A Couple of Thoughts and Reflections After Reading “One Man’s Leg” by Paul Martin

by Damon on July 31, 2011

I just finished reading “One Man’s Leg by Paul Martin” in just a couple of days as I was really interested in his story and how he was able to accomplish everything he did.

The Difference Between Paul and Myself

Paul Martin was in a car accident at the age of 25 and he ended up having to have his left leg amputated below the knee because of circulation issues in his lower extremity. No person should have to make a choice about amputation, but when it’s life or death, the decision becomes pretty easy.

Many months after his recovery and rehab from surgery, he got a skiing prosthetic which allowed him to ski, then he became interested in triathlons, and then road racing. Through trials and tribulations, he became one of the greatest paratriathletes, and in my book, he is the essence of athleticism and competition.

I didn’t lose my leg in my car accident.

I was 16 years old, in the back of a pickup truck, heading to play in a baseball game. We were broadsided when crossing an intersection and the three of us in the bed of the truck went flying out. I had shattered my right ankle, fractured a vertebrae in my neck, compressed a couple others, and had road rash on my arms and face. I don’t remember the accident. I remember up to around five or ten minutes before the accident and then regained consciousness two days later.

I was airlifted to St. Mary’s hospital in Saginaw from Mt. Pleasant because they had the equipment to save my life. My mom and I always joked about the t-shirt I got for riding the helicopter, which again, I don’t remember the ride, because the bill on the insurance statement was $3000. I wore it once a year on my “accident anniversary” (June 14th) and we joked about how it was the most expensive shirt I every had.

I had to wear a neck brace for three months, and fortunately it was able to heal itself and didn’t require surgery. My ankle on the other hand had different plans.

I had 6 surgeries over the last 16 years to help alleviate the pain, which included a fusion in 2001 where I was no longer able to move it left and right, only up and down. The last surgery in 2005 was to remove bone spurs that had been generated over the years. I would have had more surgeries if I didn’t have such a high pain tolerance, but three years ago, the pain became too much. I started looking for other solutions. I held off from taking pain pills for as long as I could, but I just couldn’t stand it any more. It was overwhelming my daily life, and effecting my sleep, and hurting my relationships. I didn’t want to go do anything that required much walking. It had to be really, really important…because I knew I was going to be in pain the next day (or two).

I have a friend, Darryl Thomas, who is an orthopedic surgeon with Scott & White Healthcare and I finally went to visit him in his office. He prescribed me pain medication and that helped out tremendously. If I would have known how much it would help, I probably would have asked for it sooner.

I took the medication for about a year, and when my body had become accustomed to the medication, it wasn’t working as well as before. I went back to his office and he referred me to Dr. Scott Munroe in Temple Texas. My visit with Dr. Monroe was brief. He asked me about my history, and how the medication was working. He told me the next step would be to do another fusion where I couldn’t move my ankle up and down either. He then mentioned, and was the first doctor ever to mention, that amputation would still be likely in the future. I appreciated his honesty and bluntness. I told him I wasn’t ready for another surgery, and maybe the pain medication was still working okay. If you’ve had multiple surgeries, you know that they are no picnic, and it’s not something to take lightly.

Once I left his office, it was an hours drive back to Austin. Even though amputation was something I had thought about, I never really gave it much thought. I could deal with the pain, I just couldn’t do as much as I wanted. The realization started to sink in that it could happen in the future, and it brought me to tears.

A couple of months later, I stopped taking the pain medicine. I had started to do the Master Cleanse every four months about two years prior and I figured it would be a good time to get off the medication. When you take pain medication, with a debilitating ankle (or any sort of joint), the ankle continues to deteriorate. I quickly learned this as the pain was even more intense than before.

As I’d gotten older, the pain had hurt more and lasted longer. There were days that I couldn’t even get out of bed, and when I did, I was using some form of crutch or cane as my ankle would have to “warm up” before I could even begin to walk.

My Breaking Point

In April of this year I went and played disc golf with an old coworker, Jon Koonce. He had another friend of his with him and his three little boys. I received some golf discs from my birthday from the December before as disc golf was something I wanted to play more often. I had only played a couple of times, but it was fun, and since it was just walking around, it wasn’t as hard on my ankle as playing real golf.

It was a gorgeous day, the sun was out and there was a little bit of a breeze. The course had just been “reorganized” a couple of months before so we weren’t quite sure of the layout. We probably played 13 of the 18 holes because we couldn’t really tell which way we were supposed to go. It was fun, the kids had fun, we were having a good time. Even though we were just walking around the course, going up and down the terrain put a lot of strain on my ankle. This was on a Saturday.

The next day, the pain, I knew surgery had to happen.

Doctor’s Visit a Month Later

I called first thing Monday morning to make the appointment with Dr. Munroe. The appointment would be in May, just about 9 months after I saw Dr. Munroe the first time. I wanted to bring my girlfriend and sister along to the appointment so they could witness first hand what the doctor had to say. I knew surgery was going to happen, I just didn’t know what type of surgery was going to happen.

