My internal clock was set to go off extra early this morning; awakening me at 4 AM. As I crawled out of bed and began my daily routine; my world came crashing down upon me. It hit me hard, as all my emotions began flooding my mind. With tears filling my eyes, it was impossible to even see a reflection staring back from my mirror as I began reflecting back on the 'anniversaries' of the past year in my life.
As the summer of 2007 began to wane, I was preparing for a new life. Little did I know at the time just how different my things would become. I was selling off possessions I had collected over the years; getting ready to leave my small hometown and relocate to a city an hour away. I was excited to be moving from this sleepy, little village heading off to a large metropolitan area full of life. The greatest part was, I would be within blocks of my best friend. I was leaving a three bedroom home; opting for a tiny, city apartment in the heart of a bustling neighborhood business district; 'Restaurant Row' on Park Avenue; a very affluent area where the street is lined with sidewalk cafes and eateries...and I had a third story view from my balcony overlooking 'The Strip'.
You might know it; a week after I moved and even before I was totally settled into a new home; my best friend found himself a romantic partner he'd end up spending lots of time with. So much for us hanging out together all the time. Here I was, in a 'foreign land', all by myself, not knowing anyone else. The main thing was, I had escaped that dead end tiny town of 4,000 to a place where over one million people lived. I had hope once again and knew this was the place I wanted to be.
As I grew acclimated to my new home; little did I know what lay ahead. In the dead of winter, the rug was pulled out from under me and down I went hard. I would soon find out it was time to crash and burn. It wasn't a fall on the ice that did me in; nor was it a blaze in my building. My health took a turn for the worse. I had developed a diabetic ulcer on the heel of my right foot. Every step I took prevented it from clearing up. Having no insurance; my disease went untreated and I was unable to see a doctor about the sore on my foot. I took care of it the best I could; which wasn't good enough. Infection set in and I only realized how severe it was when the side of my foot exploded in February, 2008. Off I was rushed to the emergency room to 'get a bandaid and have someone kiss my boo boo and make it better'. With heads shaking, I was told it was much more critical than originally thought. I was wheeled into surgery, where half the flesh from my foot was removed. Within days, I was back in the operating room to have procedures performed in an attempt to drain the infection out. Less than a week later, I was informed it wasn't working and more drastic action had to be taken.
Surgeons and specialists gathered around my hospital bed to break the bad news to me. I had two options and there was no way around either choice. What was originally though to be a simple infection had turned to gangrene. To prevent its spread any further, from my foot to now up my leg, amputation was the only alternative. If this didn't happen soon; I would be dead in less than two months. Despite being in a state of shock; alone with no family or friends by my side; I had to make the decision to be wheeled into the 'chop shop'. I didn't have time to even think twice. Fire up the chain saw boys and let's do it to it. I'm not ready to go yet. I hadn't even thought about what would happen once my leg was gone...and neither did anyone else. When I came to in the recovery room, I thought a miracle had occurred. I could still 'feel' my leg. Upon lifting the sheet and looking down; I realized that had not been the case, as nothing was there. The finality of it all hit and I turned numb and dazed.
I didn't know what I was going to do. I was alone...and living in a third floor apartment...with one leg. How would I survive? How would I go on? No plans were developed for assistance. I had no idea where to look; where to turn. I was on my own to face an uncertain future. Again, I had only two choices. I could enter a nursing home, at age 40, and live out my pathetic existence there wallowing in self-pity...or I could get my head out of my butt and do for myself. Since I had already chosen life over death in losing my leg; I knew what had to be done. I went through an intensive therapy program over the next two weeks and excelled so well; the decision was made to let me go home.
Upon returning to where I lived; tragedy struck quick. I hadn't even been able to get inside my apartment when the entryway tension bar caused the door to slam into me as it shut...and down I went. Forgetting I no longer had a leg seeing how it was all so new to me, I instinctively put my foot down to prevent my fall. Oh crap! No foot! I landed right on the end of my nub...and it burst open. 9-1-1...come take me away. Back to the same hospital I went for a return visit. I'm baaaack! Did you miss me? I was taken into surgery, my fourth in a month, and even more of what leg I had left was hacked off and I was sewn back up. After a couple days of enjoying the morphine pump I was hooked up to, I started another intense therapy program and was finally released for good in early April. I made it inside my home successfully this time.
