Waking up in Children's Hospital
I remember opening up my eyes in a haze.
I don’t know what to do next. I look down and see my arm covered in a large and bulky bandage. Dr. Van Laeken approaches to check the
stitches she has just performed.
"Kristie, you don't have to look," Mom says.
"It’s going to be okay baby, you’re strong, don't be afraid," follows my dad with tears running down his rosy cheeks.
Dr. Vanlinkin proceeds to unwrap the bandage and I feel fresh air touch my new wound for the first time. A chill runs through my spine. I close my eyes until I hear, "Kristie, you can look now."
The bloody scar and dark stitches wrap all the way around the end of my arm. My stomach drops. I felt sick to my stomach. Everyone around me is crying. I simply pray, "Thank you, God.”
I was told the surgery went smoothly. The doctors removed the remainder of my hand and snipped the nerves and veins. Dr. Vanlinkin, my surgeon, adjusted some of the remaining muscle to cover the tip of my arm to make it more weight bearing in the future. I know I had an incredible medical team performing my amputation.
The following days in the hospital were filled with check ups, medication adjustments, councilor meetings, and plenty of rest. During these days I was very fortunate to have family and friends visit. My room was known for continuously needing warnings about visiting hours and we were always receiving reminders to be cautious of the noise level. The love that surrounded me was the best form of comfort I could have ever asked for. My strength came from the enormous amounts of laughter, tears, prayers, and love. When day five post-surgery came around it was time for me to go home. I was ready. Scared and anxious about what lay ahead, but I was ready.
The next few days were filled with countless ups and downs. Adjusting to life at home was easy and keeping myself calm was not easy. From the day I got home I tried to keep my adjustment as close to daily life as possible. The first night home I went to the movies, the morning followed as I went out for breakfast and that night down to the beach for a walk.
While performing daily activities I felt pain in my wound and the arm remaining, but these outings were what made me feel hopeful that life didn't have to be so different. My first Sunday back from the hospital we went to Church where I was welcomed home with the most loving arms. Giving our praises up to God for saving my life, we were overjoyed with grace.
As the days went on my pain grew greater. We had countless complications with my medication and different doses not covering the pain. When you lose a limb you get something called a “phantom limb”. A phantom limb is the sensation that an amputated or missing limb is still attached. My pain would hit me when my phantom fingers would hold so much resistance sliding past each other that as soon as they slipped they would send a rushing shooting pain through my entire body.
I would scream and cry, not able to explain the pain.
I spent day after day screaming from the discomfort of my phantom limb. It wasn't until weeks later when I finally met with a pain therapist that I realized the source of my pain. The therapist explained that it was my mind telling me I was in more pain than I really was. I had developed a habit of holding my shoulder up so my arm would be closer to my heart. It made me feel more comfortable, like it couldn't be exposed or damaged. Little did I know what I thought was a comforting action, was actually altering the signals from my arm to my brain, tricking me into thinking I was in more pain than I really was.
As soon as I understood the problem and we had my medications under control, the pain started to become more manageable. I also discovered the power of my own mind and understanding. When I would start to feel phantom pains I would talk to myself and say, “Kristie you're okay, you didn't feel anything a minute ago, why would you be feeling anything now, you're imagining these pains, they are not real. Breathe.” I became so good at controlling my pain through the power of my mind over these intense pains that since September 2014, I have never received another phantom pain.
85% of all amputees experience phantom limb pains for the rest of their life after the loss of their limb, I do not.
Two times per week I would travel from the Sunshine Coast to Vancouver for 3 to 5 appointments per day. I would visit an occupational therapist, pain therapist, my surgeon, rehabilitation trainers and would finish the day with Trema Therapy. My occupational therapist made sure I had all the tools I needed to adjust to being one handed. My pain therapist helped me control my phantom pains and monitored my medication dosages. My surgeon, Dr. Van Laeken would check my scar’s healing process and make sure there was no infection. Rehab is where I learned different strategies to keep my phantom limb motion strong. Phantom limb motion is where you exercise using your phantom hand; Doing exercises including individually moving each finger up and down, doing waves going from pinky to thumb, thumb to pinky. Exercising your Phantom Limb Motion is important in case an amputee would want to use a Bionic hand that would have to respond to the movement of your nerves in your Phantom Limb.
As soon as I became stronger I could start exercising my left arm again. Being the gym fan I am, this progress felt amazing. My rehab trainer very quickly noticed my purposeful drive to become stronger and after only a couple of weeks she sent me home with exercises to do at my own gym.
In August, one-month post surgery, I was officially back in my local gym. I had to wear a bandage the size of a boxing glove and I couldn't do too much, but I was there. On my first day back I remember biking and listening to my music with the biggest smile on my face. When I moved over to the weights I had a woman approach me and tell me how inspiring I was to her. She told me I had been in her prayers and that she was so proud to see me. Being back at my gym felt like getting my old life back.
After One month at the gym September had rolled around and it was time for registration at my dance studio. I enrolled in the pre-professional program at the Coast Academy of Dance for my third and final year. In this program I would continue to train 30h/week in tap, ballet, contemporary, modern, and hip-hop. Nothing was going to stop me from pursuing my career in dance, not even a missing limb. Dance is what I've always loved and it's something I've promised myself to never stop.
From September onwards my healing went smoothly. For a few more months my arm was still very tender, but through continuous rehabilitation practices my stump became fully weight bearing. In December I received a new prosthetic and my progress at the gym and in the studio grew rapidly. To get my arm as strong as possible I continued working out and alternated between plyometrics and weight training. Every day I was discovering new muscles and learning new ways to grow stronger.
I have suffered through many long days and nights. Every day of my recovery was filled with new challenges, but every day I chose not to give up. I knew since day one that God was right beside me, holding my hand, and guiding me through this process. I know I can do anything I set my mind to, and every day since I left the hospital, I have been determined to make my life with one hand better than it ever could've been with two. Every day I push myself a little further, so every day I can become a little stronger.