Three Amputees

Revision as of 23:18, 30 August 2007 by Webmaster (Talk | contribs)
(diff) ←Older revision | Current revision (diff) | Newer revision→ (diff)

The following is a transcript from the television chat show Enough Rope, featuring Don Elgin, Andrew Denton, Melissa Noonan and Robert Vickers. The episode aired on Monday 28 August, 2006. View the video of the show.

Few of us could truly imagine what it's like to be without a limb, to go through life minus something everyone else has taken for granted. Don Elgin, Melissa Noonan and Robert Vickers are all missing a leg. Each has arrived at that destination from a quite different direction.

ANDREW DENTON: To begin, please welcome Don Elgin and Melissa Noonan. Welcome.


ANDREW DENTON: Don, let’s start with you. You’ve been an amputee since shortly after birth. What happened?

DON ELGIN: Yes, I was born without the below half of my left leg. Basically, my tibia and fibula didn’t form. There was a little blob on the bottom of that, which was my foot. That also didn’t form. So the doctors, in their wisdom, very early on decided that it was not going to grow back, so the best thing for me would be to chop it off. So my parents were confronted with that decision pretty early, and we’ve really never looked back. There was a few other things along with my birth - my thumb wasn’t there on my left hand. My fingers on both hands were joined together, and when I was about three years of age I had open-heart surgery. But most of that was all just fixed up and away we go. So as good as gold now.

ANDREW DENTON: We’ve got a photo here of you when you were six, kicking a footy around. You were a very sporty kid, weren’t you?

DON ELGIN: Yes, well I grew up in a country town, Tocumwal. Sport was one of those things that pretty much everyone was doing, and my parents made it pretty easy for me. They were the lessees of a caravan park and a swimming pool and I could swim better than I could walk. It was a pretty tough lesson, to learn how to swim, but you grow up and that’s what you do. The fact that you’re missing a leg - people would say to me, as I was going through school, “Oh don’t worry that you come second. Don’t worry about this,” you know, “You’re missing your leg.” I thought that excuse sucked. I really hated that. I thought, “Well I don’t want to come bloody second. I don’t care if I’m missing my leg.” So for me it was a matter of, “Well, I’m just like everybody else.” My dad pointed it out to me really clear one day. He said, “Donny’s, missing your leg’s just a bit like wearing glasses,” you know? “If people wearing glasses don’t wear them, they don’t see. If you don’t put your leg on, you don’t walk. It’s that easy.” So you grow up and you realise that there’s no turning back. Sport was just a brilliant opportunity to be normal, to be like everybody else.

ANDREW DENTON: I’m guessing you were the one everyone wanted to be with for the three-legged race.

DON ELGIN: I was pretty good at that. I won a few in my time.

ANDREW DENTON: Yes, yes. You said before it’s just like glasses, being an amputee. Do you find with your prosthetic limb, as I do with glasses, that women find you incredibly sexually attractive?

DON ELGIN: Yes, I could see where you’re coming from…

ANDREW DENTON: No-one else can.

DON ELGIN: I like the way you think. No, it…

ANDREW DENTON: Desperately.

DON ELGIN: Trust me - oh it’s funny about - like we talk about women and the different struggles and times and tribulations you go through. I remember when I was just old enough to go to nightclubs and I was with my brother at one. We thought we were going great guns one night, and got to the end of the night and this girl’s gone to Jason, she goes, “What’s with your brother?” And Jase has gone, “Nothing. Why, what are you talking about?” She’s gone, “Well my friend’s being playing footsies with him all night and he hasn’t responded.” So it’s not all good.

ANDREW DENTON: Melissa, you lost your leg three years ago in very different circumstances.


ANDREW DENTON: Can you take us through the day of the accident?

MELISSA NOONAN: I’d been out with some friends and was pretty much on my way home. I went to catch a taxi and heard a train go two stops before, and changed my mind and thought, “Well, what the hell, I’ll jump on a train.” I went to board the train, and that’s still very vague for me. I actually went between the train and the platform, the second carriage from the end. So my recollections of the actual accident itself are quite vague.

ANDREW DENTON: Which is probably as well. You went under, obviously.

