Looking for Gratitude in an Unlikely Place

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

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16 responses to “Looking for Gratitude in an Unlikely Place”

  1. Beth Avatar

    How can I like something when I also feel badly? But am also filled with hope that there is something good happening, even if we don’t immediately understand the positive outcome. Or maybe the positive outcome isn’t what others would think as positive, but yet it is. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Bob Violino Avatar

      Thanks for your comments, Beth. Life throws all kinds of challenges at people. I think how we respond to them is a key to the impact they will ultimately have, and to how we move on.

  2. Ronnie Dauber Avatar

    I’m truly sorry for all that’s happened to you, and I pray that God will pour His peace upon you and your family. Things happen in life that we often don’t understand, but something like this can touch our hearts and make us realize how great God is through all the evils that come against us. You might not be able to walk right now as you once did, but perhaps, you can help others know of His love that will help them through their heartfelt trials and look for a brighter tomorrow.

    1. Bob Violino Avatar

      Thanks Ronnie, I appreciate the kind words. Faith in God is a big part of being able to look at the bright side of things. I’ve been given an opportunity to show that setbacks don’t have to destroy us and that we can find opportunities for growth that we never saw coming.

  3. Carla D'Alimonte Santella Avatar
    Carla D’Alimonte Santella

    Hey, Bob … your healthy seems to revolve around important dates in your life. Get a kidney for your anniversary and lose a foot on your birthday. I’m so sorry for your trials. Karen hasn’t told me. God bless and thank Him for prosthetics! You are one tough dude! Love, Carla

    1. Bob Violino Avatar

      Thanks Carla

  4. Richard Wortman Avatar
    Richard Wortman

    Hey Bob,

    Your latest post on gratitude moved and touched me more than you will ever know. Allow me to provide and share some context here.

    Towards the end of March of 1988, my mother ( a few years shy of turning 51 ) was suffering from an array of circulation issues (one of them being Reynaud’s disease) throughout her body and as a result had a stroke (which she fully recovered from at that time). Unfortunately, her blood flow was blocked in her left foot and the doctor/surgeon had to amputate.

    To say she was devastated/distraught would have been an understatement. Like yourself, she was at North Shore University Hospital ( I forget…back then it may have been another name…it was next door to the CMP building on 600 Community Drive) and towards the end of March had a Syme Amputation in which her left foot was removed.

    It was a time of questioning and disbelief. She was a sufferer of depression and I feared what the future held. In May of ’88, I was graduating from Ithaca College. It was her dream to see me graduate from school….nothing would stop her from attending….her fighting Italian spirit went into overdrive and she was there proud and full of love and support.

    Her fighting spirit continued and she committed to herself/family that she would walk again. In a short time, through physical therapy/rehab – she was walking, driving, bowling not to mention going up and down stairs. I was amazed at the art/science/beauty that prosthetics offered – that was back in the late ’80s/early ’90s…..she continue to thrive for another 25 years. As I reflect on my past, I always said she walked and had more energy with a prosthetic than before her amputation.

    Last night, I had a dream about my mother….intuition tells me it wasn’t a dream. I don’t remember any details…all I can remember was that she held my hand and we talked. I felt comforted and thanked her/God for coming to me.

    This morning as I’m sitting on my couch sipping my coffee, I looked at her picture and thanked her for coming to me. I had my laptop open and saw your post on FB and was compelled/ inclined to read it. I then knew.

    My mother would fully envelop and internalize your perspective of gratitude. She would want you to know with your determination/mind/spirit, you can accomplish anything that you desire.

    Lastly, my mom would leverage humor as a coping mechanism. Back in ’88 when she received her first prosthetic…she would tell everyone she could only shop at Kinney Shoes…because they sold the “right one” (That was Kinney’s motto/tagline).

    Bob intuition strongly tells me….there is no doubt that you are on a path to great resilience and exponential strength. In an expression of gratitude, I value your expression of words and the impact to our consciousness. A gift taken to heart.



    1. Bob Violino Avatar

      Thank you, Richard, for the kind and thoughtful words. Things happen for a reason. I don’t think there are coincidences in life.

  5. maferg49 Avatar

    Reading your post reminds me that, no matter my circumstance, gratitude will get me through the day. I appreciate your openness. You definitely have a way with words.

    1. Bob Violino Avatar

      Thanks Denise

  6. Paul Violino Avatar
    Paul Violino

    Well done bro. And a nice cliffhanger ending 🙂

    1. Steve Violino Avatar
      Steve Violino

      We’re all very proud of you Bob! Thanks for reminding us as to what’s important in
      such a unique, personal way.

      1. Bob Violino Avatar

        Thanks Steve

    2. Bob Violino Avatar

      Thanks Paul

  7. Paul Schindler Avatar

    How’s this for an unlikely place: the past. https://tinyurl.com/past111
    God Speed, Bob. I hope you find these snippets to be in the spirit of your blog.

    1. Bob Violino Avatar

      Thank you Paul. The snippets are indeed in the spirit of the blog.

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