“Recovery happens in stages.”
In 2014, Catherine went on sabbatical from her career as a psychotherapist to try her hand at real estate. The day before her recently flipped house’s first showing, as her final task, Catherine climbed up a ladder to clean the exterior windows, really wanting to make the house shine before its debut. Her hard work and courage had finally culminated into this moment. The next thing Catherine remembers, though, is lying on a pile of dirt and mulch, having fallen off the ladder and severely breaking her ankle, though she didn’t yet know how severe her injury was. In the ambulance, she says, she gabbed about her kids and cracked jokes with the EMTs and genuinely thought she’d be back home later that evening. It wasn’t until they wheeled her into pre-op of the Emergency Department, in front of a large team of physicians and nurses, that she realized the gravity of her situation.
The next six months included a series of operations in an attempt to save her leg, riddled with infection, the bones too stubborn to heal properly. Luckily, she had an amazing medical team, supportive friends and family, and was able to speak with Duke amputee nurse Nancy Payne and Mike, the owner of Bio-Tech. With their guidance and support, Catherine knew the best thing for her was a below-the-knee amputation, which she elected to have in February 2015. The healing from the amputation, she says, took about 2-3 months. She explains, “I gained 40-50 lbs. in that wheelchair! Now it’s the body image that bothers me most…not the leg! But, you see, it’s important to recognize that it’s a process. Recovery happens in stages. I had countless setbacks, but I knew that this would get better. I mean, it’s difficult at first and it will get better. This too shall pass. I just wanted to get out of that chair! I just wanted to move!”
“Things improved a lot after getting the leg. I saw this interview with one of the Boston Marathon victims and she said, ‘It’s just my leg. It’s not my whole life.’ And that resonated with me. I realized that there’s no right or wrong way; it’s what works for you.”
When Catherine received her first prosthesis, what she calls her “beginner leg”, she presumed she’d put it on and simply walk away. For her this was not the case, she explains. “I could not walk on it. I had difficulty adapting.” But the Bio-Tech crew was patient and accommodating that May in 2015 as she transitioned, ensuring her comfort with every step, just as they are now as she transitions into her next, second socket, having outgrown her training wheels. She elaborates with a sigh of contentedness, “Things improved a lot after getting the leg. I saw this interview with one of the Boston Marathon victims and she said, ‘It’s just my leg. It’s not my whole life.’ And that resonated with me. I realized that there’s no right or wrong way; it’s what works for you.”
When asked what she was like before her accident, she describes herself as very active and totally ambulatory. But when asked to describe herself now, she pauses to think, finally answering, “Well really, I’m a busy and active person now. Planning for my days was different when I had all my limbs; now I have to think about my activities for the day ahead of me and think through it more, strategize what I’ll need to take care of my leg.” Otherwise, the amputation hasn’t slowed her down at all, she claims. “You absolutely can return to a high-functioning, very active life. I never would have called myself ‘strong’ before my accident. But it took something major like this to make me look at myself and say, ‘Whoa! You’ve got strength in there to pull this off! You can and will move forward!’”