NOTE: The original version of this letter is one I wrote in the early morning hours of January 9, 2012 and posted on VDN on January 11.
I’ve made some edits to the letter. I’ve corrected a grievous error I made by leaving Nurses Monica, Hannah & Tracy off my list! I’ve added a couple of lines at the end to thank people I’ve seen since I wrote the original letter and remembered a couple of other folks who deserved a mention. I’m sure that there are some I’m forgetting but – as I said in the letter – the drugs and my condition have been hell on my memory, so if your name isn’t contained herein and you want to make sure I remember you… Contact me… My info is at the bottom of the page!
I sent a copies of the original letter to UMMC for distribution because I didn’t have the last names of many of my team. I’ve gotten several phone calls and facebook messages from my medical team thanking me. The content of those calls and message is very personal and I won’t be sharing any of that, but suffice it to say that I have cried tears of joy along with many of my UMMC family!
And now… 50 weeks and one day has passed since my left leg was amputated and I am revisiting this letter as part of my Thanksgiving Countdown (64 days), which will happen to mark one year since I was released from the hospital!
To the team responsible for saving my life:
There’s not really a way for me to begin this letter other than to say the one thing that it is meant to convey.
I ask your apologies for sending you this letter in typed format. I assure you that if you had received a hand-written letter from me, you would have probably only been able to read about two-thirds of it and may have never known what I was trying to say to you.
As I sit here with my fingers on the keyboard typing this letter – a letter that has been months in the composition stage – I realize that it has been exactly four months since the team wheeled me from the emergency room into the operating room. It’s been four months since I had a left leg.
I made some really bad choices and those choices led to me losing that appendage but there are three choices that I’ve made in my life that I can most assuredly tell you were good ones. The first choice, made when I was a teenager, was the one that has given me the promise of eternal life through my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The second, made on October 25, 2000 was to spend the rest of my life with Cristy. The third decision, one that I made the morning of October 8, 2012, was to have Cristy take me to the University of Mississippi Medical Center. I want to tell you all that those second and third decisions were mine and mine alone, but the truth is that I believe wholeheartedly that the first decision set me on the path to making them.
Most of you already know that Dr. Boland came out of the operating room and told my wife to contact my family and prepare for the worst. He truly didn’t have much hope that I would make it out of the hospital alive. I guess Dr. Boland didn’t realize that God isn’t finished with me – and to tell you the truth, I didn’t either.
I’ve had the chance to thank Dr. Boland for taking care of me and saving my life. I showed him a video I posted on YouTube. The video, shot exactly one month ago today, showed me on my first day at the gym with my physical trainer / therapist. Dr. Boland had tears in his eyes when he told me that he could take credit for being the team leader and being the surgeon, but – as he pointed to the video – he told me that I was the one responsible for dragging myself up and reclaiming my life.
I’ve had some time to digest that statement and realize there’s some truth to it, but without all of you, I could have never done it.
I laid in the bed for the first couple of weeks and felt completely hopeless, but thanks to the tireless dedication of the team that you are part of, I was shown the light.
Every single one of you reading this letter, and probably many more that I was too sedated to remember, played a part in my journey from the darkness, but there are four people that I want to mention here.
The first is Nurse Ron.
I was having a tough time with the pain after the initial amputation but one night in-particular was extra hard. I’d been having trouble getting to sleep and was receiving doses of Benadryl intravenously. I had finally fallen asleep that night and somewhere about four in the morning; I rolled over in the bed and hit my stump on the bed rail. The pain was excruciating. I tried to call out to Cristy, who was asleep across the expanse of room 327, but I had no voice. It was that kind of pain. I pressed the “call” button and could only get the word “hurt” to come out faintly. Ron came rushing into the room a few seconds later – it seems that I was one of only two patients he had that evening (Thank the Lord). He saw the tears falling from my eyes and tried to understand what I was trying to say. He finally surmised that I had banged my stump and told me to wait just a few. He left the room and returned with a dose of morphine and then sat by the bed and held my hand until I fell asleep again.
I will never forget that tenderness. I will always strive to live up to that example.
The next person is Wendy, the physical therapist.
Wendy is a ruthless woman who can look into the soul of a person and see what they’re capable of. Maybe that doesn’t sound ruthless, but that comes into play when she demands that you – no matter that you don’t believe that you’re capable – accomplish the task that she wants done. Whether that task is getting out of the bed, sitting on the toilet or walking across the hall, you’re gonna do it and there’s no giving up allowed. She pushed me to the edge of sanity but was there to catch me before I fell into the abyss. She (with the tireless assistance of the love of my life) showed me that I was capable of much more than I could see at that point.
