September 28th, 1993, at ten years of age, I became a right arm amputee. Just above the elbow, I lost my dominant arm. There was no saving it. It was crushed to pieces. There was minimal skin left. The nerves were damaged beyond repair.
From my parents perspective: about an hour into the operation, the surgeon came out to the waiting room. (remember, it had only been a little over an hour that my parents went from thinking their daughter broke her arm to being shocked with the truth that she would be changed forever)
The surgeon came out with a couple options. "I can TRY to save her arm. Saving it will mean many many more reconstructive operations in her future without being able to promise any usage. Ever. Or, I can do a clean amputation tonight and she can get on with life."
My parents were in shock, to say the least. How do you make that decision in a matter of minutes? He needed to know right then. He stood and looked at them.
My mother asked, "Do you have a daughter?" He said, "Yes ma'am, I do" She then simply told him, "Pretend for a moment she's your daughter and just do what is best." She gave him a hug and put my future in his hands. He said okay returned to the operating room.
11:00 p.m., my eyes slowly opened. Opened only enough to see that it was, in fact, exactly 11:00 p.m., on the nose. "Was it really 11 p.m. already? This is way past my bed time. Wait. It's still the same day?? This has been the longest day, ever! Oh, there's my mom. She's sitting in the corner, crying. She is still in her work dress. Oh, she sees I'm awake. I have nothing but moans and groans coming from my mouth. She says that it's all okay and I should just rest."
Roughly, two days later, I'm awake, awake. I remember very little from the previous two days. There was a lot of, awake for a couple minutes, asleep for most of the day. I have very few images in my head of seeing my parents and doctors in and out. I do remember feeling pain. All the pain was on my right side, of course.
I could feel my arm. My hand. My elbow. The whole bit, it was all there, hurting. I had no reason to think any different. Every time I woke up, my head was positioned to the left. My bed was shoved up against the wall, on the right hand side. All visitors were on my left. I knew the accident involved my right side, so it made complete sense to me that I was in pain "over there". I had no reason to look. I didn't really want to. My adrenaline rush was over. I didn't have to be brave anymore. I wasn't alone. My parents were there, the doctors, the nurses, they were all taking really good care of me. I had no need to question anything or try to figure out what was happening. I was in pain and was told to just rest.
Little did I know, there was a little thing called, phantom pain. When a person loses a limb, because there is no way to get rid of the nerve endings, one's brain still believes the limb is there. It's a very complicated thing and there are so many different explanations for it. The only thing you need to know, it's real. It's as real as my left hand that I'm typing with now. Look it up if you'd like. No matter how short you "cut" the nerves, the endings will always be there. They will always be triggering one's brain to think the arm and the fingers are there. It sucks.
What sucks even more? Even with all the medical persons at that hospital, it never dawned on anyone that I MIGHT just be having these pains and since no one was allowing me to look in that direction, how was I supposed to know I didn't have an arm? I realize they were all trying to do the best they could. Nineteen years ago was a long time. There has been a lot of research on phantom pain since then, I realize that. I'm not asking to go back and not let this whole thing happen to me, I'm simply asking to have someone re-do those 36-ish hours and break the news to me in a different manner.
Here's how it all went down. I was fully awake for the first time in 2 days. There were no signs of any complications and I was ready to be moved from ICU to a regular room. They wheeled in a different bed for the transition. Once I was ready to be moved, my natural reaction was to sit up, lift myself up with my two hands and start to scoot over. Guess what happened when I sat up and wanted to move over? My life came crashing down when I see the awful sight of an arm that's gone. I can't even begin to describe what that looked like to me, how it made me feel and how disturbed I was. It was a worse sight than seeing my arm torn to shreds. It was this short, swollen stump, wrapped in ace bandages. It was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. My arm was missing and I looked stupid. I was different. I immediately hated it. I looked back at everyone and they just stared back at me. "What will she say? How will she react? Maybe we shouldn't have let her find out this way..." My mother was mortified. She had told the professionals, time and time again, "let me tell her, let me talk to her in a way that I know best." All of them advised her otherwise because that would be too traumatic. She trusted them because they were in fact, the professionals.
Five hours later, after a long meeting with a child counselor, I was moved to a private, regular room.
My hospital stay was a total of 6 days. Tuesday to Monday. It was filled with typical hospital things. Visitors, naps, long walks, long nights (esp for my mom), denial, acceptance, more denial, tears, you name it. It was a lot for a ten year old.
There are only a couple things that stick out in my mind from the stay. (i think the first days were so much of a brain over-load, I shut down after all the excitement was "over") The first thing I remember was my first bandage change. It was THE MOST horrendous thing I've ever felt. It was a SLOW and drawn out pain. I'm pretty sure there had to have been at least three ace bandages used, the first came off fine, the next two were pretty well stuck on. It was just like ripping off a band-aid except 148% worse. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about it. It makes me want to vomit. I believe it was worse than the actual accident because I knew it was coming, they were doing it slow, I had zero adrenaline and well, just take my word for it, it was a bitch. I had never screamed or cried so hard in my life. I actually told my mom I wish I could just die. Literally. After that was over, they gave me a shot in my leg and I went to sleep. I couldn't tell you how long I slept but I'm sure it was for a greater length of time than I was getting in the night.
Nights were tough. The phantom pain was very VERY intense and there was nothing I could do for it. How do you help something that isn't there? And how do you explain that to a child? As long as I stayed busy, I was ok. The minute I tried to lie down and close my eyes, I was a basket case. We took countless midnight walks. I basically only napped during the day. This was worse on my mom than on me, I'm sure. I hate she had to go through it.
A day or so before I was released, I was having pains in my left hand and then some bad bruising was setting in. They took me for an ex-ray, and sure enough, broken thumb. They casted me up and then I was officially helpless.
Re-living this part, has been by far, the hardest on me. I know you are anxious to read about the mystery man and how things are progressing now but I should end this one here. My heart still hurts for that little girl.
~looks like there will be a part 4~