Hi, my name is Wendy Bearton, I am Bedfordshire born and bred but now living in a tiny little village in Norfolk. I am a passionate gardener, growing all my own fruit, veg and flowers. I don't use any pesticides or chemicals anywhere but rely totally on nature to do its thing. In the greenhouse, I have a large collection of carnivorous plants, to keep the bugs at bay, which my grandchildren find fascinating and disgusting in equal measures. My other hobbies used to be driving and maintaining my little 2CV6 car, walking, anything outdoorsy, but I've never been particularly sporty. Nowadays, my hobbies are limited to more sedate hobbies, including gardening, driving, knitting, painting and reading. I am very happily divorced, living on my own with my beautiful double doodle dog, Eddie.
Following my divorce, I decided I needed a fresh start. So, I moved to the East Coast, renting a bungalow right next to the sea. I also rented an allotment growing enough free veg to feed half the village. As for work, I decided I'd had enough of working nearly 80 hours a week as a manager of a convenience store. I just needed to earn enough for my rent and bills. I have had many different jobs, but I think the job that gave me the greatest fulfilment was that of a benefits adviser at a citizens advice bureau until, unfortunately, it closed.
My world began to unravel on 1 July 2010. It was a beautiful sunny, warm morning. I sat in the garden with my coffee and toast, listening to the birds, enjoying the peace before I started work. I had looked at my watch several times, thinking I really must get in the shower and ready for work. After another 10 minutes, I decided I would have to get a shimmy on or be late. I stepped in the shower and my right leg slipped, somehow ending up behind the shower door. I thought I had broken my leg. After the initial shock and pain, I noticed a huge gash on my shin.
Eventually, I managed to get out of the bathroom and just sat for a while. I realised my leg wasn't broken, but the pain was in my knee. Once I gathered my thoughts, I phoned work to say I wouldn't be in. I contacted the doctor's surgery as my knee was quite swollen. The doctor diagnosed a soft tissue injury. So, I left with a prescription for painkillers and was told to rest my knee. After two weeks, still unable to barely walk, I made another appointment with the doctor. This time I was referred for physiotherapy at my surgery.
I had two physio sessions, but each time the following few days, I couldn't put any weight through that leg, and the pain was incredible. So, my GP then referred me to a physio specialist. At this first appointment, the physio examined my knee and decided I needed an urgent MRI scan. I was advised not to do any more physio until he had the results. When I returned, he informed me the MRI scan showed bone on bone caused by the fall. He said there was nothing else to be done on the physio side, but I needed to be seen by the orthopaedic team at my local hospital.
After a relatively short wait, my appointment came through from the orthopaedic department. During this appointment, I was told the only remedy would be ½ knee replacement and, the surgeon reassured me, this would give me back a normal life. At this time, I was 47 years old. Again, after a relatively short wait, I received an operation date for November 2011. I had my operation with an epidural and before I knew it, I was back on the ward with a cup of coffee.
When the physios came round the next morning, they helped me out of bed and began teaching me how to walk. I found it incredibly painful but assumed this was normal after a knee replacement. I was discharged after two days into the care of my wonderful daughter, who came to stay at my home. I attended six sessions at the knee clinic where myself and others who had also undergone knee replacements performed various exercises under the guidance of the hospital physiotherapy team. My progress seemed slower than others. I was still in a huge amount of pain every time I put my foot down.
I had my six-week check-up with the surgeon, who said I hadn't done enough physio and referred me for some more sessions. During this time, I had a lump in my knee that I had to physically push in to stand up. I showed the physiotherapist the picture I'd taken and was told to do no more physio until I'd seen the surgeon.
I only saw the surgeon who performed the operation once more before being passed to a second surgeon. He decided that it was the bearing that was popping out. I needed another urgent knee replacement, this time converting the half knee to a full knee replacement. This was carried out in July 2012 again under an epidural. Sadly, this replacement also didn't work. The pain in my knee was unbearable. It was decided that I needed a third knee replacement in December 2012. This time the surgeon put a metal spike into my thigh bone. Unfortunately, this knee replacement also didn't work. This one was even more painful, and I had a limp due to this leg now being longer than the other.
This final operation had sealed my fate. I had no idea why I had so much pain and could barely walk. At my final appointment with the surgeon, he wrote the word 'hypermobility' on a piece of paper; he told me to go home and look it up. He also referred me to the pain clinic. Without looking up at me, he stated he wished he'd never started. Shocked at his comment, through the tears, I replied, 'so do I'.
During the next 18 months, I travelled back and forth to the pain clinic, trying anything that would stop this pain. The pain clinic referred me to another hospital for a second opinion. The orthopaedic surgeon there carried out various x-rays, including an MRI scan; his conclusion shocked me - in his opinion, the bottom half of the knee replacement was at the wrong angle. Because of this, he stated that none of the replacements were ever going to work. Only the top part had been replaced on the two subsequent surgeries, but he was unwilling to do any further surgery or treatments. It was during this appointment I explained how I didn't want to carry on like this and asked his opinion on amputation. In my mind, it would be better to have no leg than to live like this.
I left that appointment drained and angry. Was I really going to be stuck with this pain for the rest of my days? The original hospital had told me that it was my fault the knee replacements hadn't worked because I hadn't done enough physio and my bones bent funny when in reality, it wasn't my fault at all.
By this time, I had gained a lot of weight, I'd never been slim, but because I could barely walk, pain, lack of sleep, etc., my weight had ballooned to over 18 stone.