I will never forget the look in her eyes – those beautiful, all-seeing, ruthless eyes – the first day I made it across the hall. Those ruthless eyes were welled up with tears, but she never let me see her cry. I will always remember that and will strive to push myself and others to limits like that, knowing that I am capable of catching both myself and others before they fall into a darker place.
The third person is Dr. Thompson, from Dr. Boland’s vascular team.
I was having tremendous difficulty with depression and realized that I was in desperate need of talking to a counselor. I mentioned this to her one day and she put in the request to have someone come by. The chaplain, Jeff Murphy, came by, but the psychology and psychiatric departments both refused to see me. That’s when Dr. Thompson did something really creative. She contacted Harry at University Rehab and asked his assistance. She asked him to contact the psych department and ask them to evaluate me, claiming he was worried that I was not “stable” enough to come to rehab. It worked.
That level of creative problem solving is not something I had ever seen from a doctor before. I will forever be grateful that Dr. Thompson was that creative. Without it, I would have never met Dr. Manning or my therapist, Daniel, and may have not been able to begin to deal with my depression and other issues until it was too late.
I will always strive to be as creative in solving problems that I’m facing, and sincerely hope that Dr. Thompson keeps that spark. I believe that it will truly set her apart from her peers as she grows into the leader I can see in her.
The fourth and final person I have to thank for pulling me from the darkness (besides my wife and mother) is Nurse Becky.
Becky was the first nurse I came in contact with who realized that I actually had a sense of humor and she constantly worked on appealing to that side of me. That tireless effort, even though she knew how dark things seemed to me at the time, actually helped me to get back to being myself much faster than therapy (physical or mental) did. Becky, regardless of my mood or pain level, would walk into the room with a smile on her face and would make jokes and poke fun. I guess she subscribes to the belief handed down to us in the bible: “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22.
Much like Becky, I’ve always had a sick, twisted sense of humor… so much so that I asked Dr. Boland for the last piece of bone he cut from my leg so that my friend could attempt to turn it on his lathe and make a duck call out of it. I have her to thank for making that sense of humor reappear inside me.
I will never forget my “MB” – ask Becky if you’re curious about that nickname. She taught me the true importance of laughter and reawakened a spirit I truly thought was dead. I will always strive to bring that sort of light into any room I walk into.
Now just because I mentioned those four people, does not mean, under any circumstances, that the rest of you reading this letter played any lesser role in my recovery. To the contrary, you all are responsible for getting me to the point of writing this letter.
I’ll begin with the last face I saw before leaving the hospital for my home.
Nurse Lacey actually took the time to wheel me downstairs and aid Cristy in loading our things into the van. It was a bit cold and rainy that night so she and I sat in the lobby while Cristy fetched the van from the garage.
Those of you who know Lacey will enjoy this story. The first time I met her was Halloween night. She was wearing a pair of “Grey’s Anatomy” scrubs when she came into the room and informed me that she would be my nurse. She checked on my IV and then bounced out of the room as swiftly as she’d come in. I looked at Cristy and told her that she needed to call security because we had some trick-or-treating teenager acting like a nurse. Cristy laughed and tried to reassure me that Lacey was actually a hospital employee. I, in all seriousness, looked at my wife and tried to explain that this child who was just in our room was definitely not a nurse. First, the scrubs were obviously a Halloween costume, seeing that they were from a TV show. Secondly, Lacey had the legs of the scrubs rolled up like the girls in my high school used to roll their jeans.
Between Halloween and November 28th (the day I got to come home), Lacey was the nurse most often assigned to my room. Cristy and I got to develop a friendship with her that I will treasure until the day I leave this mortal coil. As we sat in the lobby talking about Lacey’s upcoming days off – days she was looking forward to celebrating the birthday of one of her children – I realized that I was going to miss being in the hospital almost as much as I was looking forward to getting home to my dog and my own bed.
Cristy pulled up out front and we lugged all the stuff out to the van – and yes, even though I was in a wheelchair, I helped… not much, but I did. Lacey started to lean down to give me a hug and say goodbye and I told her to wait. I stood up, holding on to one of the columns for balance and gave her a big hug and thanked her for her care and friendship. Lacey was smiling and tears began to fall from her eyes as she quickly turned her head and walked over to hug Cristy.
It’s that kind of compassion – a compassion that was not uncommon from each of you – that will stay with me forever.
There are lots of nurses who took care of me during my stay on 3 North. I’m absolutely positive that I’m forgetting some of you, even though I began writing names down almost as soon as I came home. Pain meds are great for controlling pain but not so much for the memory center of the brain!!! If your name isn’t on this list, I apologize… it’s not like I’m not thankful, but there was a great deal of time – especially those first two or three weeks – that seems jumbled together in my mind, as if it were only a couple of days.
