Back on track after amputation
He may have lost his right leg, but SÉAN O'DONNELLhas regained his independence and love of life
One evening last March I came to after an operation in St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin. My right leg had just been amputated above the knee. I had been warned that this was likely to happen.
My consultant, the excellent Mary Barry, told me she would try to save the leg but that it would be unlikely in the circumstances. This, and the fact that I was semi-comatose at the time, meant that there was no immediate sense of shock or psychological trauma.
My problem had started six years earlier when I underwent a bypass to an aneurism in the leg. The lower part of the surgical wound ulcerated due to diabetes. I had been hospitalised several times with this in the intervening years.
Just when the leg appeared to be healing, I developed septicaemia. This ultimately led to the amputation. I had become very ill a week earlier. A keen Rugby supporter, I had was to attend the Ireland v Italy 6-Nations rugby match but could not do so because I was so ill. That weekend I spent lying on the couch remains a blur.
Heavy duty painkillers
By Tuesday night I had intense pain behind my right knee. Even with heavy duty painkillers I could get no pain relief nor sleep and, in agony, phoned an ambulance and informed the crew that they would have to carry me down the stairs as I could no longer walk.
When the ambulance arrived the buzzer at my apartment entrance was malfunctioning so I dragged myself to the window and threw the keys to the crew below.
By now my leg was completely black. The medical staff at the hospital were unable to give me more painkillers as I had already taken so many. My consultant diagnosed septicaemia and I was prepared for emergency surgery. Despite everyone’s best efforts, my leg could not be saved.
The weeks that followed were the bleakest of my life. The residual poison in my system and my medication caused a vicious circle of nausea, stomach cramps, constipation and severe diarrhoea.
Nurses had to turn me in the bed and change me like a baby which was humiliating but they were very professional and reassured me that it was a regular part of their duties. This condition persisted even after I began to feel better and had gingerly resumed eating.
During those long dark days I was sustained by a single-minded determination to put my life back on track and regain my independence. I was eventually transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Dún Laoghaire where my rehabilitation took 18 weeks on top of the five I had spent in the acute hospital.
At a group therapy session at the NRH, I articulated how I defined the position in which I found myself as being on a straight road with no turn-offs and a cul-de-sac behind me. My only option was to keep going forward. I believe some of my fellow patients may have benefited from this observation.