast and it was soon opened. I was shocked at how thin my leg had become. Lack of use had caused muscle atrophy and loss of weight had also taken its toll. The customary x-ray was next. I was soon back in the consultation room and initially didn't think much of the increasing number of white coats that where coming to view someone’s x-ray. Little did I know that that someone was ME! Apparently, my fractures had not healed and now there were more. My heart sank.  "What's wrong with me?", I asked myself. The registrar arranged for me to have a biopsy so they could take a sample of tissue and investigate the possibility of infection. I was happy to oblige. To me it was time off work and would give me a chance to rest.


Little did I know this was a turning point in my life. Upon coming out of surgery I was enduring the most incredible pain I have ever experienced.  I wanted my leg to be taken off I was in so much agony, even though being given morphine. The pain only got worse as I sobered up from the anaesthetic. The following day I was shocked at the huge amount of bandaging around my whole leg, not just my shin as I expected.

The registrar came into my room late morning. He said something I will never forget. 


"Tony, we found something that concerns us. Your lower leg bone had the consistency of sand and pulp. We are not sure what we are dealing with as none of us have seen this before. We have arranged for samples to send be to Paris and Sydney for diagnosis however we feel that this is a malignant tumour".   


I asked, “What does that mean?".


"Cancer", came the answer.  That word hit me like a sledge hammer and echoed in my head. I started to cry.


My mum came to visit not long after. I shared this with her. She laughed as I was a practical joker by nature. Tears streamed down my face and she knew I wasn't joking.


The following weeks seemed to take forever. I was constantly asking myself "am I going to die". Every day I would phone to see if the results had come back from overseas. Ironically the thing that I couldn't stop doing once was now evading me.....sleep. My bandages had since been removed however there was extensive deep bruising from the my toes to the top of my thigh. I was able to stand with the aid of crutches for up to half an hour before the pressure of swelling became too much to bear. 


Then it happened. The call came through from the hospital. I met with the surgeon of my biopsy who confirmed I had Chondrosarcoma. An aggressive bone cancer. I was devastated I had so many emotions going through me. Maybe they had made a mistake, maybe the results are someone else's?  But the reality was the results were mine.


The only treatment available for this disease was amputation. The choice I had was keep it (leg) and die or loose it and live (at least 5 years). It felt crazy. I wanted someone else to make the choice for me......I wanted this to go away. 


Amputation was scheduled for February 5th 1990. 


I was admitted to hospital the day before. I felt like a piece of meat when it came to the pre surgery "check list". I was weighed, had blood tests, height taken and tagged (identification and hospital number).  A nurse came in to measure my right leg I asked him why he was doing this he replied that they need to find the right size circulation sock for post-surgery. It was all becoming real. I asked for a sedative that didn't work. I went to the TV room and met a Road Knight gang member that had broken both his legs in a bike accident. He taught me to play backgammon and out of compassion for my situation kept me company reassuring me that things will be OK!


Morning came. I was told to wash my left leg with iodine when showering. Apparently this helps prevent infection. I started to do this and was overcome with emotion. It felt like I was washing away something that has been part of me since birth. I fell to my knees and wept uncontrollably. The realness of what was about to happen just hit.


I changed into a surgical gown and was given a pre-med injection. It took the "edge" off.


I had already decided that I will be walking to the operating room and nothing was going to stop me. The registrar was called and a big fuss made that no one had ever done that before and it was against protocol.  


My response, "F..k your protocol".


Walking with a portable drip in tow I embarked on my two ward journey from the orthopaedic ward to the Operating Room ( O.R.). Not long into my trek each step made me want to throw up, the pain was evil. I wasn't giving in. 

"This is the last time you will ever walk with your own legs mate", I kept telling myself


Finally, I made it through the O.R doors and dropped on the awaiting bed.


Anaesthetic was administered. I was asked to count backward.

"10, 9, 8......", I don't remember getting to 7?


I awoke and with my eyes closed and remember thinking "They haven't taken it off, I can feel it, it must of been a mistake!"

I opened my eyes and had something appearing circular framed keeping sheets and blankets off my torso and legs...or so I thought.

Lifting the blankets and looking down I could see it was gone. I pulled the blankets down more and became aware my dad was sitting silently in the corner.

"Look dad it's not too bad aye!" as I showed him my bandaged stump. 


Tears fell from his eyes and he left the room.


There wasn't much time to rest. The following day a physio got me out of bed and ordered me to "walk" using crutches. Any empathy and caring that I thought I was entitled to went straight out the door!


I was soon home. I felt lonely and isolated and struggled emotionally and mentally to accept the changes in my life.


Within 6 weeks I was fitted with an artificial limb and started on my rehabilitation, learning how to walk again. 


I was encouraged to build up the length of time I could wear "the leg" and slowly increase my walking distance in addition to how to take care for my stump. Before long I was back in Invercargill. The prosthesis felt foreign and I hated it. It was heavy and hard to use. I was worried about what people would say and think when they saw me try to walk. I was also carrying a lot of shame , shame that my body had had cancer living in it. I felt dirty and disgusting. I hated myself and thought i was UGLY.


The ensuing years saw me build up strength, endurance and fitness. More importantly I was able to grieve, accept what had happened and gain strength from my experience. 


As a cancer survivor I am incredibly blessed in so many ways. God has given me two awesome children and I am soon to become a grandparent. Life doesn't always proceed the way we plan. When things seem insurmountable, I take solace in the following:


Jeremiah 29:11New International Version (NIV)

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I have a future and praise GOD for this.

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