While taking the weekend to get my head together, I decided, on Monday, I had to get out to at least buy some food. Luckily, I have a convenience store across the street from where I live. I hobbled down the stairs, one leg and on crutches, all 46 steps, and made it to the front door of the building leading out into the world. I had difficulty getting the door open, it hit me and down I went again...victim of yet another tension bar. I managed to fall backwards this time, landing on my butt and back, escaping injury. I was shaken up and headed back to my apartment; taking each step one at a time on my behind. I didn't want to ever attempt going out again. I put a call into my best friend and he came over as soon as he could. Once seeing him, I lost it and the entire experience finally hit me. I was a blubbering fool...but only for half an hour until I regained my composure. I knew I couldn't rely on him, as he had a life of his own; a job, his guy, his mother's health problems...not to mention he was having a much more difficult time accepting what had happened to me than I was. I put it into my mind I had to do whatever it took to survive...to go on with life. This sucked, but it wasn't the end of the world. Others have it worse off than I did...and they've made it. I could, too. I pulled myself up by my bootstrap, seeing how I only had one to pull up on.
I had to teach myself how to do everything in a new way in the shape I was in. I ran across only a couple obstacles I couldn't accomplish...carrying anything heavy up and down the stairs. Using crutches, I didn't have a free hand and the extra weight threw my balance off. Laundry, garbage and large loads of groceries were out. I taught myself how to clean house, cook and do dishes, even get in and out of the tub to take a shower with just one leg. I'm a stubborn, bull-headed S.O.B. and I would not be defeated. Nothing was going to stand in my way. I forced myself to go out for at least one walk daily...on crutches...no matter how I felt or what the weather...150 days in a row. I learned how to board a city bus to go to a supermarket to get food. I could only carry one small bag at a time and would go two or three times a week. Not only was it something to do; but yet another task I mastered. I built myself up to the point where I 'walked' for 3 1/2 miles...on crutches.
My experience not only made me stronger physically, mentally and emotionally, but it also made me headstrong to the point where I was not going to let anything stand in my way. If anything tried to stop me; I would go around it, over it or through it. I was bound and determined to get back to 'normal'. I was technically classified as handicapped...disabled; though I didn't see myself in that way. I was quite capable of doing anything I wanted to...and I wanted to do everything. I'm very independent and was used to taking care of myself.
Before I left the hospital, I was told I wouldn't be a candidate to get a prosthetic leg for well over a year. Horse pucky! You just watch me. I proved them wrong. In less than half a year after my leg was removed; and less than five months after I returned home for good; I walked out of the prosthetic specialist's office with my new leg. I was told to wear it only one hour at a time, three times a day...and no walking...just to get used to my new balance. Upon returning home with my new appendage, I dropped off my extra supplies...and went out for a walk, with the assistance of crutches to steady myself...up to the corner cafe to enjoy a cup of coffee sitting at a sidewalk table...to watch people go by and become a part of life once again. Two days later, I ventured out on a stroll, leaving my crutches at home...and I've been off and running ever since...over 180 days in a row now under my own power. I went to my first therapy session a week and a half after receiving my prosthetic and told them I wouldn't be back after my second visit. They were to teach me how to walk and maneuver on stairs; something I did for myself, since I had no other choice but to do these things in order to get around. I'm now walking up to three miles without stopping. Don't tell me I'm not able to do something. 'Can't' is no longer a word in my vocabulary. I can do everything and anything I put my mind to...because I want to and to prove to others anything is possible.
It's been a very difficult road...and many of you have been there with me every step of the way. You've shared my tears and reveled in my accomplishments. When I disappeared from Gather, unable to let anyone know what had happened and where I went; there was much concern as to 'Where's Rob?' Once word finally got out; the response was overwhelming. Cards began pouring in and your E-mail well wishes even caused the hospital computer system to crash twice from being overloaded. My friends here passed along prayers and love that gave me strength to go on. Gifts were sent in many forms; from financial assistance to services provided. I haven't forgotten a single act of kindness and you'll all forever remain in my heart. Response to my posts chronicling my experience and progress ran high. I no longer get as many comments since I've become the 'new and improved Rob'. I'm hoping the reason is because you've seen I've been able to accomplish what I set out to do. I don't have as much to share now that I've become 'normal' once again. I have attained success.
One year ago this morning, I awoke with two legs. One year ago this afternoon, I was no longer whole. Through the thick and thin of it all; you have been there for me. I wish I had the room to name you all, but that would make this post even more lengthy than the long-windedness I'm noted for. Your presence alone has helped me with my battle. With tears in my eyes once again, as I write on this bittersweet anniversary, I so sincerely want to thank all of Gather for your encouragement and support...my many friends among the membership of Gather, along with Gather's staff and management; all of whom have rooted for me to come out on top. I did it! I won the fight! Look at me now! This just proves, through inner strength; nothing is impossible when you want something bad enough. I wanted this desperately...and you wanted it for me, too. Now, on to bigger and better things for everyone. I'll never forget one of you. I love you all. One more time, I share with you my greatest joy; being able to stand and walk again on my own.