“Here’s my story, it’s sad but true
About a leg that I once knew.
They took my leg so I can’t run around
With all the single gals in town”.
Hi, my name is Barrie and I am a type 2 diabetic and amputee. I am 58 years old. For 30+ years, I thought I was invincible. I drank to excess and smoked too many cigarettes. Through my younger days, I worked hard, played and partied hard. From a young age, I discovered rugby. I played all through school and then continued after I left school. I played at various levels until an injury occurred that led me to retire. I then concentrated on work and raising my family.
I have always been passionate about rugby, playing, training and watching. I had a chance to take up coaching, which I did with relish.
Then once again work and family took over so it was back to watching whether at live games or on the box. Then my son became a WRU referee, so proud.
In 2013, I lost my wife to cancer. This had a massive impact on my family. But life must go on, so I picked myself up and got on with things.
It was at this time I met a wonderful woman who turned me around and gave me strength to go forward in life. In 2015, we went on holiday to Spain. On the last day, I asked Trish to have a look at my left foot. Turned out that I had a massive infection in my toe. The next day, we drove home from Spain and got to The Royal Gwent Hospital, where I was seen by the doctor and nurses. This led to femoral artery by-pass surgery to my left leg and amputation of one of my toes.
After I had recovered from this, I went back to the life I was living previously.
Then in 2018, I was back at the Gwent with the same problem in my right foot. This ended up with me losing 2 toes on my right foot and another artery by-pass. Unfortunately when I was in the Gwent, I caught an infection in my right foot
Major surgery on my right foot which caused the surgeon to have to cut away half of the underside of my foot.
While recovering from that, I ended up with an infection on my left foot. At this point, the reality of how I’d lived my life came along and smacked me in the face. I was given options about how to proceed forward with my treatment. After much discussion between myself, Trish and the staff. The biggest decision I have ever had to make, and an amputation was the decision I came to.
I had been in hospital for 4 months by this time and this was affecting my mental health. I was going down and started having stupid thoughts. I started to take things out on people around me.
Trish and I spent as much time together. At one point, Trish took me down for a cigarette. This is where we got talking to a lady called Gloria, who was an amputee. She told us that for 4 years, the hospital had to try and save her leg but in the end she told them to amputate. She told us that the pain she was suffering eased massively after the operation. She had a leg a few months later and her world was totally different and pain free. We met in the car park many times that week discussing her and myself.
On the Friday, the consultants and various staff came to see me to discuss what was going to happen. At this time I was in a very dark place. I made a comment about a box of pain killers, a bottle of vodka and Newport transporter bridge. I had been refusing to eat and was very withdrawn and depressed, despite all the efforts of Trish and the staff around me. It was that point that I was allowed home for the weekend.
I’ll never forget that weekend. Myself and Trish talked, cried and didn’t sleep much. I asked Trish to marry me, but being the old romantic that I am, I had to get her father’s blessing first. So after asking my sons, Trish’s daughters and her mam and dad. Various issues were dealt with so I went back to hospital on the Sunday night. One of the night staff came to check on me. We had a long chat and I told her what we had decided. All she said was that when it was over, I could get on with my life.
On the following morning, with Trish by my side, the consultant and his staff came around and stood at the bottom of my bed. I looked at them, holding Trish’s hand and said “take it off”
So on Tuesday 16th October 2018 at 12.00 I went down to have my surgery that would change my life forever.
The next few days were a bit of a blur, but when the bandage came off and I could look at what I had left, panic set in and I knew my old life was over. It was at this point, fear, sorrow, anger and vulnerability kicked in. I was scared and I didn’t know how I was going to survive. I felt worthless, helpless and ashamed that I couldn’t do the things I would normally do.
I had to stay in hospital for another 3 weeks. Over this time, I spoke to various professionals and after listening to them, I set myself 3 goals to start.
- To push my newly born granddaughter in her buggy.
- To get down on 1 knee and propose to Trish.
- And finally, the biggest one – to walk Trish down the aisle as Mr and Mrs.
