The Best Gift: Losing My Leg
All Sandra wanted was an agony-free Christmas
Being a mum of four teenage girls is hard work, for sure. Puberty, exams, temper tantrums…
So in March 2004 I swapped working in retail management for a job at a petrol station, three days a week.
It meant I had more time with my girls.
On 1 April, just a month later, I was opening up at 6am.
Each morning I had to move two fire extinguishers to the forecourt outside.
They were so heavy they were fixed to a trolley so I could pull them.
But dragging the canisters outside, I went up a slight kerb.
Both of the rubber handles came off.
The trolley tipped and…
I yelled as it came tumbling, crushing my left foot. The pain was unbelievable. With sheer adrenaline, I managed to lug the canisters off me.
Crawling to the office I called my husband Andy, then 44.
‘Is this an April Fool?’ he asked.
‘No,’ I whimpered. Taking my trainer off,
I saw my foot was already bruised and bleeding.
While my boss came to take over, Andy drove me to Princess Royal University Hospital for X-rays.
‘You’ve not broken any bones,’ a doctor said.
Sent home with crutches and painkillers, I thought that was the end of it. But a week on, my foot had gone black and started to swell.
I was in agony.
So I went back to hospital, was put in a cast. But the pain just grew more and more severe.
Back at hospital, I got a new diagnosis.
‘It’s reflex sympathetic dystrophy,’ a doctor said.
Turns out we all have sympathetic and nonsympathetic nerves.
The first kicks in after feeling pain, and the second starts the healing process.
Basically, the accident had damaged the second. Hence the pain! There was nothing the doctors could do, except wait...
‘If it doesn’t heal in three years, it never will,’ a doctor warned.
I longed to get better – but, months on, I was still in agony.
The slightest touch to my foot sent me writhing.
Gone were the days of shoes and socks.
I limped on crutches, foot bare to the elements!
If it was raining or windy, I wouldn’t go outside because it would send my foot into a fury. And I’m talking a drop of rain, a breath of wind...
I never went back to work at the petrol station.
Not only that, it affected me as a mother, too.
My foot was a constant irritant in the house. ‘Don’t touch my foot!’ I would warn my girls.
Even when I went to bed, my foot stuck out of the covers. Three years on, I was still no better.
I saw specialists, had trial treatments. Nothing worked.
Soon all the specialists were suggesting the same thing. Amputation.
‘I can’t,’ I sobbed to Andy. I’d lose my freedom, as well as a part of myself.
I vowed to put up with the pain.
But in spring 2012 I developed cellulitis – an agonising infection under my skin. That year, I spent more time in hospital than out – and had seven operations. One left me with an abscess and a gaping hole in my foot. Surgeons tried to drain the infection, but it didn’t work.
That October, I got bad news.
‘It’s your leg or your life,’ they said. ‘We can
On Boxing Day, I was measured for my prosthetic
arrange a prosthetic.’
This time I didn’t argue. On 19 December 2012, I was wheeled in for amputation from below the knee.
I was terrified, but focused on getting better for Christmas.
Not the end
After my operation, the relief was instant.
The pain in my leg and foot had disappeared.
‘That’s the best Christmas present ever!’ I grinned.
Incredibly, I was home on Christmas Eve.
The family rallied round for dinner and presents.
And, on Boxing Day, the hospital leg team made measurements for my new leg.
By early 2013, I was hobbling on prosthetics from my knee downwards.
The recovery process was amazing.
‘I wish I’d done this sooner,’ I told Andy, now 57.
That year, I started a job as a health assistant in a local hospital.
They didn’t even know I had a fake leg!
But, unfortunately – after 18 months – the pain returned.
With a vengeance!
I ended up in my boss’ office, crying and taking off my leg.
‘Sorry, but I quit – the pain is too much,’ I cried.
It turns out I had a neuroma – a benign tumour, reacting to my severed nerves.
The nerves in my stump were fighting to reattach themselves to my missing leg!
It caused chronic pain.
In July 2014, I had a second amputation just below my knee to remove some of the nerves and tuck them in.
It happened around my 25th wedding anniversary.
After a couple of days recovering in hospital, we celebrated by visiting the beach in Poole, Dorset.
Everything was great for 3 months, and I was preparing for another prosthetic.
But the neuroma returned, so I had high-frequency radiowave treatment to try and reduce it.
The pain hasn’t disappeared – and, because of it, I can’t wear another prosthetic.
Now, I whizz around in a yellow wheelchair. Doctors can’t do any more. Talks of removing my leg above the knee weren’t an option, as the risks were too high.
I’m hoping to visit private consultants for a second opinion.
Now, I’m just looking
NO MATTER WHAT, I WON’T LET THE PAIN WIN
forward to the festive season.
I’m expecting my eighth grandchild at Christmas.
So, I’ll be raising a glass with my loving family this Yuletide.
Because I know – whatever happens, with their support – I’ll take it all in my stride.
With hubby Andy, before my accident
In plaster as the pain worsened Recovering, with my falsie
Celebrating our 25th anniversary