Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Many Legs

I say I have one leg because the left one is gone, but it's more complicated. For thirty years I walked  with a crazy, bobbing limp; my left knee  fused solid during the bone disease in my teens. (Vocabulary word: ankylosed. Will be on the final.) By the time I was eighteen I was used to it. I didn't think about how I moved when I was alone, but I was always reminded by the reactions of people who weren't familiar with my weird walk. (And this triggered my shame that I had failed to be HEALED through Christian Science. More on that later.) But for thirty years I limped on a bent leg. I could climb ladders, cross-country ski, drive standard-shift trucks and tractors, walk for miles, and ride any horse I saw, but  my leg was rigid at an angle slightly more open than ninety degrees.

I still have the sensation of a whole left leg. At first it felt bent all the time; when my thigh lay on the bed, my knee felt bent and my calf and foot passed right through the mattress...very strange. This is phantom sensation, different from the crazy shooting jolts that are phantom pains.  (I take meds to keep them at bay.)  Once I started walking on the prosthetic leg, my brain understood that my leg could straighten again. When I wear the prosthesis, the socket covers my stump right up to my hip and pelvic bones (where my weight rests). It feels as though my whole leg--including knee, calf and foot that aren't there--are inside a suit of armor. When I flex the thigh muscles on my stump it feels as though my knee bends or straightens. (This is really cool. For all those years, I couldn't move my knee but I can now that it's gone.)

I usually wear the prosthetic leg from the time I get up until I go to bed. I use crutches without it. I don't hop well anymore. My "good" knee is very arthritic. (Hence the knee brace in the picture.) When my leg is off, I call it leg-less lounging. My brain has gotten used to this mechanical leg that bends and straightens, comes and goes. Often I'll cut my right foot's toenails and immediately turn to my left foot that isn't there. I have a leg now that I don't.
I've always had an over-active and vivid dream life. I wasn't usually conscious of it in the dreams, although sometimes I dreamed I 'd been HEALED and running with two perfect legs. Now, since the amputation,  I have different versions of my leg in dreams. Sometimes I run on my old fused, bent leg (which I never could run on), and sometimes I have the prosthesis (which acts like a hinge and doesn't hold me when it bends: it's hydraulic, not computerized.) 

And sometimes in the dreams my legs are whole and perfect. Not HEALED. Just normal. My brain switches effortlessly from  being legless on crutches  to a mechanical leg to a fused leg to a normal leg in the dreams.

It doesn't matter which leg I have in the running dreams. I just run.


  1. My dad had phantom pain often at the beginning, they subsided after several years, but he always had the sensations - he would say do me a favor and scratch my foot and he would hold up his prosthesis. When my dad died my son asked if Papa was going to be OK when he got to heaven. He asked me if Papa was going to get his leg back when he got to heaven. I was so floored at the question and how he his thought process brought him to ask that question. I told him Papa's leg was in heaven waiting for him and when Papa got there he would get his leg back. My son was so happy. That saying out of the mouths of babes in this case was comforting to all of us.