Dr. Munroe’s PA Jackie met with us first. She reviewed my file and looked at my new x-rays. She asked me what was going on and how I felt. After explaining everything to her she began to explain the fusion, how it would happen and what would happen and how long it would take to recover. My girlfriend and sister each had a couple of questions and she answered them. We were waiting on Dr. Munroe to come in and talk.

Before he came in, I asked Jackie…bluntly…”last year, Dr. Munroe mentioned amputation, what do you think about that?”

You could almost see a sigh of relief in her posture. She said that she saw that in the notes, but normally doesn’t bring it up unless the patient (me) asks about it and usually leaves it to the doctor to talk about. She started telling us my options with the amputation as well. I started to tear up (I knew this was what surgery I wanted, but it was sinking in more that it was going to happen).

The most powerful thing she said when comparing the fusion vs the amputation was this: “When we do a fusion on someone, we’ll see them again. Maybe in 6 months, a year, two years, five years. When we do the amputation, we don’t see those patients anymore”. Of course, they see them again for follow up appointments, but she was getting across the point (which was the same thing for me and all the surgieries that I have had) is that the pain will come back and more surgeries will be needed.

Jackie left, a couple of minutes later, Dr. Munroe was in the room. Jackie had already filled him in on our conversation. He began to speak to both the fusion and the amputation. He thoroughly made sure that I realized that having the second fusion would help, that my ankle would be better than it was now. But for how long, we could never tell. I then asked about the amputation and he explained the process, I even had him make a pen mark on my leg where the cut would take place.

No decision had to be made that day, but he told me that the ball was in my court.

At the request of my girlfriend’s mom, I scheduled an appointment with a doctor in Houston who came highly referred. That appointment was a week later. I thanked Dr. Munroe and said I would call when I was ready.

A week later, my girlfriend and I drove to Houston for that appointment. I won’t mention the doctor’s name. I’m sure he’s a fabulous doctor, but he completely ruled out the amputation. My personal belief, when you rule out an option because it’s not in your own belief system, I can’t respect that. If he would had said that amputation was an option, but he wouldn’t do it, I can respect that. But he told us it wasn’t an option and “If you were to ask me for an amputation, I wouldn’t do it.”

I called up Dr. Munroe’s office to make an appointment for amputation the next day.

My Ankle Was Going to Kill Me One Way or the Other

Even before we saw the doctor in Houston, I knew that I was going to have the amputation. Other health concerns didn’t register with the doctor in Houston. I had just visited my family doctor a month or so prior and he told me that my cholesterol levels hadn’t dropped that much, even after prescribing me medication the year before. And he also told me that I was now insulin resistant. The next step after insulin resistance is pre-diabetes, and then diabetes itself. There are two ways to treat high cholesterol and insulin resistance, diet and exercise. Well, I already had a pretty good diet, but I couldn’t exercise. Having the fusion would have worsened both of those conditions and I would have to then not only have a painful ankle, but then have to worry about heart attacks and the effects of diabetes.

The decision to have the amputation was an easy one, dealing with it was another ballgame.

Elective Amputation

Paul didn’t have much of a choice to have his amputation. My amputation by definition was “elective”, but I don’t think I had a choice either. I needed to have the amputation to save my life as well. It was just a much longer time frame.

I went through a grieving period before the surgery, but I have only been optimistic and positive after the surgery. Life seems to be wonderful now as I can see much brighter (and healthier) future.

We Both Had A Rough Childhood

Paul goes into his childhood quite a bit at the beginning of his book. I would never want his upbringing. No child should have to live the life he did.

My childhood was neither better, nor worse than his…but different.

My mom was married and divorced three times.

My biological dad and my mom were married when I was in the womb. You can see me at their wedding! I was happy to be there. But by the time I was two, I had a brother that was a year younger than me and my parents were divorced. I didn’t see my biological dad that much growing up as we moved away from Houston. During my college years, we were able to reconnect and are good friends.

My mom remarried when I was five and we moved to Michigan when I was six. Jim, who eventually adopted Dylan and I, is who I call dad.

He moved to Texas a couple of years prior to work offshore in the oil and gas industry. He was a roughneck. When my mom and him were together, he would be offshore for three weeks and then home for a week. A “little yellow birdie” would watch us when he was gone and that damn bird would tell him everything we did bad when he came home. My mom wouldn’t spank us, but he would when he got back. I remember believing in that “little yellow birdie” and I could never tell how he would know some of the things we got ourselves into.

Dad was a drunk and a druggie. He was violent when he was using. It was an violent relationship and I was too young to understand why.

Moving to Michigan

We moved to Michigan because in the mid 80′s the oil and gas industry was plummeting in Texas and there wasn’t a lot of work. Dad’s family all lived in Michigan and the decision was made to move back up there.

