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beachleg

The Question Now - Why did you wait so long?

> 23.04.2017

These days, the most common question I’m asked is: Do you wish you’d done this years ago. They mean my amputation. And my answer is always ‘No’. 

I was surprised the first time I was asked. I had to think. It struck me like being asked about an inanimate object. Like an old jalopy, constantly blowing its radiator or muffler and costing a fortune for repairs. But it’s not!

My foot was part of me, and I’d always been rather attached to it. More so than old cars, I’ve been able to separate from a few in my time. Although I remember the first car I bonded with, a 1950s Holden, which my parents traded for a 1963 model when I was six. I was in tears on the day we parted.

But I know that’s not how the question’s intended.

Many things made it hard to let go of my foot, even though it was never the same after being caught in a moving wheel of a train in 1968. It was part of my skeletal system, not like a redundant appendix whose absence is invisible. I saw my foot every time I glimpsed my reflection in a full length mirror. It donned my shoes. It carried me around. I admit it was a chronic pest, but it was my pest.

My foot was like the Boer goats on our farm—beautiful creatures with floppy ears and brown markings hugging their heads—who were always after a good feed. Twice they broke through the electric fence to feast on our neighbour’s prize garden, not a flower remaining in their wake, but we didn’t forsake them.

Or our cattle who’ve busted through the fence, on the far side of the blackbutt plantation, onto the freeway. Cars and trucks tearing past at 110 kilometres an hour. Imagine the sight! Frenzied farmers herding cows on a lethal dodgem track. Despite these travails there are still cattle grazing at the farm.

Why would I be less tolerant of my foot?

For years we were a team. We planned everything together, balancing what I wanted to do with what it felt up to.

Often my foot ordered me to stop, but the spin off wasn’t bad—what’s hard about having to lie around reading for a few days while the foot recovered?

Over the decades, things changed; the rest days started to outweigh the active ones, our partnership went askew. I made concession after concession to the foot, like buying a wheelchair. That wasn’t enough. It cut my walking down to essentials; it stopped me shopping and cooking, finally it took my health away.

I flirted with betrayal, entertained unfaithful thoughts. Is it time to amputate? How much disability is too much? How much pain can I tolerate?

I imagined entering a doctor’s surgery to ask her to cut it off. How should I word the request? Could I convince her? How can I convey how my relationship with my foot has come to this? I couldn’t summon whatever words I needed to say.

In the end, events took a decided turn for the worse and the case for amputation was clear. By 2011 it was time to let my foot go. Others have told me they suspected this when I bought the wheelchair on eBay, five years earlier, so I could do more things with my family. The final message was delivered by a severe infection requiring seven weeks of intravenous antibiotics. Then I knew it was time to decide.

Supported by my close family, I looked into amputation, consulting a rehabilitation specialist, surgeons and a prosthetist. The prosthetist reignited my hopes when he said I’ll be able to hike. I told my sister I was going ahead with the amputation. Surprising me, she responded with a reassuring comment; “Fay, you’re the last one to realise it has to happen”.

So, when people ask me why did you wait so long there’s so much I could tell them, but I keep it simple—it’s a long story. I knew when the time was right for me. I’d reached a point where I could not continue with my foot and knew I’d tried everything possible, at every stage, to accommodate its needs. I’ve had no second thoughts, no regrets. That’s priceless.