UPDATE: Being An Amputee And Having A Service Dog

By: Joel Allen

Hello, folks!  Well, it has been an interesting four months.  As many of my readers know my left foot was amputated below the knee in June. In August, I had the Targeted Muscle Reinnervation (TMR) surgery done where people like myself have the nerves that are still alive reassigned to another part of the amputated limb because it does, in most cases, help keep phantom pain away. In September, I met with my prosthetist and was fitted for my prosthetic leg. These last few weeks, I have driven to Vanderbilt and tested my new leg twice. On the 27th of September, I rolled into Hanger Clinic (the Prosthetic Center) on my knee scooter, and then after testing the new leg one final time, Houston and I walked out.

This journey is still ongoing for me, but I will enlighten those that are reading this and might be facing what I went through, life does not end with amputation. How things happen and unfold are solely in God’s hands. I believe that I have come through this because of Him with the power of prayer, and no, I am not the best Christian in the world, but I do believe. I have heard it said a few times by my doctors, “For a diabetic you have healed faster than expected.”

I don’t know why, but I feel I need to share this because there is someone out there like me that needs to read this. This is not an easy journey, and when faced with an amputation of any kind, it can have a negative mental effect. How I dealt with this at first was I thought I could just ignore my problem and I would be fine. Then in March early April, I was hospitalized for 6 days with the worse staph infection a body could get. Then I had to take IV antibiotics for approximately 8 more weeks at home. So, after all that sickness, I knew I did not want to go through that again.

I began going to Vanderbilt in April and sought out Dr. Hicks, a podiatrist who has a reputation of taking care of his patients. It only took a couple of visits and Dr. Hicks showing me the x-rays of my left foot before I realized I was not going to be able to avoid the subject of amputation much longer. The infections I had been getting were becoming more frequent, and Dr. Hicks pointed to a toe bone in the x-ray he believed was hiding more infection. His explanation made sense, and he wanted to take the toe. I stopped him right there and stated no. I asked, “How can I get my ability to run and hike again and stop getting sick?” He then plainly told me that only a full amputation with a plan for a prosthetic would be the best way to go. I told him I had to think about this because I did not want to be whittled away on and come to the same end result, full amputation. Dr. Hicks introduced me to the prosthetic team at Hanger Clinic before I made any decision, and here I am today.

So, fast forward, I am wearing the prosthetic leg during the day when I am away from home. People don’t even know I have a prosthesis unless they know me. I am told that seeing me move is like I never had a problem. How I prepared myself was through determination, knowledge, and some physical training.

Let me explain a little further on my preparedness. When I decided to have the amputation, it was after I read up on the subject and spoke to the prosthetic team. I asked questions and they answered me about everything I was to expect. I was even given a book that explained the stages I would go through and what to expect. It was recommended that I join an amputee support group and I did. Donna Boggs was a huge help for me too. She works at the Hanger Clinic, at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, and she is a bilateral amputee. The only way anyone could tell she was an amputee was if she wore shorts. She walked into the room and didn’t miss a stride with her prosthetic legs. I was amazed by the grace she displayed when we first met in person. She is my peer rep, and she helped me with some questions to which only an amputee would know the answer. The support group I joined is on Facebook called “Amputee Peer and Support Group.” The support and knowledge I was able to find there is priceless. No one has to be an amputee to join either. This group is for those facing amputation and those who care for those with amputations.

Another part of my preparedness I did was push-ups, preparing my upper body for the time I would need that extra strength to move a one-legged man around. Needless to say, when I’m in the shower I can be one of the world’s fastest one-legged men if the temperature changes, LOL. In other words, when someone flushes the toilet and the water temp changes, I move fast and holler, “Missed me!” at my roommate. LOL!

Well, folks, for those facing possible amputation, let me again give some words of encouragement — stay positive and get into a support group. Build yourself up mentally and physically. Do not listen to anyone saying, “You can’t do this or that!” Your only limits are yourself. We are stronger than we think we are.

PSA:  The Athens-Limestone Shelter is in need of a volunteer who can video interview their dogs for adoption. I had the pleasure of seeing a video on one of their dogs up for adoption named Carter. By doing this, it is my opinion that everyone can see these dogs that so frequently get overlooked and see the potential they are missing. Plus, videoing the dogs is better than still pictures. Please, won’t you volunteer to help? Ask to speak with Priscilla or April when you go by. I hope someone will volunteer for this.

By: Joel Allen