MELISSA NOONAN: I went, yes, between the train and the platform. I don’t know that I actually went under the train. Yes, and that was it.

ANDREW DENTON: How much damage was done?

MELISSA NOONAN: Significant. I was awake at the time and didn’t quite realise, because I yelled out for help and a woman came to help me. I asked her for a leg up, thinking that it wasn’t that bad, although from what I understand and what I was told later on, I lost about two thirds of my blood supply. I did significant damage to my right foot, which they then amputated below the knee, and further down the track above the knee. I ruptured my bladder in nine places, fractured my pelvis in two. So, yes, just a little bit…

ANDREW DENTON: They put you in an induced coma for 16 days. When you came out of the coma and you were told you’d lost your leg…


ANDREW DENTON: What was your reaction? I’d be devastated.

MELISSA NOONAN: I think it wasn’t even just my leg. I think they told me three or four times. I was slowly brought out of the coma. It took some time for me to actually register where I was. I just had bandages from head to toe, so it wasn’t even the thing that, “Yes, hey, I’ve lost this leg,” it was everything else as well. So one thing, at that point, didn’t seem more significant than the others.

ANDREW DENTON: When it became apparent, though, that it had gone, this part of your body that you’d had all your life…


ANDREW DENTON: What was your reaction to that?

MELISSA NOONAN: What’s next? What do we do? How do I get over this? How do I get past it? I just wanted to know what I had to do to get my life back, I guess.

ANDREW DENTON: As part of that process you were visited in hospital by some amputees, including Don…


ANDREW DENTON: What did they tell you and what did that mean to you?

MELISSA NOONAN: It made a huge difference to me that someone that was still talking, walking, breathing came through the door. To be able to ask them questions on that one-on-one basis, “What’s your life like?" "What can you do?" "What can’t you do?” That made an incredible difference to me and to my recovery.

ANDREW DENTON: Don, do you remember that visit?

DON ELGIN: Yes, I do. I remember you wanting to know whether I can ride a pushbike. I thought, “Bloody hell, you can’t walk yet and you want to ride a bike. What’s your story?” So it’s funny, because when I remember to go and see Mel, usually the most obvious thing is how the spirit starts to go with the body. Yet Mel’s wasn’t there. It was almost worlds apart. It’s like, “No, this is just a temporary thing. I’m out of here.” When you hear that, you just go, “Yes, go girl.” So it’s the sort of thing that you make that effort because you know this person’s going to walk again, and that’s exciting. It’s something so simple as going to walk again, but the reality is that some people don’t. Some people never can and…

ANDREW DENTON: Some don’t have the spirit to…

DON ELGIN: Yes, absolutely.

MELISSA NOONAN: Yes. Look, I think for me, also, I was so lucky to survive. I mean, realistically, the fact that I’m even sitting here now is nothing short of a miracle. So that was so powerful for me. I didn’t want to waste that opportunity of a second chance of life.

ANDREW DENTON: Nonetheless, the business of learning to walk again was arduous. You were four months in hospital, six months in rehab.


ANDREW DENTON: As an adult, honestly how hard is it to learn to walk again?

MELISSA NOONAN: Oh, it’s baby steps. You’re going back to what, I guess, your brain’s learnt for so many years of your life and you’ve trained as a child and you’ve done this and you’ve done that. To learn to walk again, especially as above knee, it’s tricky. It’s hard and it’s tiring and it’s frustrating.

ANDREW DENTON: Don, can we take a look at your leg? Can you explain to me how it works, because I’ve always been fascinated at the technology in this?

DON ELGIN: Sure. I’ve probably got one of the sexiest looking legs going round, so yes. I’m very, very happy to show mine off.

ANDREW DENTON: That’s an Australia Post leg, so is that always a bit later than your other leg?

DON ELGIN: Oh we deliver. It’s actually ahead of me.

ANDREW DENTON: Is that right?

DON ELGIN: Australia Post are good. One of the first things I probably need to make clear is that I’m a mile ahead of Mel, not for any other reason, not because I was born without it, but purely because I’m a below-the-knee amputee.


DON ELGIN: Mel, being an above-knee amputee, for Mel to walk she actually has to swing through her hip to drive that knee forward, that leg forward, whereas me, I just pick it up and I’ve got pretty much normal function.