Delorse – I know things got off to a really rocky start and that my attitude towards you (and everyone else) was less than stellar. I thank God every day for your patience and understanding and will never forget all the times you stuck your head into my room just to say hello, even though you weren’t my nurse!
Jennifer – I know there are two of you, but I want you to know that my mom fully expects you to take her up on the offer of a room and a tour guide to Colorado. All you have to do is let her know when you want to come! I’ll look forward to hearing all about your trip. Thanks for listening to me whine and letting me know that it’s okay to be scared.
(The Other) Jennifer – Don’t ever let your smile leave your face. You truly do brighten a room when you walk in. Thanks for your endless devotion to your patients.
Linda – You scared me half to death one morning. I was totally gone. Sleeping is not the proper word for what I was doing. You came into the room and I wasn’t expecting it and I honestly almost had to have my bed changed! Your positive attitude helped pull me out of some really dark places as well… don’t ever lose it!
Wendy – I don’t know if you remember walking in on me having a pity party one day. I tried to hide it, but you sensed something wrong. You stood in my room for much longer than you could afford to and talked to me until I was doing better. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to do so.
Mioshi – There’s a lot that I could say about you, your attitude, your smile, but I want to thank you first and foremost for making me a glass of tea. Cristy was at home and her brother was staying at the hospital with me. He had just started talking to his new girlfriend and spent hours away from the room. I had been wanting something to drink and was too drugged to get out of bed. You will never know how good that tea tasted! Thank you!
Bryce – You are too bubbly for your own good. One of these days, those bubbles are going to pop and your going to kill someone with kindness! Thank you for infecting me with your bubbliness. Spell check just told me that isn’t a word, but I can’t think of a better way to describe you!
Parminder – You have a terrific personality! Don’t ever hide that from anyone! Your warmth is something that endears you to patients and that kind of feeling means far more to us than you can possibly imagine!
The other nurse I have on my list is not on 3 North, but rather in Pre-Op.
Paula (my second wife) – I had a total of twelve surgeries at UMMC. I believe that you were there for all but the first one. Your care is second to none and I thank God every day of my life that you were there to hold my hand before surgery and let me know that everything was gonna be alright. Your tears, welled in your eyes on the day of my skin graft, speak more about your soul than you will ever know. Thank you!
Hannah – I must apologize for leaving you out of the original letter… My only excuse is the drugs. I know that you understand but I feel like a jerk for having done so. Your care for me during my stay on 3 North has continued through your messages and comments on Facebook and I cannot thank you enough for all the love that you’ve sent my way! You are a shining light in my days and nights! You, madam, are a superstar and you should know that there are others out there who believe that to be true!
Monica – Another one of the mistakes I made (and won’t soon forgive myself for) is for omitting you from the original form of this letter! You have this aura about you that brightens the room when you walk in. I know that I made a complete ass out of myself a few times (especially early on during my stay) but your patience with me never seemed to falter. I remember clearly (now) nearly having a breakdown one evening. Nobody was in the room with me and I felt totally alone. You came in to check on me and were able, very quickly mind you, to soothe my soul with your charm and wit. I cannot thank you enough for all the times you did that for me. And I apologize for making you panic that day I disappeared from the room and spent three hours outside! (Insert mischievous grin here) I was having such a good time and had lots of folks out there to talk to!
Tracy – Your understanding (and your openness about your diabetes) really helped me come to terms with my lot in life. Your constant care and your wonderful demeanor brightened every single day I had with you on my team! I cannot thank you enough for your candor and your advice. Learning to deal with my medication was a lot easier after our conversation and I will always be in your debt for that! You are a beautiful person and I am blessed to have been able to get to know you!
There were five Patient Care Technicians that I can remember sharing my stay at UMMC. To Rhonda, Sally, Cynthia, Linda and Calvin: Thank You! Letting me sleep through some of those vital sign checks was wonderful… even the times when you got my vitals in spite of my sleep. You guys are a wonderful support to both the patients and the staff on the floor. I will never forget any of you!!!
Patient meals at UMMC are iffy at best, especially when you’re on a restricted diet. Toinette was one of the staff members who delivered my meals. Even when she wasn’t the one bringing me my meal, she would stick her head in the room to check on me. “How are you Mr. Chris?” was the question she asked every day and she always expected an honest answer. She’d always bring me some extra tea – after making sure there was enough to go around to every room, of course – and always had words of encouragement. Toinette, I cannot thank you enough and really hate that I lost your number! I will see you again – walking on my own two legs – at some point in the very near future so I can give you the hug that you so richly deserve!
