My Story-The Long Version
In January of 2008, a downhill ski trip left me with an ugly sprained ankle that didn’t seem like a big deal. I stayed off my foot and tried to nurse it back to health, but days later, it did not look normal. It had worsened into an oozy, black and blue bubble on my right ankle. A day or two later, a dark purplish color had spread up to my knee. My leg was tight and achy, and my body was burning up with a fever. We decided that it was time to go to the Medical Center.
The Doctor wanted to immediately perform surgery and cut into my leg to see what was going on. We were in our small town of Afton, Wyoming, and when the Doctor opened up the wound, he knew it was beyond his expertise. They shortly wheeled me out of surgery and prepared me to be taken to Salt Lake City by ambulance. The doctors all around me said goodbye, while thinking to themselves that I would not be returning home with two legs.
It was a snowy blizzard that night and a slow drive to the University of Utah Medical Center. My husband sat in front with the driver and I lay in the back heavily drugged with a kind nurse. My mind was still and peaceful and I didn’t know what to expect. No one told me anything, and if they did, an angel must have covered my ears.
We finally made it to the hospital where I was wheeled to the Intensive Care Unit on the Burn Trauma floor. The surgeon took one look at my leg, knew what it was, and knew what needed to be done. He would need to debride (tear away) all the skin and tissue that was dead and infected from my leg, ankle, and foot. He informed my husband and I that if the infection had reached the muscle, they would need to cut my leg off from the knee down.
At one o’clock a.m., I was wheeled into emergency surgery while my husband waited outside, praying that his wife’s life and leg would be spared. When I came out of surgery, I immediately wiggled my toes. Praise God! I still had both legs! My leg was now stripped of tissue and skin, only showing tendons and muscles. I had no concept that night of the journey that was ahead of me, and more so, the pivotal moment that this would be in shaping my destiny.
The virus turned out to be an internal virus that attacked the weak tissue and turned into Necrotizing Fasciitis, a rare, flesh-eating virus that usually results in amputations or death. I quickly began to see the hand of God in every step through this dark and scary moment in my life.
After a few days of being on high volumes of antibiotics, I was wheeled in for surgery number three where they made sure the virus had not done more damage. The Lord was merciful again, and I was fine. The journey to rebuild my leg with new skin and function was next on the agenda.
The Doctor explained the process of grafting skin from one body part to my lower leg. He was very positive and said that I would be as good as new and be able to ski again before I knew it. It sounded simple enough.
Every day, I was wheeled to wound care and laid on a bed, where they scrubbed and cleaned my bare leg with a hand held shower. On top of all the other pain-killers I was on, they gave me morphine right before each wound care session because of the pain I had to endure. Along with daily wound care, was painful physical therapy attempting to walk and keep as much function in my leg and ankle as possible. My mind was cloudy from all the drugs, and I had very little strength and energy. All I wanted to do was sleep all day.
The first step to rebuilding my leg was to prepare it to receive my own skin from the donor site. They did this by placing cadaver skin all over my leg and foot. And so, I was wheeled into surgery number four where they placed the cadaver skin all over my leg. The routine of wound care and physical therapy continued in between all of the meals that I continuously vomited because of my body's reaction to the painkillers.
Days after the cadaver skin graft, it was time for the final grafting. The Surgeons removed the cadaver skin, and then cut large sheets of skin from my thigh, ran them through a machine that made the skin go further, and stapled the pieces to my right leg, ankle, and top of my foot. My leg was bandaged, and I was wheeled out of surgery.
Once the anesthetics wore off, I found myself in the most excruciating pain, a level of pain I didn’t know even existed. The pain came mostly from the donor site, as stripping the top layer of skin was likened to a severe road rash where all the nerves were exposed. I pleaded for more pain medicine, but the nurses assured me that I had been given the maximum dose allowed. The only thing I could do was lay there, pray, and endure the pain until it subsided.
Three weeks after being admitted to the hospital, doctors reluctantly consented for me to return home, upon my husband's request. With crutches, painkillers, and two bags full of wound care supplies, my husband and I returned home to our one-year-old daughter.
Months of wound care, physical therapy, and trips to Salt Lake for appointments followed. But what was going on, on the outside of me was only part of the struggle . The darkness, the anger, the fear, the obsessions that crept into my heart and mind became part of the struggle and part of the journey.
My right leg was forever changed, but more importantly, my soul was about to be forever changed.