Freedom- An Amputee’s Perspective

Today, I come to you from a place of weathering the storm. Today, I have seen my freedom of mobility threatened and then restored. Today, I want to talk about Freedom.

Hello, and I apologize for being absent for so long. As you know 2020 has brought many challenges to everyone and it seems to have kept me so busy that I hadn’t gotten back to my blog writing in a few months. A ton has happened since I last wrote about my hiking expeditions I was having all summer long, so please forgive me for being long winded.

A few months ago, probably around the time that I last wrote, I was blessed with getting fitted for a brand new skin fit socket. My residual limb had changed so much that I no longer fit in my socket from February. And as with every socket, my prosthetist, Randy, humors me with the freedom to design it (even though I make it challenging, he complies- I secretly think he loves the challenges). That alone, gets me excited for my new socket. I make my own vinyl decals, go to my automotive paint guy, Scott, and pick out my dazzling paint and bring everything to Randy, then I impatiently wait for him to create.

This was my newest socket, BEFORE I started to feel the intense pains. Lookout Mountain, Phoenix

When everything is ready I go in for my fitting and then leave with my shiny, new leg. It’s like my birthday or Christmas every time. If you saw my video on the creation of this socket, you already knew I got a new one just a couple of months ago. If you didn’t get to see this video I made, you can check it out Here. I’ve stated that I believe Randy works miracles with every fitting, it’s true, however even he can’t predict how my tissue will behave inside these fits after I beat the heck out of my leg with all I do. Something that I have been fighting off and on since January was a pain on the back of my residual limb whenever I went out walking hard or running for long distances. It was frustrating, even though I knew I was in the best shape of my life, I was unable to log more than 2 miles without having the mental, physical, and emotional battle of fight through pain. So…..

I went to see my doctor who performed the amputation, worried that I had a neuroma (a big bundle of nerves that gets banged up and pissed off every time I work out). He sent me for an MRI and sure enough, there was one on the back of my limb! Here’s where things take a turn for the worse.

But first, a little back story for you all. Before my amputation in December 2018 I had 8 years of surgeries on my knee and tried everything for pain management. My final strategy, to reduce pain, was inserting a neurotransmitter under my skin on my lower back that would continually send signals to my brain that there was no pain. It didn’t totally work for me but I knew amputation was on the horizon and it is considered the #1 pain relief management tool for amputees (especially if you’d like to be off opioids and pain meds).

For me to get an MRI they had to do it a little differently since I have this in my body. When I went it for the MRI I had to turn off the neurotransmitter for safety reasons. This is the first time it’s been turned off since my amputation. Well, needless to say, it HAD been working to subside pain, because I now was feeling phantom sensations I hadn’t before. Once I was done with the MRI I was able to turn it back on, however, it didn’t seem to effect me right away so I continued to feel the buzzing and irritation of the phantom sensations. At night I couldn’t sleep because my “foot” wouldn’t stop tingling and at times would make me jump, repeatedly, as if my “foot” was being stabbed! Not only that but I also began to get incredibly sharp, stabbing pains in a whole new location, on the inside of my “knee” where I don’t even have a knee. I tell people that it feels like someone taking a knife into my leg, and with every step I get stabbed again, and again, and again. However, it wasn’t every step. It would hit me here and there, then I’d be fine, turn a corner in my kitchen and get my breathe taken away as it attacked me once again. I became gun shy with every step, I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t even bring myself to going to the grocery store. I felt like a prison in my own mind.

Most of you probably wonder why I would even put on my leg, in the first place if I was feeling these pains, and I would tell you that I wanted my FREEDOM and I wasn’t about to give it up. This pain wasn’t going to dictate my path. I wouldn’t cave and become weakened by this “phase”. Unfortunately, though, I wasn’t able to get out and walk, hike, run, anything! This was killing me! Randy and I got together and talked for a couple hours about what was happening. I showed him my problem areas and he came up with a plan to elongate my socket a bit to give room at the end of my limb. He wanted to wait, though, for the outcome of the MRI so he knew exactly what we were working with. When you are feeling these types of pains and fears, every hour, every day feels like an eternity. Now I had to wait for appointments and results just to move forward. I had no idea how long I would be dealing with this problem. To say I was in a bad place would be an understatement.

