In August 2015, I was sitting with my boyfriend in his parked car when we were hit head on at full speed by a taxi in which the driver had been shot and killed for his money. Doctors told me that my life would never be normal again.
“You’re too young to be without your foot”, was what the doctors said before I agreed to several surgeries that ultimately left me with a foot that was paradoxically too painful to walk on. At no point did a chasm of dread open up inside of my at the thought of amputating this limb that I had had for 22 years. I was fortunate enough to know someone who went through limb loss and was able to bounce back into his life. When I approached the end of the one year they told me I would take to heal, I realized that I was nowhere near a resemblance of normal. Curiosity and a burning desire to prove that I survived for a reason led me to question if I made the right decision by not choosing amputation.
I reached out to my friend Evan Ruggiero, the amputee tap dancer whose story kept me from sinking into despair at the thought of losing my own leg. He graciously answered all of my questions and invited me along to his prosthetist’s office. After seeing more amputees than I’d ever seen in one place walk circles around me, the realization began to solidify the ground underneath me: I knew what I had to do to be who I needed to be, and for the first time I felt hope surrounding my bleak situation.
The next two years were a blur as I also began to realize that the same doctors who desperately wanted me to walk again only wanted me to walk on two meat feet. For two years I got stuck in a cycle of going to a doctor, pouring my heart out, with impassioned pleas to give me a chance to be mobile again, getting referred to another doctor or specialist, and getting rejected for an amputation. Over and over again, I found myself stuck in limbo, all because doctors thought it would be far more tragic for me to be an amputee than to be left in constant, severe pain, and unable to walk.
My giant Frankenfoot, as I came to call it, was quite literally a ball and chain holding me back while the rest of the world kept turning. The fear of being “bound” to a wheelchair became less of a fear and more of a reality. I reconditioned my thinking as I came to realize that my wheelchair gave me freedom, but only as much freedom as a mostly inaccessible world could give me. Along with discovering the disabled community on Twitter, I learned to speak up for myself, and ultimately came to realize that even if for some reason I couldn’t wear a prosthesis as an amputee, that I could be happy in a wheelchair.
Still, I kept fighting and arguing for an amputation. I kept note of all the doctors I had seen, and all of their opinions–some flat out told me that amputation would be a terrible choice and they adamantly told me they would not do the surgery, some kept their opinions to themselves saying only “if you do it, we can help you”, and some said that I definitely would be better off as a below knee amputee. It wasn’t until the fourteenth doctor that I got a lead that would help me significantly: if you want an amputation, go see a vascular surgeon. Finally, I booked two appointments with two vascular surgeons, and in one day I had what I had been waiting for, not one, but TWO surgeons offering to amputate my Frankenfoot.
I finally became an amputee on December 21st, 2017. I woke up from surgery asking if it was really gone, finally declaring with tears in my eyes that my fight was over, and that I was finally free. Normalcy came back to me quietly and completely. I feel like myself, but even better. I am the happiest amputee I know. Not a minute of any given day do I feel like I’ve lost anything. A doctor once said to me that he had patients who would kill to have my foot, even though it didn’t work, but having a foot whether it works or not won’t give anyone happiness.
My life isn’t without struggles both related to my amputation and PTSD. I’d like to think that making it through all the surgeries, pain, and bleakness, I learned that I am far more powerful than I ever realized before. Life is all about conquering the suffering, and knowing that you can make it through an enormous loss like that of your limb has been the most valuable part of coming to be proud of my disability.
Follow Anastasia on Twitter: @shqueeebee