We lived with my step-grandparents for about 6 months in Fostoria, Michigan. I think the population was about 500 (if that). Since dad still looked for work as a roughneck, we ended up moving to a little town called Shepherd which was centrally located in Michigan so wherever dad could find work, he would have more or less the same distance to travel. My mom worked as a secretary at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant which is only about nine miles from Shepherd. When dad had work, the money was good. When he didn’t have work, we were standing in line to get our powered milk and cheese at the welfare office.

Still using drugs and alcohol, the violence only continued. Not only with me, but with my little brother and mom. Knowing what I know now, even though my mom was a strong person, I don’t know why she stayed with him for as long as he did.

In my seventh grade year, the bomb was dropped. I hated my dad. I hated everything about him, I didn’t want to be around him, I felt like he would hurt us for any little thing we did. I used to tell people that the only time I cried was when I was born and the doctor paddled me on my bottom. Mom and dad got us all together (I had another little brother and little sister now) in the living room. They sat us down…and then told us they were getting a divorce.

I hated dad…but tears ran down my face and I bawled my eyes out.

Even in an abusive relationship, the abusiveness is considered stable. This stable relationship that I had with dad and our family was now destroyed. My parents were getting a divorce, and dad was moving out. At the age of 13, I was now the man of the family.

I hated our weekends that we had to go visit him. There was one weekend that I didn’t want to go, so I got out of the house and went to the football game that Friday night. Somehow he found me there, cuffed me in the back of the head, grabbed me by the back of the neck and drug me out of there. I hated everything about him.

This continued all the way through high school.

During high school, dad sobered up and started to go to N/A (narcotics anonymous), he was getting better, but still was violent.

Reconnecting with Dad

After high school, things got much better. I didn’t have to go visit him, I didn’t have to talk to him, I didn’t have to do anything with him. I remember the day, well, not the exact day, but a day that I realized that I was a better person than he was. At the age of 18, I was a better person than he was and my life was going to be better than his.

Dad and I reconciled during my college years. He wasn’t violent, and he apologized for the destruction he had caused. I was a better person than he was, and even though I didn’t say it verbally, I forgave him. Things were good between us and our relationship was being repaired. Dad and I have a great relationship today. I love my dad.

Mom remarried when I was 20 to Dave. I never considered Dave a “step-dad” because I didn’t live at home, but I liked him. Dave was a great guy and he still is today. Dave and my mom divorced three years later. It seemed they made a better boyfriend & girlfriend than a husband & wife. Dave and I have a great relationship still today.

Even though they weren’t married, and lived in different houses, they stayed together up until my mom died from melanoma cancer in 2005. I was 25, and for the third time in my life, I remember crying…but that was just before she died…and that’s a story for another post. This post has gone much, much longer than I ever thought it would.

Thank You Paul

This long post has come after reading Paul’s book, which again, I thought was a great read for myself being a new amputee and wanting to be active.

Paul and I each had different situations for having an amputation and we each had different childhoods. He has already completed the triathlons and that I now want to compete in. He still competes in different athletic events to this day. Looking at his wikipedia page, his best triathlon years were between the ages of 35-40. The Paralympics has added the Paratriathlon to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics Games. I will be 37 during that summer, and I have aspirations to compete in those games.

Thank you Paul for your book. Even before I read it, I knew I wanted to compete in triathlons. But now I have an extra bit of motivation to look at your time records and start making my own goals :)

“To follow the path:
look to the master,
follow the master,
walk with the master,
see through the master,
become the master.”

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber L. August 1, 2011 at 8:17 am

Wonderful and well spoken! Thank you for sharing such heartfelt memories. I hope Paul Martin is able to read this someday. It deeply touched my heart. I look forward to your triathlon adventures.

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Brenda Packer August 6, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I knew most of this from your mom but wasnt sure of your feelings. I know where you got your strength and wisdom! Remember….God never wastes a “hurt” and you have had soo many in such a few short years. I am so proud of the “you” you’ve become, but more importantly your mom would be too! You are no longer that shy little freckle-faced boy, you are a gift to all who know you. Very well written, what I could read through the tears:) My prayers and love are always with you.

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Shikha Sinha August 9, 2011 at 9:23 pm

As you rightly said – Everyone has issues. It is the way we tackle them that makes us a strong or a weak person, or a good or a bad person. Taking on some major decisions in life is not easy, and I can only feel a very minor percentage (which in itself feels so deep at the moment) of what might have gone through in all these years after reading this overly emotional and inspirational blog Damon. I just want to let you know that you can always search for a friend and supporter in me in all your endeavors. God bless you with everything good.

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Neal Seigfried September 2, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Paul is a great guy. Like you, I read his book right after losing my leg. I ended up meeting him that July at an Amputee Coalition conference in Nashville. I knew he was going to be there so I took my book for him to autograph. I’ve seen him at subsequent conferences.

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