<img style="float: right;" src="https:\/\/opedge.com\/Content\/OldArticles\/images\/2003-03_15\/sheret.jpg" hspace="4" vspace="4" \/>\r\n\r\nAmputation. That one simple word changes everything, doesn't it? I considered this recently as I spoke with a man who is facing the difficult decision between an amputation and his 16th surgery to restore mobility to his damaged left ankle.\r\nI could relate to that dilemma.\r\n\r\nWhile listening to him weigh out loud the pros and cons of this decision, my mind wandered back to the day just over a year ago when I first heard the word "amputation" spoken concerning my own future. Since then, many things in my life have changed. The world and my place in it looks very different.\r\n\r\nIn the short months that have passed since that day, I have\r\nexperienced fear, depression, and guilt.\u00a0 I have faced hard choices\r\nand challenges and have found that I somehow possess courage I\r\ncannot explain. I have learned to set goals and to reach and\r\nsurpass them. I have recovered from the physical trauma of surgical\r\namputation. Slowly, I am piecing my emotional and spiritual life\r\nback together.\r\n\r\nMy story began in the fall of 2001 as I sat listening to the\r\northopedic surgeon quietly informing me that, after three minor\r\ncorrective surgeries, there was little more he could do to give me\r\nmore mobility or relieve the pain in my badly shattered right\r\nankle. Two plates, 13 screws, and an odd pin or two held it all\r\ntogether. In only two years since the accident, the cartilage in my\r\nankle was worn out and the bone-on-bone pain would only get\r\nworse.\r\n<h1>Amputation: A Solution?<\/h1>\r\nHe suggested that an amputation might be a solution to my pain\r\nand referred me to The Hanson Foot and Ankle Clinic in Seattle,\r\nWashington, for a consultation with the highly respected Dr.\r\nSigfried Hanson. Today I realize that my local doctor placed me on\r\na road leading to some of the finest medical care available.\r\n\r\nEntering this world of excellent health care started with the\r\nfirst hour-long meeting with Dr. Hanson. The length of our meeting\r\nitself was a surprise. I was used to the quick ten minutes with a\r\ndoctor who had three other patients waiting in other exam rooms.\r\nDuring this hour, Dr. Hanson led me through all the possibilities\r\nopen to me. In short, I had two choices: spend the next three to\r\nfive years having multiple surgeries with about a 25 percent chance\r\nof getting better-or amputate and move on with my life. On my\r\neight-hour drive back to southern Oregon, I decided to go ahead\r\nwith the amputation.\r\n\r\nMy wife and I researched amputation and prosthetics. \u00a0I joined a\r\nnewsgroup of amputees on the Internet and from them learned what\r\nthis new world was about. I cannot stress how important\r\ncommunicating with other amputees was then and still remains. From\r\nstrangers I learned about the new life I was facing and found\r\nacceptance, strength, and support, as well as a forum for my many\r\nquestions. I found the courage to contact Dr. Hanson again.\r\n<h1>Undergoing an Ertl Amputation<\/h1>\r\nMy wife and I drove back to Seattle the first week of February\r\n2002 to meet the doctor who would perform the surgery. A young,\r\ncalm, confident surgeon appeared and introduced himself as Dr.\r\nWilliam Ertl. I had researched both Dr. Ertl and his procedure\r\ncommonly called an "Ertl amputation." Dr. Ertl made a contract with\r\nme. I was going to have to work hard in my recovery, follow his\r\nadvice, and have a "can do" attitude. In turn, he was going to, in\r\neffect, rebuild my leg. But the leg would be different, since I\r\nwould not have an ankle or a foot. His confidence instilled trust,\r\nand I immediately decided to have the surgery in two weeks.\r\n\r\nWaking up from the five-hour procedure I steeled myself for the\r\nshock of looking down and not seeing the rest of my leg. I had read\r\nthe stories of others waking up and experiencing this life-changing\r\nmoment. I was ready! I lifted the sheets and saw a neatly wrapped\r\nresidual limb. That was it. There was no heart-stopping moment,\r\nthere was no flash of an epiphany. I was simply still me. It was\r\nalmost a letdown. I remember thinking, "Well, that's not so\r\nbad-piece of cake!" Grief set in later.\r\n<h1>Recovery: Physical and Emotional<\/h1>\r\n<img style="float: right;" src="https:\/\/opedge.com\/Content\/OldArticles\/images\/2003-03_15\/sheret2.jpg" hspace="4" vspace="4" \/>\r\n\r\nFive days of hospitalization passed, and my wife drove me home to our changed life. I feared I was going to be a cripple. I felt loss, grief, and an overwhelming desire for a sense of normalcy.\r\n\r\nI found myself on an emotional roller coaster, which, however,\r\ngave me the fuel to return to work. Within three weeks I was back\r\nin my art gallery, greeting customers. I rarely ventured beyond the\r\nsales counter. I saw how uncomfortable the average tourist was\r\nwhile being served by a one-legged man on crutches. (The Ertl\r\namputation generally requires eight to twelve weeks of non-weight\r\nbearing to heal, but mine took four months, due to a slowly closing\r\nwound.)\r\n\r\nI worked alone each day, feeling that all eyes in this small\r\ntown were on me and my progress. I longed for the day I would get\r\nmy first leg and be "normal" again. But a funny thing happened in\r\nthose intervening months. I began to forget what life was like\r\nbefore my surgery. Living life on a pair of crutches became normal,\r\nand I was adjusting to it. I noticed the stares less and less, and\r\nmy sense of humor slowly returned.\r\n\r\nIn June 2002, I was fitted with my first leg. "Go on with life,"\r\nSteve, my prosthetist, said. Therefore, with this in mind, I went\r\nto the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) Conference in Anaheim,\r\nCalifornia. I was fortunate to have met so many nice people via the\r\nInternet discussion group and spent a week with many of them\r\ntalking, laughing, and not feeling different. I had not seen\r\nanother amputee, except for a support group meeting I attended\r\nduring my hospital stay. Faces were put with names of friends I had\r\nonly known in cyberspace. It had been two and a half years since I\r\nhad laughed as much and enjoyed myself as much. These kind people\r\nhelped bring me back to living a full rich life that is different,\r\nbut no less fulfilling.\r\n\r\nDuring that week I met many amputees who struggled with poorly\r\nfitted prostheses and residual limbs in need of revision surgery.\r\nUntil then, I thought all amputations were like mine. I began to\r\nunderstand just how much my life had been improved by having an\r\nErtl amputation. Dr. Ertl fulfilled his part of our contract, and I\r\nwould like to think I fulfilled mine. The benefit from this type of\r\nreconstructive surgery is evidenced in my daily life. I can cycle\r\nup to 40 miles daily. I have minimal phantom pain. I take no\r\nmedications. I have a very normal gait.\u00a0 I look forward to the\r\nfuture; for me, 2003 holds a myriad of possibilities.\r\n\r\nEight months after my surgery, I moved 3,000 miles from Oregon\r\nand began a new life on the coast of North Carolina. I thought all\r\nthis while listening to a frightened man about to embark on his own\r\nadventure. What would his first year hold in store for him? I\r\nwished him well, as I wish us all well. It will be nothing if not\r\ninteresting, eh?