Well, THAT Was Awkward… (thoughts on running into my limb-salvage doc at the gym)

I have developed a love-hate relationship with medicine over the years. Medicine can do great things. It can also be harmful in cases where medical providers don’t see the “whole person.”

I get a lot of questions about my amputation, and the story which led up to it. Usually, I give people the “quick and dirty” version….”I had a climbing fall and broke my ankle really badly. We tried for two years / 11 surgeries to fix it, and eventually I decided to amputate to regain my quality of life–to remain as active as possible.” I always always end the conversation sharing that I have no regrets whatsoever.

After my amputation, I decided to choose an older, orthopedic surgeon who had spent some time in Germany during the war. After seeing my x-rays, he made the comment that I was wise to move ahead with amputation. “Good for you…” he said “I see way too many young doctors nowadays that keep trying to fix the unfixable. It’s wrong in my book, especially with the great prosthetic technology out there.” Dr. Konkol has since retired, and I have appreciated his seasoned advice over the years.

Apparently in medical residency there is a culture which Dr. Konkol terms the “not on my watch” culture, where the doctor du jour makes darn sure life and limb are saved regardless of whatever casualties may exist regarding quality of life. “Success” means keeping body systems intact. Never mind the fallout at home, or emotionally. My two years of undergoing 11 surgeries of limb salvage while trying to maintain my sanity, avoid depression, and retain my active lifestyle renders me one example–for millions of others, who put our lives into the hands of doctors every day.

Fast-forward, five and a half years. I am now middle age, and needing to make general working out a part of my routine. I attend the gym near the hospital where I work, naturally.

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to wear my running blade. Because I feel pretty badass when I’m able to bounce around and run sometimes. This particular day my limb-salvage doctor was in the free-weight area, working with a personal trainer. We locked eyes for a moment, but then I avoided him.

I could have struck up a conversation, couldn’t I have? I told myself that he was busy with the trainer. Thank God.

Then I was approached by the gym manager, asking about my accident and my leg–yes, in front of my (previous) doc. She shared that it is always inspirational to see folks at the gym with disabilities, just “doing their thing.” I shared that I had tried several times to work with the hospital to merge the wellness culture with the rehab community, yet there has not been sufficient funding to secure a “program” to make this come to fruition. For some reason, medicine seems to have enough funds for cures and research to be had, yet in this case–no funding for programs for the “broken” to regain and maintain their qualities of life. These programs continue to be driven by generous and big-hearted volunteers with a passion for what they do. Thank God for them. This is important work. I digress….

I continue to see the good doctor at the gym from time to time. I could, and probably will strike up a conversation at some point….Remember me??? We were going to do an ankle replacement which had zero chance of working??? I realize that my being there, and active speaks for itself. I am in decent condition. I could be (but fortunately am not) like many patients I visit, depressed and deconditioned, with multiple co-morbidities, due to nursing a bad ankle. Still.

Sometimes medicine doesn’t know when to stop, and have the deeper conversations.

I am still not sure what my role is, since I continue to be a hospital employee, yet am also a patient, representing others in the disability community. These are important issues, and conversations of power and influence in medicine need to be had, at many levels.

Maybe the stars will align, and the conversation will happen. At the gym. In the mean time, I will keep doing my thing, and kicking ass. Feeling badass with my prosthetic leg.

I have made a decided effort to write about these things, nonetheless. To strike up conversations about these issues, because medicine, like so many things nowadays, is in deep need of healing. And healing does not happen when people harbor shame or resentment.

No shame here. Resentment, maybe.

I guess I’ve got my work cut out for me. Send good mojo.

6 thoughts on “Well, THAT Was Awkward… (thoughts on running into my limb-salvage doc at the gym)”

  1. Well done, taking the high road! And well written, thank you for sharing what I’m sure is incredibly inspirational to so many ! (Myself included)

    Keep sharing and telling it like it is, as well as how is SHOULD be!!

    ❤️❤️

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  2. Thanks so much Karen. I hope folks are able to feel a little empowered to do the same. It can be tough to be your own advocate these days (since medicine has become more corporate and $ driven)

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  3. Great post, Chris! My situation is, of course, different from yours (aren’t we all?), but what I have learned is that there’s no right answer for everyone. Having a doctor – or prosthetist, or social worker, or therapist — who is singularly focused on their own objectives without considering the individual needs and goals of the human being in front of them does a disservice to the patient, their family, and the medical community. This is why empathy and compassion are key. For me, a doctor who cares about ME as an individual makes all the difference!

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    1. Thanks Rebecca. Yup, empathy and compassion. The newer residents (millennials? Not to generalize though) have a mindset that’s a bit different. I think those things need better integration these days. (Something clinical pastoral education is committed to, thank God.)

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  4. Chris, you are one hell of an amazing woman! Keep doing what you know to be right – you are a wonderful example to us all.

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