Limb Loss Awareness Month: Walter Shares his Reflections & Progress from the past year
April is limb loss awareness month, and in this blog you have the honor of learning from Walter, our client success manager, on what this month means to him after losing his leg in an accident about 1.5 years ago.
Since the last time I wrote about limb loss, things have been interesting. Limb loss awareness month is different this year.
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the past year. I’ve had the privilege of being around for important family moments: Birthdays, anniversaries, the holidays, and things that make me happy. This last year I’ve really made so much progress and have come a long way – but I also am more aware of how much further I have to go.
April last year was the beginning of a turning point for me. I realized that it was truly the beginning of the rest of my life. I realized I would have to learn how to tackle and deal with life no matter how it comes to me.
I guess you can call it “living life on life’s terms”. On April 24, 2020, I was able to walk again for the very first time in more than 5 months. I got my prosthetic and it felt weird but in the best way possible. It felt like I could start making my way back to the things I used to do. The problem is, I didn’t know the amount of PATIENCE that it would take to learn to do things again.
With my prosthetic I had to learn that the fit changes, that your body shrinks, and it needs refitting, re sizing…. Over time you see that just because you can walk (with assistance) requires that extra level of care and caution. In May 2020 the rubber really hit the road. I was constantly in therapy, with super intensive sessions getting back to the bare basics: Standing for 10 minutes in place without crying uncle, learning to take controlled steps, going up steps, learning to sit and stand and I gotta tell ya in all honesty: walking backwards had never been that hard before.
On Memorial Day I realized that I was on my way. Even though it was modified (and I probably shouldn’t have done it), I did the Murph workout: 1 mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 air squats and another 1 mile run. Now of course I didn’t do them traditionally because I rowed instead of running, I used a bed sheet to simulate pulling myself up and I used my wheelchair since I can’t fully air squat (yet). It was the most pain I’ve ever felt but completing it was the biggest highlight as an amputee.
In June I started feeling better about where I was in my recovery. I was starting to get used to having a leg. I was learning to manage the changes, while trying to create new challenges for me to get better at. My physical therapist thought it was a good idea to try to get on a stationary bike. Lo and behold, I hadn’t gotten on a bike (moving or stationary) for at least 4 years before that. It was a weird thing to get used to, it felt different, but it was me doing it. It was good enough for me to start, but for others that saw it was a huge deal. I didn’t understand why then but it becomes clear later on.
August is the month of my parents’ anniversary and my birthday. I can tell you that I’m always more excited about the anniversary than my own birthday. As I was nearing my 29th birthday, I started to really reflect what this meant to me. It was the opportunity to wake up and think about how things could’ve ended so prematurely, but didn’t. About the fact that things could’ve been worse but they weren’t. That my entire existence could’ve become memories to the people that know and love me. But it didn't. I was still here. And. I was present for the big things, but more importantly the little things. I was able to watch my mom and dad celebrate another year of togetherness. And I had the chance to get older, think about life, and rethink what’s important in it.
In September I ditched my walker, which had become like my crutch or my support system. It was a scary transition because I was so used to it and was somewhat attached to how I learned to walk again. No matter the amount of walking and preparing up to this point it was a pretty scary thing to do. I needed to let go of the security blanket that I was accustomed for so long. I fell down multiple times, and had to choose to continue to focus on the progress I’ve made even when it didn’t feel like enough.
By October, I was getting better and better - It’s like another level of a video game, having the cane was ground zero but the only way is up and I had to always keep that in mind.
November was the beginning of the thing I hate the most, the holiday season. But along with that, all the emotions that come with it. All of the dates that meant something around that time will always make me think about things on a different level. My mom’s birthday on the 4th (we went to her favorite restaurant), Francesca’s birthday on the 14th (I was a year late but I made it), the 16th being the one-year anniversary of everything occurring, and the only thing that I could think of on that day was to say thank you.
I had the chance to see the people that took care of me and brought me back to life after my accident. I was on the news, had thanksgiving dinner and had something to be thankful for BUT WITH ACTUAL SUBSTANCE. I think November is going to be my roller coaster month for the rest of my life. I know that and I am appreciative of it. Because in November more than any other month, I get to remember that I’m still here.
December wasn’t about me or my family, but more so the people that were there for me (even the ones I didn’t see there for me). It’s hard to put into words or bring into perspective the impact that you think you have on people and the impact that you HAVE on people and the craziest part is that you don’t even know you have this power. For months, I was plotting and thinking of doing the thing that brought me the most anguish, but that gave me the most sense of accomplishment, and that was going to the gym. No one knew, like legitimately no one knew, it was only me and the owner of my gym. I didn’t know what that would be like, but the only thing that I knew I wanted to do is be there and feel like I’m a part of something fitness-related again.
After some health-related setbacks, at the end of December I built up enough courage to go to the gym. It was coordinated, set up and ready to go. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that after a over a year of not going into the gym I wanted to get it over with and I was chomping at the bit to do it. Being at the gym again was automatically liberating. Things were different – I can’t go and just pick up a barbell, throw 360 on the squat rack and just go to work. I can’t do a sit up without a medicine ball because my momentum won’t allow me, and I can’t run (haven’t decided whether that’s a bad thing or not yet). But as I was talking about impact, there is nothing that can prepare you to see people cry. Because you’re back, because you’re there, present and making the point that despite everything that has happened that I knew, just like everyone else in that gym knew that as soon as I was able to work out again I would go back and give it my all.
January rolls around and it’s said to be ‘new year, new me,’ but to me it’s more like ‘new year, transformed me.’ I’m still me but I’m developing and evolving differently than others. I wanted to go ahead and just think about the fact that now I have some time under my belt in living with a disability. Traveling for the very first time really made me feel that everything was gonna be OK. It wasn’t much, but I went to a fitness competition with some friends to support them to the west coast of Florida. It was for 2 days, but it was the first time away from home after the accident and I felt extremely happy to be able to travel and know that I was OK. I felt that I regained a small amount of independence, and it made me feel a lot better about the fact that I can do something like this on my own.
Since November 16, 2019, a lot of things have changed, but I think that life has been an interesting ride.
Earlier I mentioned things I do that appear normal to me now - but for others it seems like a big deal? Well, it turns out that I was talking to a friend at the gym, she said that she couldn’t help but to be inspired by me. Everything from my attitude towards life – I’m known to say: “I have my good days as well as my bad days, but at least I get to have A DAY” -- to the physical and what I have been able to accomplish before and since going to the gym.
Limb loss awareness month really is a testament that changes to your life as you knew it really is not the end. Last year I would have argued that it was, but now I’m looking at it for the fresh beginning that it is. That’s important, but probably not as important as who you are as a person. Because, no matter what happens, you must stay true to who you are, not a perfect human but a good person.
Written by: Walter Cappillo