My other physical therapist, Alyssa, was just as ruthless as Wendy, but she didn’t have to dig me out of the deep hole like her predecessor. It is because of their tireless work (and immense patience) that I was able to transition from the hospital to home without having to go to rehab in between. Being able to show her the video of my workout at the gym put a smile on both of our faces. I hope that I was able to convey to her how truly grateful I am for keeping me on my toes and making sure that I didn’t give up!
Randy, my occupational therapist, really helped me along in being able to skip the rehab part of the journey, too. Thanks to Randy’s innovative exercise routines, I was able to build some extra upper body strength and that has made a world of difference in my life.
Harry (from University Rehab) came by my room on several occasions and talked with me about rehabbing after I got out of the hospital. He was insistent that I was going to be transferred to an in-patient rehab facility to teach me how to do some of the things that were necessary to know when adapting to life without a leg. Maybe it was the length of my stay that precluded me from doing the stint in rehab or maybe it was my determination that I was going to prove Harry wrong, but he always believed in me and would stop by just to see how I was doing. I owe a debt to him for driving me to do better!
Dr. Manning assigned his assistant Daniel, who’s last name I believe is Ray, but I could be mistaken, to be my therapist. Daniel helped me to find a better place in my head and taught me how to stay there. There is no level of gratitude that will ever be enough for that. Daniel, please don’t ever lose the “it-factor” you have as a therapist. God gave you those talents for a purpose and I believe you will go on to help many others, many worse than I was, to find there better place. Do me one favor though… buy yourself an MP3 recorder and don’t worry about trying to figure out smart-phones!
Jeff Murphy was the chaplain assigned to me. His guidance and compassion helped me to see that God had not forsaken me. I got to see him during my last visit to the hospital and was truly happy to do so. He is an inspiration to me and, no doubt, countless others. Jeff, THANK YOU. Whether it was praying over my sleeping self after one of my surgeries, praying with me, listening to me cry about my life or providing a shoulder for my family and friends. Your kindness will never be forgotten and I am sure that God has a special place reserved for you in His Kingdom! God Bless and keep you in his arms!
Finally, I’d like to thank the entire team of physicians who cared for me during my stay – and beyond.
Doctors Dinning, Sparkman, Richardson, Lange, Wofford, Atchley and the many, many more who I cannot name… I owe you my life and my unending gratitude for leading me to a life beyond October 8, 2012!!!
NOTE TO DR. DINNING: You are a very special woman and I appreciate all that you did, but I can tell you – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that you were sorely mistake when you told me that the plastic surgeon was going to make my leg (stump, affected limb – whatever you want to call it) look beautiful… That is unless you consider an albino baleen whale to be beautiful (LAUGH)! I told you that you were wrong when you said that to me. I was right, but I truly appreciate you trying to lift my spirits and give me a new outlook on my life… I truly needed it. THANK YOU!!!
I’ve been able to find many of you on Facebook and lots of you already have my business card with our phone numbers, but I want you to know that I am interested in hearing from all of you. Becky said it best when she told me that we had all become some sort of functionally dysfunctional family.
Find me on Facebook by going to www.facebook.com/ChrisConcrete
E-mail me: email@example.com
Call me (You’ll probably have to leave a message): 601.618.6477
I’d love to hear from you!!!
There are some other names that I need to add to my list now…
Dr. Arnold – You did a fantastic job of getting my tail out of your care… My leg may not be as beautiful as Dr. Dinning said it would be, but I am truly thankful for your handiwork! The skin graft worked wonderfully and I am getting some feeling in the area where you grafted the skin! Your bedside manner is amazing and I cannot thank you enough for that… The pain I was in during my aftercare was excruciating but I always looked forward to the visits to your office because of your humor! I told you that I would have fallen sufficiently whilst learning to use my leg so that you could work another miracle and make me look like George Clooney… That looks less and less like a possibility thanks to my new physical therapist, but I still have your office number on speed dial! (GRIN)
Nelson, Blake, Rick & Richard (and everyone else) in Orthotics and Prosthetics: I owe each of you a huge debt of gratitude for taking such good care of me and fitting me with what my mom calls my “magic leg.” This thing is AMAZING and I cannot wait until I am off the cane/walker and am able to spend most of my day walking around and not in my wheelchair!
Shannon – I’m scared but I’m working! Thank your for your patience thus far (and for what I am sure will come in the future). I’ll be seeing you later today but I wanted to make sure that you always know what a wonder it is to have you as a therapist. Your expectations of me are always increasing and your belief in me makes me want to get to the finish line faster just to make you smile! Thank you for all that you are doing and will continue to do… for me and everyone else you treat!
Once again… From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of my soulmate – my wife Cristy – and all my family and friends, THANK YOU!