Not quite a week ago, I had my right foot amputated and dropped that news on many of you somewhat abruptly. Sorry about that. As I observed at the time, there’s just really no way of easing into a conversation like that. If you missed this and you’re wondering what’s going on, you can read the whole story here to catch up. If you caught the news the first time, keep reading because after the incredible outpouring of support you gave me, you deserve an update. I’m sorry it has taken so long.
It was an early morning for us on Monday, June 05. Neither Cynthia nor I slept very well in the hotel room, and we were up well before 5 am. By 5:45, we were at the hospital, and by 7:45, I was on a gurney being wheeled into the operating room. An IV, a chat with my surgeon (who signed the correct foot and promised to try really hard not to take the good one), and then it was, “Count down from 10, 9, 8…” and the rest got fuzzy and because of the miracle of anesthetic, no time passed at all before I was awake and the foot was gone, cut about seven inches below my knee.
The surgery went well, and the surgeon did a great job. I was in good spirits, and all was right with the world. And then they moved me up to a room that can only be described as a total f*cking madhouse. I was the final (and youngest) patient in a room of four: two other men and one woman. The men were completely nuts, though not in the clinical way that would suggest I choose my words more carefully. Sane, but crazy, if you know what I’m saying.
Here is but one exchange in the endless cavalcade that was my shared room/frat house:
Patient One (taking a break from singing Christian hymns at the top of his lungs): “Jesus is coming!”
Nurse (God bless her): “Jesus wants you to take your meds.”
Patient One (refuses meds but resumes singing, then bursts out): “Jesus is coming!”
Patient Two(chiming in for not the first time): “Shut up!”
Nurse(ever patient, deserving sainthood): “Let’s try to be a little nicer.”
Patient Two: “Tell him to shut up.”
Patient One: “Jesus is coming!”
Patient Two: “No, He’s not! Shut up!”
(Nurse taps out, reconsiders her career choice.)
Patient Two: “If you don’t shut up, I’ll come over there and shut you up!” (ignoring for a moment his total lack of mobility, being—as he is—on a ward for the indisputably immobile).
Patient One resumes singing, which turns into him asking Jesus into his heart, not once but half a dozen times before I put my headphones on and start asking Jesus to, whatever else He’s busy with, take me now.
Patient Three, the quiet lady who keeps to herself, lies silently behind the thin curtain that separates us, wondering, I’m sure, what she did to deserve this and undoubtedly grateful these people won’t be getting out of their beds.
Patients One and Two resume dancing around their competing versions of reality. Patient Four (me) puts his headphones on and lets Pink Floyd join the party.
That was the first night, one of the longest of my life, because the outbursts went on Lionel Ritchie style: all night long. I can only praise the nurses for their patience and compassion, and the drugs for their eventual sedative effect (on me, but clearly not the others).
Since then, there’s been plenty more madness, including a room change that only made things worse, and then endless conversations with physiotherapists, a lot of poking, and short walks on crutches that became longer walks on crutches. Pain meds every four hours and some real moments of laughter with the ever-rotating roster of nurses and pain specialists. It’s been busy; I brought two books and a stack of magazines to pass the time, but I still haven’t opened any of them.
What I have had time for in the moments of reprieve from the chaos are the many, many comments from you. As I write this, there are almost 600 notes from you all on the blog, and most of them are not short “get well soon” notes but longer messages of compassion and kindness. All of them tell me there’s a connection between us that is not only strong but enduring.
Many of you have been walking this path with me for many years, and as much as this is an update, it is also a heartfelt thank you. You’ve brought me to tears of gratitude many times this week with your own stories of vulnerability, loss, and resiliency, and as insufficient as these words are: thank you. Thank you for showing up for me in your words and your actions. The sales of my three new monographs have deeply humbled me. Your generosity and kindness inspire me.
I won’t be able to thank you all individually, but this is very, very personal: thank you. From the bottom of my heart.
So how am I doing? I am well. Truly. Very sore, but well. All week I’ve been so relieved the surgery is over and that, yes, they removed the correct foot. So grateful to be able to begin planning and dreaming again. And after being postponed twice, I’m thrilled that the surgery is not something that can be taken away again. I’m mentally clearer now than I’ve been in months, perhaps for the last year. Even with the pain meds, I feel undistracted, like the fog and preoccupation have lifted. My words are easier to find, my sense of humour feels sharper. I realize what a weight I’ve been carrying as I’ve second/third/fourth-guessed my choice so many times since last summer. It’s been exhausting, and I am so relieved, so truly happy, to be coming out of that. I slept better last night than I have in months.
I am also amazed at how surreal my daily experience is right now. On day one, I felt my first phantom sensation, a persistent itch on the bottom of a foot I no longer have. But there it was, my right sole itching and no way to scratch it. Frustrating, but kind of fascinating. I lift my leg, now approximately five pounds lighter, and it kind of goes flying up with no control. It’s amusing, if not particularly graceful! I reach for socks and grab two, forgetting I will only need half as many for a while. I go to cross my ankles or shift my legs to move one foot over the other to find that one foot, well, isn’t. The presence of an absence.
It’ll be a long learning curve, and I know it will be painful and frustrating at times. But I have so much hope that it will also be so much more than that.
I was discharged on Friday, June 09, and I’m now settled on the couch in my home, counting down the ten days until my stitches come out and my prosthetist takes over my care to begin shaping my initial prosthesis and get me walking. It’s all happening miraculously quickly.
So now I’ll have time to rest up, heal, and to write: aside from my bi-weekly missives (which—mea culpa— I have neglected lately, ) I’m also working on a new book for you. And I’ll have time to dream and plan and, eventually, to jump with both feet back into travel, adventure, and teaching.
Thank you for being there for me. For your kindness. For your words of encouragement. I have needed and taken comfort in all of them. It has not all been easy, though I try to downplay the struggle of it. We all have challenges; we’re all missing something. These are the constraints with which we work in any creative endeavour, and life is certainly that.
If you missed it or are reading this for the first time, I released a set of three new monographs and 18 desktop wallpapers on Monday, the day of my surgery. I’ve put them on sale for whatever you choose to pay, giving you the chance to decide what value they have to you and to participate in my recovery if you choose; the sale of these monographs will help get me into my new prosthesis and back on my feet.
You can find the three new monographs here or by clicking the image below.
Your support of my work will get me into my first prosthetic leg in the same way your support of me has always given me purpose and a place to stand in this world. Not everyone has that, and I am so, so grateful. If you’ve already purchased this set of new monographs, thank you! I would love to hear what you think in the comments below. Questions about anything you see there? I’ve got time on my hands now and would be happy to turn this down time into teaching time. Just leave your questions in the comments below. And if this is the first you’re hearing of any of this and you want me to back the whole thing up and start from the beginning, here’s more about how I got to this point.
For the Love of the Photograph,