Jennifer Doering column: Sometimes you just gotta laugh
I have lived in Salisbury for the past six years. I am a recent below-the-knee amputee (my left leg) and for the past two years I have experienced every step of the grieving process. I was confined to a wheelchair for almost two years, enduring six surgeries, wearing an external fixator for eight months, trying desperately to save my leg.
I was also fighting both MRSA and Pseudonymous with two different medication infusions through a PICC line implanted in my upper arm. My husband Donald administered these medications which took three hours twice daily from May to December 2007. I felt as sick as I believe I could have felt enduring chemotherapy.
After the fixator was removed in December of 2007, I tried in vain to walk on a leg that was two inches shorter, terribly scarred, with the calf muscle totally atrophied. The fixator was removed too soon, so back to the doctor in February 2008. My doctor informed me he could try one last surgery, and I was ready to go for it. I finally, however, decided I wanted to get on with my life, and knowing in my heart this final surgery would not work, I made the hardest decision in my life: to amputate my leg. The amputation was performed in March 2008, and five more surgeries later I was finally successfully wearing my prosthesis in February 2009.
I had been fortunate enough to have a few people come up to me while I was still in my wheelchair with my one and a half legs and let me know that they, too, had undergone an amputation and were successfully walking in their prosthesis. I met many people in Salisbury who graciously opened doors for me while in my wheelchair, I received advice from fellow amputees, and I thank them so much for their very much needed advice regarding the “how to’s” and the “do nots”of wearing a prosthesis. I have learned that our good city of Salisbury has many kind and compassionate people.
During those two terrible years between 2007 and 2009, I was fortunate enough to befriend Linda Beck. Many of you know from reading her columns in the Salisbury Post and Senior Savvy. I met Linda and started helping her make greeting cards that she sends to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. While working with Linda on the cards, there were many days that I was terribly bitter over what I was having to go through, and Linda talked to me at length about her disabilities and how she had been able to go on with her life. I believe I have to credit Linda with literally “getting me back on my feet.”
Since I luckily was still able to drive with my right leg (policemen, please no tickets here!), one evening Linda and I decided to go out for dinner. She was able to walk to the car gingerly, using her rolling walker ó she suffers from MS and is confined to a wheelchair. Once Linda was in the car, I hobbled on my crutches with my leg and a half and drove to College Barbecue. Once we arrived, I used my crutches to hop into the building. As soon as I entered the restaurant, I announced that I had a good friend in my car who was unable to walk, and I asked if someone would please help Linda get into the restaurant.
The look on the faces of the workers in the restaurant was quite a sight! They looked at me with my one and a half legs and thought “Who could be in any worse shape than that?” It was quite amusing to see the looks on their faces, but they were very helpful in getting Linda into the restaurant. We enjoyed a nice meal, and the workers were kind enough to help my friend back into my car.
Once Linda and I arrived at her home, I managed to remove her rolling walker from the back seat and hand it to her. Unfortunately, it slipped out of her grasp and rolled across her driveway. So I thought, “What ya gonna do?” To help my friend, I climbed out of my car and crawled on my hands and knees down the driveway to fetch the walker. Linda thought it was very fortunate that I was wearing long pants so at least I did not scrape my knees. Once I was able to grab the walker I pulled myself up, and putting my short stump on the walker, I hopped back to Linda so she could use her walker. The both of us managed to hobble back into her home.
Once we were both safely in her home I just started to laugh. I told Linda that this experience was like the “blind leading the blind.” Once we both thought about it, we started laughing so hysterically we cried! After I composed myself and hugged Linda goodbye, I drove home.
From that day on, I decided then and there either I could cry about my situation or laugh. To this day I have learned that rather than thinking about the sorrows of losing my leg, I am finally able to think of all of the good things that have blessed my life and how I have been able to help other people in much the same situation. Trust me, it is much better to face your life with a smile rather than a frown, and everyone can always use a good laugh!Jennifer J. Doering lives in Salisbury.