This is a photo I took of a sunrise a few months ago. It’s not from a county or state park, preserve or other location where I like to take pictures. It’s through the window of my room at Glen Cove Hospital, where I stayed for a week and a half for acute rehab following a nearly four-week stay at North Shore University Hospital on Long Island.
What makes this image particularly meaningful to me is that the window by my bedside allowed me to see the outdoors after not being able to do so for a while. A number of the multiple rooms I stayed in at the hospital didn’t offer clear window views, and except for going to various tests I rarely had a chance to see the outdoors.
The reason I needed to go to the hospital in the first place was that my left foot had been giving me trouble for months. It was swollen, painful and cold to the touch. Cuts on my toes were not healing. My foot was so sensitive to touch that even the bed sheets brought on discomfort, so I would try to sleep without covers. In addition, an X-ray showed that my big toe had a stress fracture, and as evidenced by my hobbling around for weeks, it was not getting better.
After going to multiple doctors who had no clue what was wrong, I saw a vascular surgeon who recommended doing a test called an angiogram to find out what was causing all the trouble and presumably fix the problem at the same time.
Being an optimist, I expected the procedure to be successful and planned for a hospital stay of probably one night, two at most. My confidence was reinforced on the day of the test when one of the surgeon’s assistants told me the procedure would most likely go well and that there was nothing to worry about.
Unfortunately, the test showed that I had zero circulation in my foot. In fact, the circulation issue was affecting not just my foot but part of my lower leg as well. There was nothing the surgeon could do. There was no way to fix the blockages. The result was my foot and part of my lower leg would have to be amputated.
When I got the news in the recovery room, I was both devastated and angry. A nurse tried to give me a pain killer but I refused to confirm my birthdate so she could give it to me. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to hear from anyone. That is, until the unfortunate surgeon’s assistant came by, the one who had been so positive. I unleashed my fury against her, accusing her of misleading me about the prospects. When discussing the possible outcomes of the procedure, no one had mentioned the real possibility of amputation.
This outcome would be a blow to anyone, and it certainly was to me. Walking had been a big part of my life. At my peak I was walking between seven and eight miles a day. My wife Reneé and I walked in our neighborhood every day, weather permitting. Sometimes we’d walk multiple times per day, finding new routes to take to keep it interesting. I couldn’t process the idea of being unable to do one of my favorite things.
Reneé, who had heard from the surgeon after the test was completed, helped calm me down when she got to the recovery room. She suggested that it was the message I was upset with and not so much the messenger. She explained that the surgeon wanted in the worst way to save my foot, but there was no way he could. He also explained that there had been tremendous progress in the development of the prosthetics that enable people to walk, despite the loss of limb.
Desperately looking for something positive to grab hold of, this news gave me some reason to be hopeful. It was also becoming increasingly obvious to me that if I kept the foot, it could threaten my life because of possible infections.
Before leaving the recovery area I apologized to the nurse and the surgeon’s assistant. The assistant also apologized, realizing she did not present things in the most realistic terms considering my condition.
The doctors wanted to do the surgery within a matter of days, so my plans for a short stay at the hospital were scuttled. As it turned out, the surgery was scheduled for March 21, which happens to be my birthday. At this point I was thinking, great, for my birthday I’m getting my foot amputated.
The night before the surgery Reneé stayed with me in the hospital. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up in a panic and said I wasn’t sure I wanted to go ahead with the surgery. What if it was the wrong decision to have my foot amputated?
Reneé empathized with me, saying she understood how difficult and scary this must be. She then asked me what my options were. After thinking it through, I realized that this was the best option, and that realization gave me peace of mind. I was able to go into the procedure with a better, more positive attitude and was more confident in the outcome.
So what is there to be grateful for in all this? A lot, as it turns out.
For one thing I got to spend meaningful time with my sons Andrew and Tim, who live out of town, and their girlfriends Nikki and Victoria. Reneé for months had been planning a birthday weekend that included a surprise visit from the four of them. They happened to arrive while I was awaiting surgery.
On the Sunday before the surgery we had a birthday celebration in the lounge that was next door to my hospital room, complete with an ice cream cake, which is my favorite, and gifts. Despite the pain in my foot and having to deal with the fact that I would soon be losing that foot, I was grateful for the time spent with family.
I was also grateful for Reneé for planning the original birthday surprise, for my sons and their girlfriends for being with us, and for what they all did to arrange this special and unique get-together.
Also, on my birthday—the day of the surgery—I heard from lots of family members, including many who I hadn’t seen in years, who sent their best wishes and prayers. My eyes teared up a few times as the texts continued to come in with good wishes. I was touched by all the support.
Then there’s the healthcare staff. You know how when you go to the doctor’s office, you’re asked to confirm your date of birth? Well, in the hospital it happens constantly. So in the days before my birthday, the day itself and even for weeks following it, I received birthday wishes from nurses, aids, technicians, doctors and other healthcare workers. This was in addition to all the things they did to help me get through this difficult time.
It might not seem like a big deal. But when you’re dealing with a major health issue and life-changing event, simple good wishes can mean the world. It was something else to appreciate.
Being in the hospital and having my foot amputated on my birthday would not seem like an ideal way to celebrate. But it turned out to be a birthday filled with many unexpected and wonderful gifts for which I’m extremely grateful.
Although life changing, the surgery took away all the discomfort I had been experiencing for months, which was truly a gift. Time spent with my sons and their girlfriends was a most precious gift, especially when life can be so busy and full that we don’t always get opportunities to be together. And lastly, there was the gift of all the love and support I received from family members, old friends and the medical staff who I didn’t even know before all of this.
There’s much more to this story, which I’ll share in my next post.
“The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.”—Henry Ward Beecher