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GIFTS OF COURAGE AND FAITH – My story is different, in the way that I was bacterially ’burnt’.   I contracted bacterial pneumococcal septicemia from somewhere.

I was added as a burn survivor, simply because my injuries were so close to that of a burn victim.  I received the same treatments with the debriding, flamazene dressings, etc. so I know what a burn shower, donor site and grafting is all about; being left with the same kind of scarring.

In 1976, I had a cyst growing out of my spleen.  When the doctors removed, it weighed about 6 lbs. and was attached to my kidneys, stomach etc.  I had also had asthma especially on exertion so I could never take P.E. in school.  Magically when they removed the cyst (which had been putting pressure on my lungs) my asthma and the pain were gone!   All splenectomized patients are at risk their entire life for overwhelming septicemia.

On February 19, 2006 I went from being ’okay’ in the morning to in a coma that night.  I hadn’t felt quite up to par for a few days but I put it down to stress and carried on.  My husband, who I’d met in sobriety 6 ½ years prior, was for 6 months now using hard drugs, which had put a huge emotional, physical and financial stress on the family.  This particular day I remember feeling exceptionally tired but, by supper, was getting quite delirious.  My husband did manage to talk me into going to emergency and I remember answering a few questions before it was ‘lights out‘.

Over the next few days, as I was kept alive with a ventilator, my body turned blacker.  The pictures you see were all taken while I was still in Chilliwack   My chances of survival were slim, especially because the doctors were not sure as to the extent of damage that was going on inside my vital organs.  At one point in time I battled with kidney failure, which somehow turned itself around.   When I came out of the coma 10 days later I was transferred to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn, Plastic and Truama Unit.  There I was inserted with a feeding tube and a trach.

My body turned quite a bit blacker and I lost most of my nose and mouth (lips) area.  Even some of my eyelashes were burnt off.  The doctors waited a while to determine the extent of damage and also gave my body a chance to grow new tissue.  My limbs turned to gangrene and on March 24th I had my 4 amputations.   Bilateral below knee and bilateral below elbow. I was very fortunate with the length left in my limbs.  Then the grafting and debriding of dead skin began.  My trach eventually got corked and I could talk and eat!   The occupational therapist made me two gadgets that could be held on my arm with velcro.  She was so talented!  One has a rubber nipple, which I can use to press phone buttons, work TV remote and bed controls.  The other will hold a bent spoon or pen.  This allowed me both to feed myself and also to write.  Often I just pointed at letters of the alphabet and my visitors played a guessing game as to what exactly I was trying to say.  Even though this process could be very frustrating, I didn’t get as tired out as if I had written it all.  Pressure bandages were applied to my limbs, which eventually were replaced with shrinker socks, which in turn were replaced with prosthetics.  I got my new ’arms’ in May and started the game of learning how to use them. I’m really efficient with them, and can apply my own mascara as well as pick up pills from the floor!

I went home beginning of June, ‘just for a week’, but ended up in Chilliwack Hospital again with pneumonia and was there ten days.  Then I was off to GF Strong and was an inpatient for 9 weeks, coming home end of August.  I’m not sure where I’d be without their program – physically, mentally, emotionally and probably even spiritually.    I got my new ‘legs’ August 16th and earnestly started my fight for as much mobility as possible.  My therapist said that with work I could do just about whatever I wanted or had done before.  I remember saying, ’except dancing’ and she said ‘yes, even that‘.  This last summer I did dance!   What a feeling that was!

Another thing I found difficult was accepting the fact that I could no longer work, not as a care aide for sure.  I worked with Home Support as a community health worker and loved my job!   Now I’m on the receiving end, which took a little getting used to.

Since then I’ve had a few setbacks.  In January of 2008 my left leg turned septic again, and in February the right one did!  Those two months set me back almost a year but physically since then I’ve steadily improved.  I can now go out without my chair and can walk quite a ways, even to the grocery store!  I can get in and out of vehicles now and hope next year to get my driver’s license again.  My aunt and uncle bought me my van, which has a side lift and came with hand controls, and all I have to do is get behind the wheel!  They also got me a computer mouse with the roller ball, which makes it so much easier to use with my claw. I have fantastic family and friends for support.

My feeding tube disappeared some time in 2007, but I still have the trach.  It will stay in until I’ve finished all my facial surgeries.  My plastic surgeon and I have agreed that we’re trudging the road to a new face!  Some people pay a lot of money for one!

Some time while still at VGH my son stopped all communication.  I’ve learned that grief and loss affect everyone differently and can create huge family disagreements.  Circumstances brought us together again about two years ago and I now have a wonderful little grandson!

Through all this my husband was still struggling with his drug addictions.  Although I understand the disease being an alcoholic myself, I found that I was slowly crumbling away.  In May of last year, I had to ask for a separation.  This was an extremely difficult decision, especially because when he was physically able to, he could cope with ’me’ the way I was and could be very helpful.   It was very difficult in the beginning living alone (with my little dog) especially with my physical limitations.  June 20th of this year I celebrated my 10th year of sobriety.  I’ve found my answer to life to be in the Serenity Prayer.

I am so grateful for the educational and emotional support ‘The Future is Mine‘ program has offered me.  It’s given me the opportunity to meet other people who know what it’s like to face the world with scarring and disfigurement.

What does my future hold?  I’m not sure but I know it will be bright.  I got my Peer Visitor certification as laid out by the Amputee Coalition of Canada.   I’m active with a new group bringing support to the Valley, called the ‘Fraser Valley Friendly Amputees’.

I believe ‘He has a plan’ and it’s not up to me to question why, what, where?  My faith has given me the courage to come this far.  I truly am grateful for each new day.  The past is history; the future a mystery, all we have is the present, that’s why I call it a gift!


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