By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Having one’s foot amputated doesn’t seem like a laughing matter, but Linda Rehmann has kept a sense of humor about the situation she’s found herself in.
She had her right foot removed in May, and grins when she thinks of all the funny things that have happened since then.
“It was hilarious, well, not really hilarious,” she laughed, telling the story of her second day home from the hospital.
She had been instructed to wear her new prosthetic leg a few hours a day, and gradually get used to wearing it longer and longer. But, when she attempted to take it off, it wouldn’t budge.
Her husband, Gary, wasn’t able to free it, either. They ended up driving from their home in rural Lester Prairie to urgent care at Glencoe Regional Health Services. There, two nurses and a physical therapist gave their best attempts, but to no avail.
“I thought, ‘Am I going to have this on for the rest of my life?’” Linda recalled.
Finally, the physical therapist suggested that Linda elevate her leg for 15 minutes, in case the problem was swelling. Then, the leg came off almost too quickly.
“It went flying at Gary,” Linda laughed. “He almost fell over.”
The next day, a doctor who specializes in prosthetics found that there was a small piece of fiber caught where the leg connects. That, combined with swelling, was most likely the cause of the excitement.
Fortunately, Linda hasn’t had a problem since, and she can quickly attach and detach the leg as needed.
How it all started
Five years ago, Linda never would have guessed she’d be dealing with a prosthetic lower leg.
Her leg problems started in early 2013, with a broken tibia and fibula.
“I thought I had a sprained ankle, and I walked around for six weeks that way,” Linda said.
Since she felt pain in her ankle, only that area had been x-rayed. Eventually, an orthopedic surgeon x-rayed a larger area, and found the fracture.
By then, Linda’s leg had become infected. The day after her surgery, she was told her mother had passed away due to a stroke. Linda was able to attend her mother’s funeral, but doesn’t remember the details because of the pain medication she was taking.
Linda thought this would be the worst of it, but over the next few years, more of her bones began breaking. She had surgery on both hips, and also on her right elbow.
“I counted this up I actually had 13 surgeries,” Linda said.
Linda was told that the medication she had been taking for rheumatoid arthritis since 1989 (methotrexate) may have contributed to her brittle bones.
Meanwhile, the infection on her right foot wasn’t going away.
Trying to heal
In January of this year, doctors made another attempt to clear the infection, but when they later tried to remove the stitches, a tendon came up with it.
At that point, doctors decided to remove the metal plates that had been inserted, in case there was something else going on. When they did, they discovered that the plates were “coated” with bacteria.
Linda was given medication to help get ride of the bacteria, but more bacteria kept forming.
Linda stayed at the Glencoe hospital for seven weeks, where a nurse changed the bandage on her foot daily. Doctors tried surgery to get the tendon to go back in place, but ended up having to cut the tendon off. Unfortunately, the incision from the surgery wasn’t healing properly, either.
In April, a plastic surgeon from Fairview Health Services had an idea to bury the leftover tendon by putting a flap over it. The procedure sounded encouraging, but when it was done, the surgeon told Linda, “I’m sorry, but it didn’t work.”
The next step was the Wound & Hyperbaric Healing Center, located on the lower level of Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia. There, Linda tried vaccuum-assisted closure of a wound, also known as wound VAC.
After a few weeks, doctors told Linda, “This isn’t helping.” They suggested trying hyperbaric oxygen therapy an hour a day for six weeks, but they couldn’t give any assurance that it would solve the problem.
By that time, Linda was tired of trying things only to have them fail.
A last resort
There was one other option her doctor had suggested to have the foot amputated.
“I looked at him and I said, ‘that sounds good,’” Linda recalled.
Earlier, Linda had said “no” to amputation, but after so much trouble her surgeon even nicknamed her “Trouble” it seemed like the best option.
Linda had the amputation surgery in May, and spent three weeks in the hospital recovering. During her recovery, she’s been learning to do daily tasks while wearing the prosthetic.
At first, she was afraid to stand on one leg, but she’s now able to get around with a walker.
“I am bound and determined to walk again,” Linda said, explaining that she hopes to walk with a cane, or maybe even without someday.
For now, Linda sometimes uses a wheelchair, because her arms get sore from the walker. She broke her left elbow Sept. 28, and is still recovering from that.
Although having a prosthetic leg has its challenges, Linda is grateful that she no longer has to deal with surgeries and hospital stays because of her foot.
“The greatest part of all this is, the infection is gone,” she said. “. . . I’m not going to call this a miracle, but it’s wonderful. It really is.”