Click the picture for the story of Calypso, the Three Legged Green Sea Turtle, and why she's my symbol

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What It's Like To Lose Your Legs and Get Them Back Again

That first month before I moved I thought I had lost my legs. I lost them in a way it is hard to convey. How much do you love your left knee? Or your hand? Or the muscles that run that run over your hips? It's not something you normally think of. For all intents and purposes my legs were dead. When you are faced with the blunt truth you realize that is every bit as real a death as that of your closest friend, your dearest family member, your lover; yet closer than all of these.

So faced with this blunt reality I went through the stages of grief for what I had lost:


For about the first week and a half I didn't think about it. After the drug fog finally parted, I hit the ground running. I was focused, I wanted to walk again. There was nothing that was going to stop me. So I worked hard, focused. Did physical therapy, worked hard. I just didn't think about it.


Then one evening I was alone. My roommate was gone, all the nurses and aids gone. I was alone for the first time in a long time. And I began to think about it and it all came crashing down on my head at once. And it hit hard: I had lost my legs.

I would never again walk, run around, dance, play sports... I remembered after a wrestling meet. I had won a match, against someone who outweighed me by 13 lbs. My blood was pumping, adrenaline coursing through me. I was still wearing my wrestling shoes, the kind that are just thick enough to protect your feet but allow you to feel every groove on the floor. I ran down the stairs to the locker room, passing it. I sprinted down the hall at endorphin induced speed. I could have run miles, and considered it briefly. I was invincible.


That night I cried. I finally admitted to myself what I had lost.


Now I've always been a good catholic boy, sorta. Went to church on Sundays, when I remembered that they gave out free meals for college students after the 5 o'clock mass. Through all of this I never doubted that God was all around me, in everything I saw. He was there, wrapped around me like a warm blanket, protecting me.

It's not that I stopped believing in God, it was just that my warm blanket of protection had been ripped away. I didn't beg for my legs, I didn't really ask for anything. I merely asked “why?” Why had I been so unprepared for life, why was I so innocent, why did I have to be flung into a truck at high speed to go down whatever path I was supposed to go, why did I have to be put through all this? But I just asked the simple word.

Not much of a bargaining strategy I know but I was still in shock. I told my friends and family “I still believe in God, we just have some issues to work out.” Still true I suppose.


I wasn't angry often but when I was it seized me. It wasn't fair and I wasn't going to put up with all this shit. I don't care what happened to my body.

I was mad there was nothing heavy that I could throw at the windows, breaking the glass. I wanted to break something. I ended up throwing my stuffed animals a lot. I got good at knocking the panels out from the ceiling; they had to put them back three times.

My sister offered to get me a Nerf dart gun so I could get out some of my unused aggression. This was a good idea. Eventually I ended up shooting a few real guns when my uncle took me to a shooting range. It helped to tilt my gun to the side in what my uncle called the “gangsta shot,” firing off all the bullets in the clip. I actually wasn't a bad shot either.

I wasn't as mad after that but I still do get frustrated by everything. I'm mellow enough that most of the time you usually don't have to worry; but just hope that when I am angry, I'm not holding a gun.


I'm still working on that part. I have accepted that this is the body I have to work with. I've accepted that I can still live on, even after this loss. I've accepted that I have to work hard to get beyond where I am. This part is hard and I don't know if I'll ever really accept the loss, even if it ends up being a temporary one. They say time heals all wounds. I really hope so.


After my toe wiggled, people kept assuring me that I would one day walk again, that I would have my legs back. I didn't really believe them, in my heart of hearts. For I had already gone through my mourning. They were already dead so what was the point in hoping for what you couldn't have. I always nodded politely but was ruled by overwhelming doubts.

It's only in the past few weeks that I have come to realize a truth that has changed my life: my legs weren't dead, merely sleeping. I had to wait patiently while they got enough rest. It was as if each muscle group were an individual that demanded attention in different ways.

The hip flexors were the first to come awake. The closest to the line of movement, they were ready to jump to attention. Yet they were still half-awake and even though they had great aspirations they only were able to twitch the leg back and forth.

The hamstrings, the muscle running behind the knee that runs the length of your leg, tried to spring to attention as well, though they were still mostly asleep. Eyes still closed, they muttered “yes, yes... that's nice.”

The quads (thighs) twitched awake for half a minute, muttered, “5 more minutes,” then proceed to go back to sleep.

The ankle squeaked “I'm here too,” but nobody heard it because it was so small.

They groaned and moaned, just as I do when I wake up. They hurt, they were weak, and just wanted to go back to bed. Slowly they've awoken. I can move my leg around in circles, bend and extend the knee and have the barest hint of an ankle movement. Most of the movements are so weak they can only be seen when my leg is underwater. The movements are scattered widely, a bunch of spare parts. But they're beginning to stop being a spare parts and start becoming a leg again.

That's my journey so far. It's obviously not finished, not by a long shot. And for once I agree with the encouragement. I will walk again. It's within sight.


  1. Congratulations Peter! And good luck with getting it fully back.

    BTW, you should really think about taking up writing by the way. :)


  2. Still following what you're up to, Peter. I'm definitely looking forward to hearing what your leg has in store for you next!