DON ELGIN: So it’s a massive difference. This is a great way to do it. So for me to take it off, just push that button. I can…

ANDREW DENTON: So how is it - oh I see you’ve got a screw there?

DON ELGIN: So yes, this button here, this is basically a clutch mechanism…


DON ELGIN: That pin locks into, there’s a hole in the bottom.

ANDREW DENTON: And what is that pin attached to?

DON ELGIN: This pin, now, this doesn’t go into my body, Andrew.

ANDREW DENTON: No, no, no.

DON ELGIN: We were worried by the sweat coming, oh my God. So this is basically just a silicon sleeve that rolls on and off.


DON ELGIN: So it’s got the pin on the bottom, and then there’s a hole in the bottom of my leg here, and then when that pin goes in there, it rolls on…


DON ELGIN: And that’s the release button. The beauty about this leg…

ANDREW DENTON: Well, but still what keeps that attached to your leg? Is it just that it’s moulded…

DON ELGIN: Good luck. Yes, it’s just moulded.


DON ELGIN: Even though Mel’s an above knee, but if she was a below knee I couldn’t just give her this leg and go, “Here you go, Mel.”



DON ELGIN: This is designed and made just for me. The thing is, if this bit here doesn’t - if the socket doesn’t feel good then…

MELISSA NOONAN: The rest of it’s all over.

DON ELGIN: It’s crap. Yes. Probably the biggest key is making the socket fit, because then if you’ve got a fancy foot that’s springy or turns up and down or sideways, then it’s great to walk on, but if a socket’s uncomfy, then it’s a bit like putting a pin in your shoe. You’re reminded about it every step you take. So it needs to fit good. It needs to be good, so.

ANDREW DENTON: So it’s a very precise task. I’ll get back to the idea of different feet and legs in a minute.


ANDREW DENTON: Mel, because yours is above the knee, as Don said…


ANDREW DENTON: Your prothesis is quite different to this.

MELISSA NOONAN: Yes. I’ve got to compensate, obviously, for an ankle joint and a knee joint. I’ve got a bit of a foam cover on at the moment. So I’ve got a knee joint here. It’s similar, this is top socket is the same as what Don’s, got but mine’s obviously all the way up the top. You can’t really take the skin off, but basically that’s my knee joint there.


MELISSA NOONAN: That screws into an ankle joint, and similar sort of suction - I actually have a suction system, which is a little bit different to Don’s pin, but the same idea behind it.

ANDREW DENTON: Is it a lot more tiring for you than Don? Because, as Don said, you have to swing the hip through. Is it…?

MELISSA NOONAN: They say above-the-knee amputees use about 80 per cent more energy then everyone else…


MELISSA NOONAN: Just walking, yes. Yes, so you do get tired.

ANDREW DENTON: But earlier in the year you did the Queen’s Baton Relay for the Commonwealth Games…


ANDREW DENTON: That was a 450 metre walk.

MELISSA NOONAN: I know. Oh I trained for that.



ANDREW DENTON: And what was it like?

MELISSA NOONAN: It was amazing. I guess for me to represent the country in some small capacity was just incredible, but to achieve that was just second to none.

ANDREW DENTON: Which is pretty remarkable after being run over by a train.


ANDREW DENTON: Less than three years later.

MELISSA NOONAN: No, it was fantastic. Just fantastic.

ANDREW DENTON: Don, you’ve brought some other legs with you. There are many different kinds of legs you can get for different functions. Is that right?

DON ELGIN: Oh, yes. A leg for every occasion, Andrew.

ANDREW DENTON: Is that right?

DON ELGIN: This is actually my running leg.


DON ELGIN: I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in Paralympic sport and competing with other athletes with disability for some time now. As I’ve progressed through the ranks, I’ve found that obviously the advancement of technology has been able to help my results. This one here doesn’t have a heel on it. Because it’s my running leg, when you run, you’re up on your toes so your heel really doesn’t hit the ground much, so we don’t have it. So it’s designed to store energy and…

ANDREW DENTON: It springs.

