The orderly who arrived to take me to the operating room did not seem old enough to have a job. But he looked strong enough to push a decent-sized stretcher, and I figured that was the only qualification I should be worried about. We had hardly started down the long, sterile hallway when his curiosity got the best of him.
“Did you walk into the hospital today?”
I looked at him upside down, my only choice since he was pushing me by the head of the stretcher.
“Yeah,” was all I could think to say, still processing the question.
“If your legs work, why are you having one of them cut off?”
Aah. Now I got it. Why would a relatively young woman with four children ages three to twelve elect to have her leg removed? Good question. My gut reaction was that he had no right to ask me such a personal question about a surgery he had no business analyzing. But I appreciated his honest curiosity and tried to come up with a coherent answer in the two minutes I knew we had left of our brief encounter.
“My left foot has been twisted my whole life, and I think I can get a better life with a prosthetic leg.”
“Whoa.” The word seeped out of his mouth like a leaky birthday balloon.
I wished I had time to tell him more. I wished I could tell him about a childhood lost in a sea of foster siblings and a foot that slowly became deformed. I wished I could tell him how I spent my adolescence trying to hide that I had lost the ability to run and jump and of not wanting to worry my parents or draw judgment from my peers. I wished I could tell him about years of corrective surgeries, during which I learned hospitals were a place of hope, nurturing, and broken promises.
There were so many stories I could tell him: Of always wearing socks so no one could see my odd-shaped foot, of living in a crowded dorm yet keeping my secret from even my roommate, and of finally finding a man I could trust enough to unveil my naked foot.
So many years of struggles, frustrations, and spiraling immobility had led to this day. The inquisitive orderly would never know the depth of my reasons. But I knew at that moment it was up to me to scare away the presurgery jitters. I chose to think about all I would gain after this day.
If I had done my research correctly, I had a lot to gain by first choosing to lose. I would lose one foot and part of a leg, but I would gain a lot more of the world. The able-bodied world.
Those thoughts washed over my brain as the sedatives kicked in and my thinking grew fuzzy. Lying naked under a flimsy hospital sheet I imagined how different my life would be in one year. If all went according to plan, I would be given a new life. If all went according to plan, I would finally have two “good” feet and be able to rewrite my list of life goals. If all went according to plan, I would wake up in two hours with one less foot but a lot more hope for the future.
If all went according to plan.