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"Be Your Own Advocate" By Carol McKinzie

This year marks 13 years since the loss of my right lower leg. Two and a half years before my amputation, I had crushed both legs in an auto accident. The left leg healed fine on its own, but the right leg was a shattered mess that would require multiple surgeries to try and repair the extensive crush injuries to the bone. There were hardware failures, infections, re-fractures and finally a decision had to be made. Do I continue with salvage surgeries or do I put an end to the struggles now and go ahead with amputation? I opted for the latter, a gut-wrenching but necessary decision.

Six months after the amputation I was walking well in my prosthesis, had returned to nursing part-time and was walking much easier that I had since my accident. I remember thinking that my struggles were over and the life that lay ahead of me would be a breeze! So, I’m not always right.

The challenges change with seasons and circumstances. Living in the northeast, winter will always be the enemy to an amputee. The snow, ice, ruts. And being a single woman living in a privately owned apartment building, I am at the mercy of others to take care of the things that ensure my safety. Plowing, shoveling and sanding to keep walking conditions the way I need them. My greatest frustration is the lack of able-bodied people to understand what it is like to experience great fear with each step I take. It only takes a split-second for life to change. So, one slip, trip or misstep could prove devastating.

I recall one day last winter after an unusually warm and sunny day had caused some snow melt and then frozen overnight. When I left for work at about 6:30am, I stood on the front step and glanced across the driveway that now resembled an Olympic ice arena. Not a speck of sand in sight. I turned around to go back inside but realized I couldn’t turn and run. I still needed to get to work at a certain time so I decided to just make the treacherous walk to my car and call the property manager about sand later.

I wasn’t really “walking” to my car. It was more of a gentle slide/shuffle combination. I was just a few feet from my car door when I tried to actually take a step with a little too much gusto. My foot slid out from under me and I knew I was going all the way down. Not wanting to land directly on my tailbone, I tried to twist a little as I went down in hopes I could take the landing on my arm. That didn’t work as I had planned and I ended up hitting the ice on the side of my torso. I landed with a jolt. It hurt. It hurt a lot. Luckily, a neighbor was outside and saw me fall. As I was figuring out how I was going to get up he approached to see if I was ok. Convincing myself that I was, I was happy to accept his help in getting upright and the rest of the way to my car.

I only had a 15 minute ride to work and I remember an incredible stinging sensation in my side the whole way there. I figured I would be fine when I got there and could “walk it off”. I was working on a rehab unit at the time and I knew once I got to work and got busy I would be fine. By 10am the spasms I had started having brought me to tears. I knew I had pulled a muscle. They sent me home early and when I got home I was relieved to see some sand had been spread on the ice. I made it inside safely, took some ibuprofen and hit the couch for the day. The pain stayed with me all day, but was tolerable.

When I got up the next morning, a scheduled day off, I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to get out of bed. My whole left side was so painful it reminded me of how it felt when I broke all of my ribs in the accident years earlier. I called my doctor’s office as soon as they were open and they sent me for an x-ray immediately. Two hours later back at home, my doctor called to report that I had cracked my 2 lower ribs on the left side. I would miss the next few days of work but I felt relieved and lucky that the lung on that side hadn’t collapsed.

I remember feeling so annoyed and angry that I had to go through that. Probably because the guy who did the sanding didn’t want to get up early and go do his job. It was too bad he didn’t understand the importance of his job and that people like me were depending on him for our safety and well-being.

A few days later I emailed the property manager and explained what had happened. I told them that I am an amputee so walking conditions are important. I told them of my fall, the rib fractures and that I had missed a few days of work because of it. The next time I went outside, there was so much sand spread on the driveway I thought I was at the beach! It shouldn’t take something like that for people to do what they should be doing anyway, but it does! I don’t hesitate to let people know my situation so they will understand the “why” of my concern. Sometimes they get it, but not always. Be your own advocate, speak up and don’t be shy about your situation. I’ve been asking for a railing on the basement steps that lead to the washroom for three years but haven’t seen it yet. I’ll be sure to email them again when I am recovering from my injuries I receive when I fall down the stairs! Ain’t life great?

Carolyn McKinzie, RBKA

August 2014

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