Hugh Boyle underwent amputation surgery on March 4th (or “March Forth,” as he calls it) of this year. A native of Great Britain now living in Texas, he’s been documenting his experience at his blog/vlog, “Blue Suede Shoe: The Rocks and Rolls of an Unexpected American.” His writings and videos are full of grace, good humor, and useful insights. Boyle generously shared this post with us from March 24, written just 20 days after his surgery in the midst of a severe springtime storm in Tornado Alley. Read the original at Blue Suede Shoe.
by Hugh Boyle
The truth is that nothing, absolutely nothing, could have fully prepared me for losing my leg.
Not for the heart-stopping moments in the days that followed my surgery—like the one when I looked down and saw the empty space where my leg used to be for the first time, or the one when I caught a reflection of my newly reduced and wheelchaired self in a window, or the one when the unfathomable extent of my new limitations finally dawned on me. All of them unequivocally told me that my new situation was a very big deal indeed.
But there was something absolutely and unimaginably crazy about feeling this way. Because concurrently, in those same days after my surgery, every doctor or nurse that I spoke with, without exception, was eager to tell me how lucky I had been. How sepsis is a killer and how by looking at my chart, they could see what a prime candidate I had become for the same. How the breakneck speed from diagnosis to operating room that I’d been whisked along at was highly unusual and should tell me everything I needed to know about the severity of my preamputation condition—and, dare I say it, my chances.
The whole thing felt like how a TV meteorologist urges you down to your basement when the key atmospheric conditions required for a tornado to form are hanging out right above your neighborhood. It doesn’t mean there will be a tornado, but it certainly does mean that with every ingredient now in place, there’s no good reason that there won’t.
I can tell you that I spent no small amount of time staring out of my hospital room window contemplating what I now understood they were actually saying to me. And of course, every second of every day since then, feeling very lucky indeed.
Well, almost every second…
Lying awake in bed in the middle of the night, a few days later, the darkest cloud of desperation descended on me, and I found myself right back in “nothing could have prepared me for losing my leg” territory again. I felt that everything had changed for me now. I felt that the person I was before had gone. I felt that the rest of my days would now bear no resemblance whatsoever to how I previously hoped they might be, to be replaced instead by what, in that moment, I fully comprehended to be the most daunting challenge of my life.
But wait, what did I just say?
I said “my life.”
And therein lies a rather different challenge and in every sense the very definition of an existential one. For the first time in over 50 years, I’d been told that with the slightest change in variables, I might very well not be here writing this post now. So how could I possibly feel so desolate about becoming an amputee, when the alternative that had been put before me was as bad as it can get? Was I really pitying myself sufficiently to believe I was in a “heads you win, tails I lose” situation?
Honest answer? Yes, I was.
But I’m now going to let myself off the hook a little (prosthetic pun intended).
Of course I should not be expected to be found wheeling myself down the road whistling a happy tune, and of course I should be expected to feel overwhelmed and afraid in the deep of the night from time to time.
Sure, the seemingly tornadic infections in my bones ultimately did not touch down in my bloodstream and spin rapidly into one of my major organs. But equally, something like 12.5 percent of me had been sawn off, like the downed branch of a tree the morning after the storm.
So how on earth do I reconcile this? Is it the case that just because something didn’t blow you away, you should rejoice in the fact that it only blew you over? At any prior point in my life, I without doubt would’ve said “Yes, you do.”
But now I feel a little differently, as I fill out the forms to indefinitely extend the “disabled” badge hanging on the rearview mirror of our car, as I have grab bars installed in every location in our house where I might fall over (and it’s more bars than I used to visit on an average night out in central London), as I navigate the world of prosthetic legs, and as I worry (a little unnecessarily) whether any of them will actually allow me to be the Daddy I want to be for my little girls—a Daddy neither limited or defined by disability.
Despite never being one to previously sit on the fence about pretty much anything, I’m now trying to figure out the grey area between the lucky and the unlucky. To understand that I’m not in an either/or situation, and that “heads or tails” doesn’t allow for degrees of winning and degrees of losing.
Not that I’m seeking a way to give myself permission to feel sorry for myself—and I hope everything previously posted on this blog shows that that would not be my style. But instead, I’m seeking to find the pragmatic “safe zone” where I can be comfortable with my own apprehension, fears, and crucially, my disappointment as to what my life might now be—regardless of both how fortunate I am to have it and how unerringly I intend to weather the conditions and love living it.
Written under the ‘Southlake Tornado Warning’ of March 21, 2022. There was no tornado in the end.