Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Once Upon A Time Of Feet And Painted Toenails_Part 2

This is the concluding part of Once Upon A Time Of Feet And Painted Toenails.

“You have a right to be angry.”

“With whom?” I queried in my heart, staring blankly over the shoulders of the Psychiatrist and her assistant standing by my bedside.

The doctors have done the audit. Nobody could explain what went wrong. There was no negligence reported or indicated. So who was I supposed to be angry with? God? I mused, still not saying a word.

“It is important to express your emotions. You can grieve about this. Talk to us.”

“I don’t have anything to say.” I looked straight at her and smiled. “I have asked all the questions I can ask the doctors about this.”

“What is the point of talking with you? What can you do for me? What comfort can you offer me?”

“I'm Ok. I am taking one day at a time.” I told her. They went on about my need to talk. They thought I was in denial. I even found out that they put me on a low dose of anti-depressant. They thought because I wasn’t talking to them I was depressed and not dealing with the issue. They asked the nurse who had known me the longest during my ten years of frequent sojourn on that ward to come and talk to me.

She tried. And I could see that she was visibly upset that I was not opening up to her. So I said to her, “J'ai décidé depuis longtemps que je ne jamais renouncer l’espoir. Mon espoir est à mon Dieu.” I made up my mind a long time ago that I will never give up on hope, and I was not going to start now. It was on that note that she left me alone.

I repeated the same to the Psychiatrist when she came back to see me, and begged her to stop the medication. I told her I did not need it. Hope is my anti-depressant. This was strictly between me and God. The doctors can’t answer the questions running all over my head. But God surely understands where I am coming from when I cry out to Him in the dead of the night when there was not one near to hear my cry.

I finally got myself to hold my stumps. I cradled them in my hands. I looked at what is left of my legs. Tears laced my eyes. I blinked them away. I will not cry, I told myself. Nothing prepares you for this. Not once in my almost 47 years before that day, did I ever imagine I could be at this phase of life as an amputee. It is at such times that you know you have to make an active and deliberate decision to tap into the grace of God that is readily available and sufficient sustain you.

Graham Kendrick's song, To You, O Lord I lift up my soul, from Psalm 25 floated back into my spirit. The lyrics ministered to me. 

No one whose hope is You will ever be put to shame.
That’s why my eyes are on You O Lord
Surround me, defend me
O how I need You
To You O Lord I lift up my soul

My hope is in God. I cannot be put to shame because God will defend me and surround me with His love and mercy. I will not be ashamed of my body. If I am not ashamed of me, then nobody can make me feel ashamed of my body. I will not play the victim. I will not, by the grace of God, be a subject of pity. If I keep my head and my spirit high, no one will be able to pity me or my situation.

The psychotherapist working with amputees came and sat with me several afternoons. She had tried to talk to me before the amputation. I was not ready to listen to what she had to say. And I refused to read the information materials. She was resilient. She did not push me to talk. She just wanted me to know that I have to deal with the change in my body image.

Let me note here, if you are ever with someone who has lost a limb, please don’t ever tell the person that there are many people living with missing limbs and doing great. “Why do I have to be one of them?” was my reaction. That is not what an amputee wants to hear, certainly not in the beginning when the person has to adjust emotionally to a body with conspicuously missing parts.

This lady waited until I was ready to talk about the change in my body. Then she supported me and my family to get all the information we needed to cope with our new definition of normal. Then, they arranged for us to watch a video of people living with amputation. We watched it as a family there in the hospital. We were able to ask more questions. It helped us a family to do this together.

But none of these prepared me for the day, I was going to have my first fitting with the prosthetic limbs. I sat on my wheelchair in the open waiting room. It was summer. Every single lady who walked past me on the corridor was wearing dainty slippers showing off their beautifully manicured toenails. It felt like an orchestrated parade to taunt me. I felt as if the enemy was flashing in my face what I had lost and would not be able to do again. Pain and grief welled up from within me. My slippers at home flashed before my sight.

Tears laced my eyes again. I blinked them off. I will not cry here. No, I will not!

A few days earlier, I had struggled with my emotions as the physiotherapist told me that my new feet were to be customized to a fixed angle which will allow me to wear only shoes only 2-3cm high. They strongly recommended sneakers for security as it would clad the entire foot and help me to maintain my balance.

“What? Only one type of shoes every day?” I screamed at them. “That is not possible. I can’t wear sneakers seven days of the week!” They explained to me why I needed to wear shoes with sturdy and broad heels.

“It is for your safety. You have to maintain your balance. You must not fall.”

I am a Yoruba woman. Who wears sneakers with wrappers and long skirts? What was I going to do with all my shoes? I simply refused to accept sneakers as an option. They refused to accept my low-heeled pumps because they were not completely covered, and my feet could slip out of them. Finally, they agreed to the pair of shoes I used on field trips and visits to communities when I was working with UNICEF. They were completely covered with a zipper but 4cm high. They customized my feet for this shoes. This was my only pair of shoes for months. Much later, we went to shops with measuring tape until my husband found me broad-heeled shoes with the same height and a bit dressier.

I shared in Make The Next Move Forward  what it was like the first day I tried on my prosthetic limbs.