As suspected the MRI came back with an obvious neuroma exactly where we thought, but still had no answer to the sharp pains on the inside of my limb, in an area that wasn’t even there anymore. My doctor sent me to a plastic surgeon that works on nerve pains. He knew exactly what my issues were, told me that he can help but I would have to be out of my socket for 3-4 weeks to heal. Ugh!! I know in the long run this is better for me but I am NOT good at sitting around, plus the idea of another surgery really isn’t they top of my list of things I can’t wait to do….AGAIN!

Once I let Randy know my results of my MRI he told me he’d have a check socket ready for me to try out. I went in 2 weeks ago to try it on. I was, at this point, broken. I hadn’t done much of anything, physically, for over a week and had dealt with a ton of pain. Well, let me tell you, I stand by my comment that I think Randy uses magic to make his sockets because as soon as I put it on I felt great! I was a little leary, knowing that walking gently on a check socket, between parallel bars is different than me taking off on a 2 mile, fast paced walk, so Randy casted up the “joint” and said I could take it home and try it out for a week. I had never done that before, with a check socket, and was very excited to take it out for a spin, so off I went, with a new lease on life. To say I was excited for this opportunity was an understatement.

My check socket with casting material around the end for added support.

When I got home, do you know the first thing I did? I grabbed my backpack and took off for a long, hard walk, to really test the fit of this new socket. I put in 2 miles and had ZERO pain!!! That weekend I did another 2 miles, then went on a 2+ mile hike. I got on my scooter and cruised around, as well. NO PAIN! I had my freedom back, and it felt great! I went out everyday for some sort of exercise and was thankful for my mobility once again. Ahhh, freedom!

Out hiking with my check socket on. A smile on my face the whole way! This changed everything for me!

Freedom. What’s it mean to you? For some of you reading this, you too, are an amputee and can totally relate to the freedoms I’m talking about. The freedom to move whenever, wherever we want without limitations or needing help. The freedom of living the life you’d once had or want to have. The freedom to show everyone that you are NOT disabled, but just as abled as you ever were. For some of you, it means something different. Freedom of choice, freedom from addiction, freedom from abuse, freedom to be who you want to be. In the end freedom feels good. And once we have experienced freedom then we want it all the time, never to return to what was holding us back. And that’s where I’m at, making this decision to lose some freedoms, in the short term, in hopes that I will regain it all back for the long haul. The uncertainty of surgery and how this could effect my limb, and having concerns for set backs is on the forefront of my mind. Am I right in going through this yet again? And I thought I was past all of this! HA!

Well said, Albert, well said.

Freedom is so important to our mental health. It can make us wake up in the morning ready to take on the day or put us in a downward spiral if it is taken away. It’s amazing how much I took my movement, as an amputee, for granted and how much being active has meant to me. I am truly blessed with an amazing medical team around me, and how they all take my life and my happiness upon themselves. But, I know many of you don’t have that support. I know that life tries to knock you down, but you must fight for your life, happiness, freedoms. You are the only one who controls that. You choose to ask for help when needed or not. You can choose to grab life by the horns and embrace what has been thrown your way or not. Whatever you choose to do, just don’t give up.

As I write this I am in my old socket and feeling the pains resurface, praying they don’t become unbearable again. As I write this I am about three days until my new socket is ready! Three more days!! Woohoo! I’m excited about having the better fitting socket back and getting back to my freedom of movement. Until then I must remain patient, stay positive, and remember that this too shall pass.

The Limb Center. These guys are amazing. Today I give back the check socket, make a few minor adjustments to it, and show Randy where I want ALL of my decals.
Randy West patiently trying to fit my designs on so it looks aesthetically pleasing.😏

As for the surgery, I’m about 100% on board for having it done because those nerves aren’t going away and will only cause more pain and distress later on for me. I am currently waiting on scheduling, with the tentative plan to have it done before the end of the year.

Never quit. Getting outside is good for the mind, body and soul.

As we come into the holiday season, I hope you all are doing well and able to find joy in the little things, exercise the freedoms you have, and are surrounded by loved ones. Remember those who struggle during this time and lend a helping hand. There’s nothing more rewarding than giving of yourself, even during your own trials. And if you’re reading this and are the one who is struggling, know that I am praying for you.

Be on the lookout for my new socket posts, and check out my Instagram angie_heuser for daily posts on what I’m up to. And I will end on this….

Above all else, laugh! Laughter is music to the soul.🥸

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