I was sent to see various orthopaedic surgeons up and down the country for their professional views on what would be best for me. During the consultations, I broached the subject of amputation with all of them; I was desperate to have some kind of life. Most decided they could 'have a go' at rebuilding my leg. One of them would give me a fixed knee which obviously would not be easy to get in and out of the car or perform normal day-to-day duties. One wanted to rebuild my leg to the hip but would not know if it had worked for 12 months. If this one didn't work, I would have a very high amputation making prosthetics difficult. Another stated if I had an amputation at my age, it was unlikely I would ever walk again. None of the surgical options could guarantee they could take the pain away. It was the pain I couldn't cope with.
I came away from each appointment disheartened. As anybody knows who takes regular strong pain medication, it becomes less effective and you have to keep upping the dose. My future flashed before me; I would be a dribbling wreck in the corner, dosed up to the eyeballs, not knowing what day of the week it was and unable to hold a conversation. That wasn't the life for me.
I went back to my GP, explained what had happened and that my mind was practically made up, that the best option for me would be an amputation; I knew I could not exist like this. I asked her if I could be considered for a gastric bypass. If I had an amputation, I wanted to give myself the best opportunity for a positive outcome. It had to be a success. I told her I needed to lose a lot of weight quickly. To my surprise, she said yes. I was referred to the hospital where I undertook the weight care programme taking 12 months. I did everything I was asked. On completion, I was referred back to my GP to refer me to the hospital that performed gastric bypass surgery. This surgery took place on 8 January 2017, and to date, I have lost 11 ½ stone, although to be fair, one stone 2 ½ pounds was the weight of my amputated leg!
Throughout this time, I'd become increasingly depressed. I had made an appointment to see a surgeon at my local private hospital to discuss having an amputation. After listening, he was the first person to say he thought I was doing the right thing. The relief was enormous. I asked if he would do the surgery, and also said I wanted to be awake. He looked at me, nodded his head and just said OKAY.
By February 2018, I was literally crying every day. I felt I couldn't burden my children as they all had young families of their own, and I didn't think they would understand. I felt useless and felt I had no purpose; I was a drain on society. I hadn't slept in a bed for nearly three years, instead sleeping in a chair where I didn't move my leg as every movement was agony. I got to the point I didn't want to carry on. One lunchtime, I decided that was it. I wrote letters to my children and had all my tablets lined up. To this day, I don't know why, but I rang my doctors. I just said, 'I'm done; I can't do this anymore'. I was told to get down there immediately, and if I didn't, they would pick me up in 10 minutes. I emerged an hour and ½ later, exhausted with a packet of pills but grateful I made that call.
Finally, the first week of June 2018, I got the go-ahead. I contacted the surgeon immediately, who said he had a date of 22 June 2018. Wow, that was quicker than I expected! Straight into action mode; there was so much stuff I needed to buy, move around and plan. Three days before surgery, my wheelchair arrived, I broke down. I think the enormity of what was about to happen struck me. It only lasted a day because I knew this was the only way forward; this was the best chance I had of any kind of life.
WARNING…… Graphic details of surgery. Please jump to the next paragraph if you feel you might be affected. This isn't for everyone.
I had butterflies the morning of the surgery (or it could have been I was hungry). I was second on the list. Both the surgeon and the anaesthetist came in for a chat and asked if I was still sure I wanted to be awake. 'Absolutely', I replied. I needed to see it go for my mental health. It had caused so much pain I needed to see it go. I went down to theatre remarkably calm. The anaesthetist and the surgeon were amazing. We chatted and laughed all the way through surgery, most of the jokes I could not repeat! Even though it was a serious operation having the right surgical team made all the difference. The only strange sensation was when they got the saw out. The vibrations in my breast bone and shoulders were most peculiar! At the end of the surgery, the surgeon asked if I would like to see my leg. 'Oh yes, please' was my reply. He held my leg up, and I could see the white marks where my flip-flops had been. He then asked if I wanted to see the other end. Of course! 'You're not squeamish', was his reply. And he duly showed me the other end. That was it; my leg was gone from above the knee. I went back to the ward for a cup of coffee.
To this day, I have not suffered any phantom pain or loss of limb sensation, and I swear it's because I was awake for the surgery. There were no shocks or surprises when I woke up because I was there when it happened. I immediately started to reduce my painkillers, not on advice from the doctors. The morning following surgery, the first thing I noticed was that my jaw didn't hurt. I had clenched my teeth together for so many years from the pain. My surgeon came round about 9.30 in the morning. He walked into my room and asked what was I doing. I was standing on crutches with wet hair and a towel wrapped around me. I looked at him, 'I've had a shower'. He just stood there and said 'incredible'. I was discharged and sent home after three days. And to be honest, I haven't looked back.
At my six-week check-up with my surgeon, he asked if I had any regrets about having an amputation. 'Absolutely not' was my instant reply. I was nearly off all the painkillers, the antidepressants, and I'd slept in a bed soundly every night. Friends had said I looked ten years younger. I was just gutted I didn't get my prosthetic leg until the next day, and I hadn't been able to walk in for my six-week check-up.
In a funny kind of way, all that I've been through has made me a better person. I'm stronger and more determined than ever; some might even call me stubborn. I know that I will fight for amputees' rights for the rest of my days.
Life is very different now as an above knee amputee, but I am proud of who I am and where I am now. I may do things differently and get the odd look from people, including family, but I can still do most things; it just takes a little more planning!
Where there's a will, there's always a way is my motto and woah betide anyone who says 'you can't do that', because I will always accept the challenge. Yep, I've got my mojo back.