DON ELGIN: …And then as I take my weight off, it returns the energy so it flicks me down the track. A bit like a big spring.

ANDREW DENTON: It’s like Gallipoli. What are you legs? Steel springs.

DON ELGIN: Exactly.

ANDREW DENTON: No, they really are steel springs.

DON ELGIN: Then obviously we just modify it to suit ourselves…


DON ELGIN: …And a running shoe on the bottom there.

ANDREW DENTON: Mel, can you explain to me what phantom pain is? What it feels like?

MELISSA NOONAN: It’s not a nice thing. There’s two things. There’s phantom sensation, which like I’m sitting here talking to you now, this foot has got pins and needles constantly.



ANDREW DENTON: What, what’s happening? The brain is still registering something.

MELISSA NOONAN: That your leg’s still there and I…

ANDREW DENTON: Can you scratch your head? Will that get rid of it?

MELISSA NOONAN: No, not quite. Phantom pain, for me, is quite different. I find it very intense when it comes on. It’s almost like having my stump wrapped in barbed wire and someone pulling it really tight and then pretty much shoving a hot poker right into the end of it. I perspire, I sweat, you go short of breath. It’s quite nasty.

ANDREW DENTON: How often does that happen?

MELISSA NOONAN: It can disappear as fast as it comes on. Sometimes I might get five hits of it in a day. Sometimes it may only be five times a week. Sometimes it might only be once a fortnight. It’s very unpredictable.

ANDREW DENTON: I want to show you a photo, Don. You’ll recognise this. This is you with your…

ANDREW DENTON: …Foot in a shark’s mouth. What is that?

DON ELGIN: That actually made up the base of my invite for my 30th birthday. My young sister, Chub, she caught a shark and she rang me up and said, “Donny, get up here, we’ve caught a shark.” I was living in Melbourne and I said, “What am I going to bloody do with it?” She goes, “Well we’ve sold the body, but we’ve got the head. We’ll get some photos.” I said, “Righto, no dramas.” So I go home and I’ve put a bit sauce, tomato sauce over the leg to make it - and my brother’s gone, “You idiot. This is a shark attack.” He’s grabbed the 4-litre bottle and he’s gone like that all over me. Lots of blood. So anyway we had a bit of fun with that and took a few photos and, yes, funny it’s appeared in a few places now, but that made up the invite for the 30th, which was a good night by the way.

ANDREW DENTON: I’m sure it was. You reckon, Don, that basically being an amputee has made very little difference to you. Do you mean that?

DON ELGIN: Yes, I reckon like people go, “If you had a chance to have two legs, would you?” In all honesty I’ve thought about it long and hard and I think about the other blokes I grew up with and the people in my life and I don’t know that many of them have had the opportunity to knock on the door of sport and go, “Okay, if I commit myself a fair bit to this pursuit of my life, I could travel the world playing sport. I could represent my country.” I love this country, thus the Australian flags. Geez, I tell you what, when you get a chance to represent the country and stand up there and say, “I live in the greatest country of all time, look here it is on my leg and I’m representing it.” I don’t think you can question that. The only things that I really can’t do because I’m an amputee, I can’t wiggle my toes on my left foot. Big deal. I occasionally miss a few gears on the bike. Big deal. And I have to put my leg on when I wake up in the middle of the night. I can either hop to the dunny or I put my leg on and walk. That’s about the only things that my life’s really different, apart from a few crappy days when you go, “Geez, this sucks.” The reality is, my life’s pretty bloody good. I reckon it’s great.

ANDREW DENTON: You look pretty happy, I’ve got to say. What about you, Mel, what’s changed for you?

MELISSA NOONAN: I guess the spontaneity of life. I don’t sort of just jump out and go and do things without thinking them through first. Yes, a lot of little things have changed. I can’t run along the beach anymore obviously, you know put my toes in sand and that sort of thing. It makes a big difference.

ANDREW DENTON: You’ve set up a thing called 'Limbs for Life'.


ANDREW DENTON: Can you tell us about that?

