Do no harm

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March 2005 was to be the happiest second honeymoon ever for forty year old French woman Lily; but it turned into the holiday to hell. Lily’s dream since childhood, became her worst nightmare, and fifteen months later, it replays on endless loop to remind Lily of her abominable sin.

Lily was introduced to our Writers’ Discussion Group by Janne, the French coordinator of the group. Janne found a press report about a mad French woman who went to the United Kingdom, inflicted injury to her legs, and was sent home when surgeons refused her request to amputate both legs above the knee.

Janne brought the cutting as a discussion topic, because twelve months earlier, I had told the group of my own decision to become a left above-knee amputee. I too had been forty-one when the struggle since childhood, with what I now know as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), became so all-consuming, that I froze my leg with dry ice, thus necessitating amputation.

Having been through years of fighting the desire, imagining that I was the only lunatic in the whole world that would want a perfectly good leg amputated, I was at one with Lily: I knew exactly what she had been through to drive her to this desperate measure. I knew too, having failed on my first attempt to attain my desired body form, how utterly devastated, angry and depressed she would be feeling. One reaches this nadir of one’s life journey after many years of struggle and internal conflict, where one is at peace with the possibility of death if it all goes wrong, yet at the same time euphoric that at last one is ready to make that journey of one’s life.

I have now met Lily in spirit, on a ‘wannabe amputee’ internet chat group, and am able to put a person to the sensational press report.

Only Lily’s consenting husband knew of her plan. Lily was in high spirits with joyous expectations of “going on holidays, and having an accident”, then returning home to family and friends as a double above-knee (DAK) amputee. I should emphasise here, that Lily had no intention of becoming a cripple, to be cared for and pitied, but rather to become the person she always believed herself to be. She had been crippled all her life, and now she was going to rise above it, not for plaudits and praise, but for self-fulfilment, and the achievement of the goals in life that had, until now, always eluded her.

Unfortunately for Lily and her husband, the freezing process with the dry ice did not go quite to plan, and she reached hospital with her legs ‘underdone.’ At first she was to achieve her goal, with the surgeon agreeing to a simple, neat amputation of both legs above the knee. But then the surgeon reported of the substance hitting the fan. Management, ethicists and no doubt media spokesmen and spin doctors, all hearing of the proposed surgery and the desire of the patient, stopped the surgery, patched-up her rather superficial injuries and send them home to France.

Back home, Lily tried again – left leg for starters – and so far, Lily has had nine operations to affect repair. Such was the extent of the damage, Lily’s leg is, in places, bone covered with skin. Grafts are failing, infections are breaking out, she is in constant pain, can’t walk and in a wheelchair. An accident victim with the same injuries would have been offered amputation as the preferred option. She has found a surgeon who will operate as requested, and once her health is restored, Lily will do her right leg.

Was the surgeon wielding his unassailable power vindictively? He had a patient under his knife, she actually wanted her leg amputated and he was bloody-mindedly determined he was not going to give her her wish. What of his oath to do no harm?

Robert Vickers. 23rd June 2006.

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