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I Have No Hands

Mark answered the phone and I spoke. I told him I was in rehab, would be discharged soon, and would need home care to help me out around the house – a common request. “Tell me about yourself,” he asked. “Both my hands and legs were amputated, so I need help doing some everyday activities and transportation to therapy appointments.” I spoke calmly in a relaxed tone. I shared this information frequently, but he seemed surprised to hear it all the same. “Debra, please tell me more,” he requested.

I don’t have hands!

About a year and a half ago, I was as healthy as the next person. I liked to exercise and eat well but came down with a common cold. It progressed into strep throat and then sepsis! Blood flow to my extremities stopped and they soon turned black. The doctors explained that to save my life, they would have to amputate both hands and both legs. “You’ll have heart problems, lung damage, and brain damage,” they continued. Surgery was scheduled immediately. 

I’m lucky to be alive.

The surgery was successful and I’m alive today because of it. I awoke and assessed the situation. My brain was clear, I was breathing normally, and I felt fine…. but different. I looked down to see the bandages covering the areas where hands and legs were hours earlier. They were gone! Devastating!  Where to begin? What do I do in the next 5 minutes? 5 weeks? 5 years? Confusion covered me. Questions flooded in. How do I do this? Minutes then hours passed in a blur but slowly and quietly a small sense of calm crept in. I was alive! and the doctors explained my heart, lungs, and brain appeared to be functioning normally. That was good news, and I needed some of that right about now. Gratitude. I was soon left alone, just me and my thoughts. I covered a lot of ground mentally and emotionally and after a while, a movie quote came to me. In the movie Shawshank Redemption, the character Andy says…

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” 

A simple choice really. Not easy, but simple. Choose a path. Choose life and get busy living or stay in self-pity and just exist while waiting to die. None of us can imagine making that decision unless we’ve experienced a similar situation. You may know someone who is fighting ALS, MS, paralysis, or some other devastating diagnosis from illness or accident and has lost the use of their legs. It’s more common to see or think about someone who can’t walk anymore. We just have more exposure to that. But our hands?! Think about it for a minute. How many things do we use our hands for? Virtually everything!

I began my new life with no hands and no legs. They fitted me with prosthetic legs, one with a battery and motor for my left leg amputated above the knee, and I started learning to ambulate with my two new legs. Doctor’s appointments, therapy, and rehabilitation was the new world and I reflected on the movie line often. Small and simple tasks took longer and were much more difficult, but I pressed on.  I experienced looks of surprise, pity, even fear when in public and I recited the line again and again. This was my new life and I was embracing it with all its new challenges. At one of my doctor appointments, the doctor asked if I had heard about hand transplants. “Wait. What? That’s a thing?” The doctor referred me to a specialist who referred me to another where I learned I was a candidate. Wow! Might this actually be possible?


I saw this video of a girl who was deaf since birth and through technology, heard their voice for the first time. It’s so emotional and moving.  

Imagine getting your hands again! Every day since the surgery has been a mountainous challenge for Debra, but she’s now getting hands to make the mountains a little smaller. She still faces difficulties; the nerves must successfully grow back and there is a long road of intensive hand therapy to learn how to use her new hands.  

I can’t imagine how difficult her journey has been to this point, how emotionally drained and frustrated she must have been throughout each day. Yet each time she’s spoken with me, she is warm, even toned, and naturally curious and inquisitive. She isn’t in denial nor is she an impatient tyrant. She’s just like you and me. She enjoys meeting people, is kind to others, demonstrates patience, and values her life. She attributes her “good life,” despite limitations, to attitude, perspective, and Shawshank Redemption. That’s what makes her life more than bearable. She’s thankful to be alive and grateful for two new hands. 

When you put things in proper perspective, you see things differently, better, correctly. Debra says her perspective has shifted and that has made all the difference for her. Her attitude about perspective is backed by science. Please come back for our next post where we discuss how each of us can frame our world and circumstances in a more positive and helpful way.

If you or an aging loved one are considering non-medical in-home care in Raleigh, NC, call Griswold Home Care and speak to one of our caring staff members today. Call (919) 229-8944