MELISSA NOONAN: Yes, absolutely. 'Limbs for Life' started, we incorporated probably about coming up two years ago now. I wanted to start it because the difference that meeting Don, meeting Jason in hospital made to me was huge. I just thought that every amputee should have access to that one-on-one peer support, if not longer-term peer support. So Limbs was something that I wanted to put together because there was nothing out there in Victoria when it happened to me, and not very much in Australia. There wasn’t a hell of a lot of information for amputees and I just figured I’ve got a second chance, I’ve got to make a difference and use it.

ANDREW DENTON: The physical challenge is one thing, that’s hard enough…


ANDREW DENTON: There’s an emotional challenge as well. You’re a very positive person. As Don said, from the moment he met you…


ANDREW DENTON: …In hospital you were positive. What about the question of intimacy, of dating again, things like that?


ANDREW DENTON: The whole question of body image, because you’ve had an enormous amount of damage to your body….


ANDREW DENTON: How do you deal with those questions?

MELISSA NOONAN: Well I haven’t dated anyone yet since the accident…

ANDREW DENTON: Are you anxious about that thought?

MELISSA NOONAN: Not really, no. I’m obviously very accepting of what’s happened, I can’t see the point in not being because it’s just basically the way it is. So it’s not something that I’ve probably spent a hell of a lot of time thinking about. Maybe when it happens, I might be.

ANDREW DENTON: What about body image?


ANDREW DENTON: Because our society is conditioned towards body image.


ANDREW DENTON: Do you stop and think about that?

MELISSA NOONAN: Not a hell of a lot. Oh, look, I wear shorts like everyone else in summer. You get little kids chasing you around the supermarket saying, “Mummy, mummy, that lady’s leg is like my doll’s,” and all that sort of stuff.

DON ELGIN: Yes, I’m Barbie.

MELISSA NOONAN: I remember getting actually my first skin cover to go over the top of this and I was really impressed. I thought it, sort of, didn’t look real, but kind of real, and maybe in the dark it would sort of look real. A little girl and her mother just walked straight up to me and she said, “Mum, that lady’s got a fake leg on. It doesn’t even look close to real,” and I was so devastated.

DON ELGIN: That’s gotta hurt…

MELISSA NOONAN: And I just thought, “Well, why am I even bothering,” you know like whatever.

ANDREW DENTON: Yes, the good thing is, you had a foot perfect for kicking her with though.

MELISSA NOONAN: Well I standing there trying to convince myself, and, hey, kids are great.


MELISSA NOONAN: They bring you right back to reality really quick.

ANDREW DENTON: Don, do you get different reactions from kids as compared to adults?

DON ELGIN: Yes, I think the thing I love about the kids is their honesty. There’s…


DON ELGIN: …No political correctness that’s crept into their life. They just tell it how it is. I think that was one of the turning points for me, I was about thirteen and growing up in Toc. At the caravan park we used to serve petrol, and I remember walking out to serve this old couple fuel for their car and they said to me, “Oh what’s wrong with your knee, mate? Have you had a knee reconstruction?” I’ve gone, “No, mate, I haven’t got a leg,” and they’ve gone, “Oh, I’m really sorry,” and you could see them really feel sorry.


DON ELGIN: I thought, “Shit, you didn’t chop it off, mate, it’s not your fault, is it?” So after then I felt bad for making them feel bad, and I thought, "Stuff that". So after then, that’s why I’ve had legs made that look so obvious that there ain’t no leg there.


DON ELGIN: This is something worth having a look at. Also the little kids, like me, I met a bloke who was an above knee amputee. Mark, he come to our swimming pool and he did a back flip and I just couldn’t believe it. I thought, “You bloody legend, you can do back flips.” So I taught myself how to do back flips because I wanted to be like this bloke. After that I thought, “Wow, what about if there’s little kids out there that thought they want to be like Donny Elgin.” Then I’m not doing them any justice at all if I cover my leg up or if I can’t make it easy to ask questions about it, if I’m not comfortable with it. So from that time onwards I’ve decided that I should make it as easy as I possibly can for the next generation.

ANDREW DENTON: Well you certainly have for us tonight, both of you. Don, Melissa, thank you both very much and stay with us, please.

ANDREW DENTON: During the research for this show quite an amazing story came to our attention. Our third guest is also missing a leg, but his journey has been a radically different one. Will you please welcome Robert Vickers.

