A date to remember

Thursday 21st. of June 1984 was a day of inestimable joy for me, even if not for many others. The day could have been a tragedy, but for the strength of those around me. But for me, it was a triumph, the day I had dreamed of for over thirty years. The day I reached my goal, my dream, my Nirvana. Quite literally, the day I was reborn into a new body: a new one-legged body.

That final, fateful countdown commenced on the Wednesday, but it started in ignominy, as I lied to my wife and my employer about my plans for the day. I set myself up with the necessary supplies to achieve my goal, and in the event, I was successful. By late afternoon, I was quite satisfied and sure that my left leg was frozen beyond repair to just above the knee.

I rang my dear and loving Elaine to come and collect me from my mother’s vacant unit. I have no idea of her reaction to what must have seemed a truly dastardly deed of self-mutilation, although by my choice of method, there was nothing bloody or gruesome apparent. Her outward reaction was one of complete calm and businesslike competence, as she took me home, arranged care for our five year-old daughter, and called an ambulance to take me to hospital - the Austin, as it happened.

As ‘walking wounded,’ I was not seen to until I flaked out in the waiting room. The staff were totally professional in everything related to my treatment, both in casualty and during the two weeks I was a patient. The fact that I was there as a result of a self-inflicted injury, was never an issue. Sometime during the evening, Elaine returned home and to our daughter, no doubt in some distress at my condition.

After preliminaries and discussion about my obviously necessary amputation, I was taken to theatre. Hours later, I was taken aback to waken and find my leg still in place. My initial distress was eased when it became apparent that after exploratory work, they must have thought they could save my knee, with the easier option later for a below-knee prosthesis. But I was adamant: my leg was to be amputated halfway up the thigh, so that there would be no need for plastic surgery or any other mucking about to save more of my leg than was the easiest, and desired, option.

Next time I woke, it was as if in heaven. The leg I had despised and desired to be rid of since a small child, was gone. I didn’t care where, just so long as I had my newly bandaged stump to see me through the rest of my days. Gone in that simple operation was years of depression and sadness, gone any further thoughts of suicide, gone the hatred of myself and my inadequacies. It was the start of the rest of my life, and I was to start it the way I always knew it was meant to be.

To the nurses and therapists, I was the model patient: I would do anything they asked, because I wanted to be there, for what others may see as a lifelong disability. But I had just as suddenly shed my lifelong disability, and as soon as I could get out of bed and onto a pair of crutches, I was away! I suppose I was selfish in the extreme, but it did save my life, of that I have no doubt. My life may have become intolerable but for that reprieve. What those around me thought happened or what they thought of me, I never asked, nor was I told. Life was new, different and wonderful as I did things like climb trees and clean leaves from gutters, as I always imagined I would. What I did rouses intense anger in some who have had limb loss thrust upon them, but for myself? Happiness ever after, and never one regret.

Robert Vickers. 22 February 2006.

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