Quadruple amputee puts my minor injuries in perspective
It’s 11 weeks (yes, I’m still counting) since I ended up in hospital after a water-skiing accident.
That’s 11 weeks of painkillers, two weeks in a wheelchair, a week with a walking stick and eight weeks with an ever-improving limp. Now, unless I’ve overdone it by trying to dance, swim breast-stroke or wear shoes with heels, you’d hardly notice my limp at all.
Frankly, for the past three months I’ve been moaning and groaning and making old-lady noises every time I stand up or sit down. I’ve also (and I’m not proud of this) been feeling sorry for myself, bleating that I can’t sit on hard chairs, can’t walk as fast as I used to and can’t cycle my usual distances.
But really, it’s time for me to have a word with myself. Yes, I gave myself a right clobber, ripping my hamstring and damaging my sciatic nerve, but if I stick with the physio and resist the urge to attempt the splits, I will heal. All I need to do is exercise a little patience.
I don’t know how many times in the past 11 weeks – and throughout my adult life – that I have trotted out the line: "I’m not a patient patient". I’ve almost worn those words as a badge of honour; a statement of what an active and busy person I prefer to be, and how painful I find it to be confined by (petty) illness or injury to my bed, or even to be told to slow down.
But meeting Corinne Hutton last week, and talking to her about her story; her quadruple amputation, her recovery from near death and her selfless devotion to helping others who find themselves in a similar situation, has made me vow to be a little more respectful of my body, of the struggles of others, and to realise how insignificant my injuries really are.
Six years ago, Corinne Hutton was marathon-fit. She was mum to four-year-old Rory and running her own business. She went to see her GP with "a bit of a cough" and her GP suggested they "get her onto the bed". She didn’t make it, but collapsed, slipping into a coma.
Three weeks later, and after the doctors had had some excruciatingly painful conversations with her parents about harvesting her body for organs, she woke up. Pneumonia and sepsis had taken their toll. In order to save her life, doctors were forced to amputate both hands, and both legs below the knee. But Corinne was alive.
She admits she didn’t initially realise the implications of living as a quadruple amputee. No-one could tell her how – or whether – she might walk again, nor what her options might be when it came to prosthetics. But she is a woman with grit and determination by the bucket-load.
She was – and still is – first and foremost a mum. She wanted to be the one ironing her wee boy’s school shirts and making his packed lunches every morning, even if, without fingers, she kept dropping stuff on the floor. She wanted to be the one walking him to school, even if she didn’t have a hand in which to hold his.
Finding Your Feet is the charity Corinne launched to help other amputees and those who are differently limbed. She goes into hospitals to talk to patients and answer their questions. She is endlessly empathetic and encouraging, organising events and activities to get amputees out of their homes and active – everything from skiing and indoor climbing to crafting and art – to stop them feeling sorry for themselves.
As the first quadruple amputee to climb Kilimanjaro, she is a fabulous role model. Her greatest challenge wasn’t the altitude or the exertion, it was that she couldn’t zip up her tent.
I was thrilled to interview Corinne Hutton. She is a whirlwind – a wonderfully positive force of nature. She is passionate about blood and organ donation – blood because she has received upwards of 25 transfusions, and organs and tissue, because in January this year she became Scotland’s first double hand transplant patient. She’s still getting used to her hands, and nerve sensation is yet to kick in, but she is delighted with them. They feel like hers – they are now hers.
But goodness I feel small. Here is a woman who nearly died, and yet – by her own admission – while she wouldn’t wish sepsis on her worst enemy, her life has more purpose now than it had before. And here’s me, sore leg from an accident, bleating about it to anyone who will listen.
Enough, already. It’s time for me to change my attitude. Pass that elastic strap, please – it’s time to do my physio.