ANDREW DENTON: Robert, welcome. Robert, we won’t tease the audience with this. You’re an amputee by choice. For 40 years you wanted to get rid of the lower part of your left leg. You didn’t amputate it yourself, but you orchestrated the amputation and you have a condition called BIID - Body Integrity Identity Disorder.


ANDREW DENTON: Can you explain what that is?

ROBERT VICKERS: Well, somewhere along the line, the image the brain has of the body disagrees with the body. Ever since I was a child, way before 10 years old, I imagined that I only had one leg, specifically that my left leg had been amputated above the knee.

ANDREW DENTON: So when you looked down at your left leg, what did you see?

ROBERT VICKERS: Well, there was a leg there, but according to my brain it shouldn’t have been there.

ANDREW DENTON: So the map of your brain didn’t include…


ANDREW DENTON: Your leg. The map of your body didn’t include your leg?


ANDREW DENTON: You used to be a 'pretender'. What’s that?

ROBERT VICKERS: Well, I’d lay in bed at night - it was a bit difficult because I shared a bedroom with my brother, and after lights out, I’d get my trouser belt and just double my leg up and pretend that I was an amputee.

ANDREW DENTON: If people were out of the house, if you were ever on your own, would you do that sometimes and try and get around on one leg?

ROBERT VICKERS: Yep, yes. I’d often try and pull a sickie and stay home from school or work. Both parents worked so they’d be out of the house for the day and I could do a bit of pretending around the house.

ANDREW DENTON: So you’d seek those moments definitely?


ANDREW DENTON: By puberty you obviously had a clear idea of what your desires were about your body.


ANDREW DENTON: Where did you put those thoughts? You couldn’t tell anyone. Where did you put them?

ROBERT VICKERS: Well, by that time I’d reached puberty, my hormones raging as they do in any teenage boy. I hadn’t become an amputee, my leg hadn’t dropped off. I hadn’t had a serious accident that had caused any mischief. So the thoughts changed - “Well if I can’t be an amputee myself, maybe if I had an amputee as a girlfriend.” But the amputee girlfriend didn’t come along and so I would manufacture pictures of amputees out of the gorgeous naked wenches in Playboy and such like.

ANDREW DENTON: So you cut up Playboy and you’d cut off the end of the leg, or colour it out, or what?


ANDREW DENTON: Did you find that erotic, satisfying?

ROBERT VICKERS: For a short time and then I’d get absolutely disgusted with myself and I’d burn them all and vow that I was going to stop doing that. For every time you tell yourself you’re going to stop doing it and you come and feel more disgusted with yourself for taking it up again.

ANDREW DENTON: Because it was in your brain, it was your natural drive?


ANDREW DENTON: How did you see your leg at this time? Was it an enemy? Was it to be disliked? Or was it just wrong?

ROBERT VICKERS: I just had to be rid of it. That sensation varied in intensity over the years. I just had to suppress the feeling and try and get on with life.

ANDREW DENTON: In suppressing it and in not being able to tell anyone, you mentioned self-loathing before. Was there a powerful sense of that?

ROBERT VICKERS: Yes, very much so. I felt like that I was the only weird sod in the world that could possibly want a limb amputated. The idea was that ridiculous, that perverted even, that all the time I was undergoing psychiatric treatment for depression, I couldn’t bring myself to tell any of the psychiatrists that I wanted to be rid of my left leg.

ANDREW DENTON: Around the age of 30 you took matters into your own hands. Using dry ice, putting your leg in dry ice, you attempted to get it to a point where it would have to be amputated, but when you got to the hospital the doctors said it could be saved. Despite your protestations, they saved the leg.


ANDREW DENTON: That then led to a darker period for you, didn’t it?

ROBERT VICKERS: It did, yes.

ANDREW DENTON: What happened?

ROBERT VICKERS: Well, I spent three months in hospital at the time. They patched up the leg, they took a great slab of meat out of the right calf muscle and I sat up in bed for several weeks while the graft took from my right calf to my left kneecap. I was bombed out with drugs, shock treatment, the whole works. So in all probabilities, the surgeons at the hospital thought, “Well if this fella’s trying to destroy his leg, he must be psychotic. So if we can treat his psychosis and cure him of that, fix his leg so he can walk again, he’ll be forever grateful.” But neither treatment worked because neither treatment was appropriate. I wasn’t psychotic and I didn’t want the leg.

