I am 68 years of age. My life changed in 1972 following the amputation of my right leg.
Let me explain. Prior to 1972 I was a bikie, riding in what is known as a ‘Bikie Outlaw Club’. My life was so very exciting, fast and full of good times. I felt unstoppable, up in the world that nothing could ever touch me. “Live fast, die young...I’m bullet proof”. That was my attitude then.
On the 22nd of October 1972 everything changed, crunch time had arrived. On my way home from a friend’s house, a car made a right hand turn in to me. His defence was he didn’t see me or hear my motorbike. He didn’t even see my headlight shinning oh so brightly. Such is life!
I knew instantly that I had lost my leg and was feeling very scared. I woke up in hospital taking stock; I remember thinking of what my future was going to be like…never work again, never marry or have a family, and being rejected by my friends. I even felt like I had let my family down. I could very easily have ended it all there and then. I suppose I was a little delirious. I don’t know if this was soon after or days later when I awoke to my Mum and Dad comforting my crying girlfriend whom I rejected because I felt that I was no longer any good for her. As much as she had tried to persuade me otherwise I had made up my mind, I wanted her to have the life I felt I could no longer offer her.
I was angry with myself and with the world. Luckily my family were there for me. My family and a handful of my closest friends visited me twice a day. Without them I would have gone crazy. Back then there was little support in the area of amputation or limb loss. I was resigned to the fact that I had to get through the trauma for them, so I told myself, “get over it fella, you’ve got to play the hand you’ve been dealt”. Physiotherapy was trouble-free with friends and family supporting me. In the 6 weeks I spent in hospital I had 2 skin grafts due to ulceration of the stump. I had a horrible time in Rehabilitation, with insecurities surfacing at every turn. I felt very alone and lost, depression set in. I was a mess.
I met my first wife in hospital. She was a nurse and she was the reason I made it through the ordeal of the amputation aftermath. If a peer support group was around, then I believe my mental health would not have suffered so much. To have the opportunity to speak to someone who shared the same experience would have been invaluable.
The first day I stood up on my prosthetic leg I did not want to take it easy (like I was told) and I did not want to give it back for adjustments, but of course I did. All I wanted to do was get back to work, marry my girl, have a family and restore my life back to its former glory. I foolishly pushed myself too hard - I should have given myself more time. I hated being in Rehab, I wanted to get out and get on with my life. Within 6 months I was back at work, I even got married, which I am sad to say only lasted 18 months.
Following this stage in my life, I had numerous jobs, a few relationships, started playing music in a band and met my current wife. I retrained and took a course at TAFE and achieved my Chef Certificate as cooking was my real passion and I enjoyed it immensely.
I worked in the hospitality field for 10 years, but chronic back and neck problems together with a re-occurring stump soreness forced me to give up work. It was all getting too much and I was taking far too much medication just to get through the day.
I am now retired and feel fortunate to live on a wonderful rural property with my wife and our many pets.
I rely on the caring staff from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital who look after my prosthetic needs. The staff at the Queen Elizabeth are truly amazing, and when I was asked to join the Peer Support Volunteer Group based at the hospital I welcomed the opportunity to help out; as they have helped me so much.
I am also a member of a Men’s Shed in Ballarat East, which is a Beyond Blue initiative. This allows me to have a rant and share a recipe or two! I have occasional setbacks with corns, phantom pain, skin irritations and keeping my weight down. (Impossible!)
No matter how bad the hand you’ve been dealt - you can get through it. Speak to an amputee peer support volunteer if this service is offered to you, because talking to someone who has experience may help to set your mind at ease.