The Amputation

John was propped up in his hospital bed and smiling when I walked into his room. He lifted the bandaged stump of his right leg for a little waggle hello.

It was a first good — well, not step — gesture.

It didn’t happen easily. There were bureaucratic snafus and aggravation every hobble along the way for the amputation of John’s right foot. It took nine hours to admit him, surgery was delayed a day, the hospital had an outdated list of meds for him, and the morning of surgery stretched into the night before he went in to have his right foot amputated.

What an agony to endure, waiting to have a part of your body cut off and told to wait some more. And a decision like this automatically comes with hesitation, and the temptation to back out.

The immediate aftermath was another level of agony because it took two hours for the hospital to approve pain killers. “I was screaming,” John tells me. “And they told me I was disturbing the other patients. But I couldn’t take the pain.”

The pain was under control when I arrived a few days after. Surprisingly there was no grogginess or falling asleep under the weight of drugs. Instead, he was alert, playful, and talkative. He held court as friends drifted in to check on him.

His cheerfulness and optimism was remarkable, and he made his visitors feel good. There was no sympathy or pity to mar what John had made a triumphant moment.

Some good advice had helped him, John said. His dear friend had advised John before the surgery to put all of his worry, his years of frustrations, all of the negativity, to put it in that foot. And then cut it off.

It seemed to be working. I, like others who saw him, complemented John on his remarkably buoyant attitude.

But later, John sent me a note. “I’m trying to be brave,” he wrote. “But inside I’m a bunch of emotions.”

Watching him be brave is a lesson for me to remember months from now as I deal with my own prognosis.

This is the latest installment in the blog Closing in on -30- about my doctor’s pronouncement that I have about two years to live.