ANDREW DENTON: Can we clear this up, because a lot of people watching tonight, this will be absolute news to them. This is not a psychiatric condition we’re talking about?


ANDREW DENTON: Not a condition that’s treatable with drugs or therapy?

ROBERT VICKERS: In a way it’s a bit like those that believe they’re in the wrong body and go through gender reassignment surgery, from male to appear like a woman, or the other way round. The difference in my case, I can have surgery and become a real amputee. I don’t have to be a pretend one.

ANDREW DENTON: After this period where you’d attempted to have your leg amputated, it hadn’t worked. You went through shock therapy, things actually started to look up. You met Elaine, who has become your wife, and she was the first person you ever told about your desires. How did that conversation go?

ROBERT VICKERS: I told her I had a something to tell her, and her basic reaction was, “Thank God, I thought you were going to tell me you’re already married.”

ANDREW DENTON: Now, that’s love, right there. How long did it take you? I mean you have been your entire life almost you’ve been keeping this to yourself. That must have been a terrifying moment to build up to.


ANDREW DENTON: How did you get yourself ready for that?

ROBERT VICKERS: Well, we’d been seeing enough of each other that we knew there was something serious in it, and I’d have to explain somehow the horrendous damage to my left leg. I just had to admit what I’d done.

ANDREW DENTON: How did you explain it to her? Did you use direct terms?

ROBERT VICKERS: Well, I just basically waffled around it, that since a child I’d imagined myself with one leg and I’d tried to get rid of the leg and that’s what I ended up with. The matter was you know just shelved in the back of the cupboard and we just got on with life.

ANDREW DENTON: She wasn’t curious?

ROBERT VICKERS: Oh I guess she asked a few questions, but…

ANDREW DENTON: I think I would.

ROBERT VICKERS: I didn’t know many of the answers.

ANDREW DENTON: That is true love, is it not, that it’s the definition of somebody accepting you as you are?


ANDREW DENTON: What did that mean to you, to have not only somebody who you could finally share this with, but somebody who accepted you for what it was?

ROBERT VICKERS: Well, it was brilliant. She wasn’t even an amputee and I was madly in love with her. The last thing I would have wanted was for anything to happen to her that she should become an amputee, just to in some way satisfy my desires. That was the woman I loved and I loved her the way she was, and for about seven years we were just going along beautifully.

ANDREW DENTON: As it turned out, it wasn’t her that you wanted to be an amputee. It was always you.

ROBERT VICKERS: Yes, that’s right.

ANDREW DENTON: And you had a little girl, and the marriage was happy. But at age 41, your phrase, "something in you collapsed". What happened?

ROBERT VICKERS: Looking back, I just don’t know what happened. All of a sudden, over a period - well I don’t even know how long the period was. But normal life just stopped and I became totally consumed with the need that, here and now, I’ve got to get rid of that leg or I’ll never be able to carry on.

ANDREW DENTON: Did you share this with Elaine?


ANDREW DENTON: That must have been hell.

ROBERT VICKERS: It was. There was still no one I could tell. There was, I guess, towards the fateful day, I guess my thoughts probably cleared a little when I could see that, yes, that’s the future, that’s where I am. Once I get this over and done with, it all should be plain sailing.

ANDREW DENTON: And once again you took matters into your own hands. Similar method, but this time successful - the doctors did amputate. When you awoke from that operation, what did you feel?

ROBERT VICKERS: Oh bloody brilliant. Looked under the bedclothes, under the sheets, and my leg left leg had been reduced to this tiny little bandaged stump. It was what I’d dreamed of for the last 30-odd years.

ANDREW DENTON: In the studies of BIID, people who have this condition report a sense of wholeness when losing a part of their body. Is that what you felt?


ANDREW DENTON: Would you rank that as one of the great days of your life?

ROBERT VICKERS: Yes. I do a bit of writing, and when I thought about it, I placed the day above meeting my wife, marrying, and even the birth of our daughter.