A new way of life
After coming home from hospital, a lot of things had changed. For 6 months or so, I had to live in my living room. In a space of 7m x 4m (22 feet x 14 feet in old money) this was my world. In this little world of mine, I would eat, sleep, go to the toilet and have bed baths. Whenever Trish went to work, she would leave me food, a flask of coffee and a bottle of squash. I would exercise in my wheelchair as much as I could. To go to the hospital, WOW that was like going on an adventure, new things to look at, other people to talk to and other places to go. I would get very excited at all this stuff in my new life.
But then it was back to my world in the house.
But after a while, you realise that there is only so much Jeremy Kyle or Holly and Phil any one person can stand. At this point, I had started to go to the dark place. Feeling useless, dependant on other people all the time. I was on a downward spiral and I had to get out of it.
On one trip to the vascular unit to have treatment, with my mind in overdrive, I was having my usual banter with the staff I’ve grown very close with. There was a moment when Kristian was sat on a stool with wheels on it, he wheeled away to get a dressing for my foot. I had a bit of a brain wave.
When I went home, I spoke to my son and he ordered a hairdressing stool. When it arrived, it was probably the most inexpensive mode of transport and the most important set of wheels I had ever owned.
I spent an afternoon learning how to get, safely on and off it. Then moving around the living room.
Now was the time for my “Braveheart” moment. After 6 months I went into my kitchen and made myself a cup of tea. I had some “Freedom” you can’t tell how much self-satisfaction and boost to my confidence this small victory had given me.
Now it was at that moment I sat there and took stock of what my NEW life was going to be. I realised that even though there were professionals that I could discuss anything with, but no disrespect to them, they had no experience of living with an amputation and the challenges that it brings into focus. There are things you must work out for yourself. Things that you have to do using your mind and body, to do things you did before but in a different way. You need to embrace what you have and use it to your advantage. To be different to others and build your own identity and determination to succeed. If at first when you fail, as you will. What then came into my mind, was a saying that an old foreman would say if we hit a problem while working. He would always say to go and have a cuppa and then “STAND BACK, EVALUATE AND ATTACK” I’ve used this saying many, many times in my working life and now I’ve learnt to use this in my new life and it helps me overcome any situations I encounter. If a situation arose, I would get on my stool and go and make a cup of tea, sit down and run it through my head and try to work out how I am going to get over this problem. When I’ve got a solution formed in my head, and make sure anything I do, can be done safely and without danger or injury to myself. It would be time to have a go. If it works then happy days, another conquest under your belt. If it does not, then it’s time for another cuppa and re-evaluate what happened and make adjustments to be successful.
It is these small victories that all increases your confidence and self-esteem. It also proves that your new life, although different, anything you want to do is possible but in a different way.
In July, 2019, I had my first leg. This is another chapter in your new life. Being able to stand up tall and being able to see things at a higher level. In the next 2 months, I had to learn to walk again with the aid of crutches. This was all done at Rookwood, a place of hope and hard work. I learnt to walk and went through rehab and exercise classes. Please take note and do what you are asked to do, as it is so beneficial to your recovery. With this in mind, small things give the greatest pleasure. One I remember with fondness, was being able to stand up and have a wee. BLISS.
On August 17th 2019, I reached a massive goal in my forward planning of my new life when I walked my Trish down the aisle at our wedding. I think I did overdo it that day, but I was on a massive high and I had made a promise to Trish walk her down the aisle.
Over the next few months, I grew stronger and adapted to the different challenges I was faced with and worked through them to succeed.
At the beginning of 2020, I got involved in a focus group about amputation and pain relief for amputees. Through the discussion at this group, it became obvious that none of us had all the information, or where to get it from, about what your life becomes and no-one who has gone through what we all had. No amputees to talk to either before and after the operation. Just someone to have a chat with, to help someone to come to terms with the life changing things that are on the horizon.
We are trying to set up a network of people who are there to help, have a chat and try to give life guidance to someone who is about to go through the times that we have and have experience of life after amputation.
If there is any help or information that we can help with, please get in touch.