ANDREW DENTON: How much did it change you?

ROBERT VICKERS: Well I no longer felt I was pretending. I had to, sort of, pretend all my life that everything was normal. Well now suddenly it was normal.

ANDREW DENTON: You said to the doctors at the time, after the operation, “Look I’ll be right from now on.” That was 20 years ago. Has that turned out to be true?


ANDREW DENTON: Have you ever had a moment’s regret?

ROBERT VICKERS: Not once. The only regret was that I lied to my wife about what I was going to do that day, and the regret that all those years earlier I hadn’t managed and I’d just had to struggle through all those years, when it could have been fixed the first time round.

ANDREW DENTON: Let’s talk about the Internet. For most of your life you didn’t have the Internet. It wasn’t until 15 years after you’d lost your leg, and 50 years after you’d been holding this to yourself, that you discovered other people had this condition. What did that mean to you?

ROBERT VICKERS: Well, it put a name to it as a condition. There was enough people affected that it was given a name and that, no, it just wasn’t me. It wasn’t my screwed up brain, I was just one of a number that had that same condition. That gave me a freedom to be more open about what happened to me, instead of people asking, “Well what happened to your leg?” “Oh, I had a mishap.” Now I was able to tell those that mattered what really had happened.

ANDREW DENTON: Do they understand?

ROBERT VICKERS: No. I don’t understand either.

ANDREW DENTON: That’s true. I think many people watching tonight will find this completely mystifying. How do you account for it, or do you have no way?

ROBERT VICKERS: I have no idea. The brain’s image of my body is now what it should be.

ANDREW DENTON: You said earlier that when you were younger you didn’t feel normal. Do you feel normal now?

ROBERT VICKERS: Yes, completely normal.

ANDREW DENTON: Many people watching tonight will find it shocking, will find it confronting. Why is it that you are prepared to talk about this in public?

ROBERT VICKERS: Well, now I’ve got to the age where I’m not worried about what people think about me, and there are those people out there that are still struggling with the condition. It’s not recognised widely. Your average GP or psychiatrist won’t have heard about it. It’s not in the public perception yet, that it is a legitimate condition, and at the present state of knowledge of it maybe surgery to amputate the limb is a legitimate medical procedure.

ANDREW DENTON: Is it in line with cosmetic surgery, for instance. We accept certain modification of the human body - is this part of that line? That’s one of the questions, I assume?

ROBERT VICKERS: Yes, that’s one that’s being looked at - is it just - well, may we say a radical form of cosmetic surgery.

ANDREW DENTON: And not one that’s likely to catch on, I wouldn’t think.

ROBERT VICKERS: Probably not, no.

ANDREW DENTON: No, no, it’s not the trend this summer.


ANDREW DENTON: Don and Mel, who we were talking to earlier are both amputees in different ways. An extraordinary story. First of all, Don, your reaction?

DON ELGIN: Shit, like this is pretty full on, to be honest. I suppose the first thing that comes to my head, Robert, is now why not crutches? Like, you’ve got a leg that’s replaced that leg. Obviously nothing will ever replace the real leg, but would you prefer to be around on crutches and not have a leg?

ROBERT VICKERS: My big problem these days is chronic fatigue syndrome and I can’t use the crutches for any great period of time. I’ve been asked the question before, “But you went to all this trouble to get rid of your leg. Why do you wear a prosthesis?” Well that’s just made to get around. Once I take my leg off, that’s me. I’m whole.

ANDREW DENTON: What about you, Mel? What’s your reaction?

MELISSA NOONAN: Yes, it’s just very difficult for me to compare, obviously. I mean I’d have my leg back tomorrow if that was an option, but obviously it isn’t. So, yes, just very difficult.

DON ELGIN: You’d have yours back and you wanted to get rid of it. We could have had a swap meet.

MELISSA NOONAN: Transplant. Not so lucky. Different side.

ANDREW DENTON: It’s called a 'swap meet', I think. Look, Don and Melissa, thank you for your honesty. Robert, thank you, not just for your honesty, but for your bravery tonight. I’m sure that wasn’t easy to do, and thank you all. Thank you.

Personal tools