I knew I had to let go of my shoes. It would be a torture to keep them. Why keep them and moan over them if they can be a blessing to others? So when I got back home from the hospital, I brought all my shoes out. I had a farewell party with them. I gave thanks to God for the joy of having them and asked God to make them a blessing to all those who would wear them for me. We bagged the shoes, many of them with their bags, and with joy and peace in my heart, I released them to go to my friends. I pleaded with a number of them to wear them for me. But I could not let go of my oldest pair of shoes—my first set of purple shoes. That remains a memento of the days of passion for shoes.

I went in search of photographs of my legs, only to find that most of the time, my legs were covered in long skirts, trousers and wrappers. Those in which I was wearing short skirts were not showing my legs or painted toenails. Who goes out of their way to take photographs of their legs and painted toenails? Then, I found the photograph taken at my first son’s high school graduation. It turned out to be the best picture of my old legs. It was a gift from God. He knew I needed to see those legs again in their former glory. The last time I saw them as such was when I stood up and changed into the theatre gown before my lungs transplantation. It was also the last time I stood on them.

I perused every detail of my legs. But rather than be sorrowful, my heart lifted with joy. I bless God for every single step I took with those legs. I blessed Him for all the opportunities He gave me to go places with them. I thank God for the time I had with them. They have fulfilled their assignment and have gone home ahead of me. The season of painted toenails and dainty slippers was over. It was great fun while it lasted. Like a dear sister wrote to me, there await me a glorious pair of legs when I get to heaven.

For the rest of my stay here on earth, God has provided me with the Feet of Grace that will take me to places beyond my imagination and to where my natural feet could not have taken me, just as He promised. He has given me the tools I need to fulfil my assignment and the purpose for which He called me. So I wear my Feet of Grace with grace and head lifted high to the glory of God.

Feet of Grace 2015 Charity Walk_Hit The Street For Their Feet:
Join me / Support me to walk 5km to raise funds for amputees that they may walk again.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Once Upon A Time Of Feet and Painted Toenails

"Give me a glass of water, please," I said to my first son with eyes fixed on the screen of the laptop and fingers relentless on the keyboard. I heard him shift his 80kg, 1.70m frame up from the carpet he laid on behind me.

"Who took my slippers?" he demanded.

I paused for a brief moment and thought about his question. “Oh, I think your uncle took them when he went down to the cave a few minutes ago," I answered as I recalled his uncle looking for a pair of slippers to put on earlier. It is very cold in the cave, and he did not want to go down wearing just his socks.

Eyes still fixed on the screen and without turning in his direction I added, "You can take my slippers." There was no movement or response from him. I turned around and saw a weird look on his face, he was staring at the spot on the floor near me. Then, I looked down to the floor. That was when it hit me. There were no slippers on the floor by me. There were no feet either. I didn't have my Feet of Grace (prosthetic limbs) on. My stumps were resting on a stool under the table.

We exchanged a look that spoke louder than words. For a brief moment, I forgot that I am an amputee. I don’t have my feet anymore. And I can't wear my slippers too.

For many years, I took great care of my feet and toenails. I had feet spa and pedicure regularly before I came to live in Switzerland. Then I realized that it was wisdom for me to do my pedicure myself at home. It was too expensive to go to the salon to do it. I shared many happy moments with my sons; they both struggled to help me to remove my nail polish and to put a fresh one. Each son worked on a foot. The fastest always wanted to move to his brother's side, which, of course, always result in an argument. They did that without any complaint until they became teenagers, and I could not get them to help me clean and polish my toenails anymore!

I loved jogging and walking. With those feet, I covered many kilometres. I even did some competitive running and swimming in the university when I represented my hall of residence during the inter-hall games. Each time I went for walks with my husband, he always had to slow me down because I was a very fast walker, always taking long strides.

Another favourite hobby of mine was shoes collection. I like my shoes, with their coordinating bags. I liked them with high heels, at least 6cm high. I didn't like flat heeled shoes because I felt I walk like a duck in them. I like to walk with long strides with my back straight and to hold my head high. I learnt to place a heavy book on my head when I was a teenager to ensure that I walk without slouching. And I liked dainty slippers that showed off my toenails.

“How many shoes can one woman wear?” asked my husband in utter amazement many times. My ready-made response was that they were of different colours and styles. I have a couple of Sistas who beat me hands down when it comes to shoes collection.  “Imelda Marcus’ junior sister” as we nicknamed her, used to be my shoe-exchange partner. Then I met the mother of all shoes’ collectors, the height of her shoes and the way she moves in them dropped my jaws. I remember gleefully telling my husband that he should be happy I was not as bad as my two friends.

I had just polished my toenails during the week leading up to April 13th, 2013 when the hospital called me in for the lungs transplant surgery. I did not have time to remove the nail polish before going into the hospital, just did the fingernails. When I woke up from induced coma over four weeks later, it was the unusually brilliant polished toenails that caught my attention. I realized later that my usually subtle colour stood out because my feet had gone very dark as a result of the necrosis.

I learnt later that the doctors had told my husband that my feet were not likely to recover and to protect the precious gift of life God gave me, they would need to amputate my feet. He told me that he refused to accept their verdict. He went back home, brought all my shoes into the middle of the bedroom and began to pray that the owner of the shoes would have the opportunity to wear them again. That was before God gave us the word of assurance that He would give me the Feet of Grace that would take to places beyond my imagination and where my natural feet cannot take me.

For many days after the amputation, I refused to look at the stumps. Each time the nurses changed the dressing, they asked me if I wanted to look at them, and I answered with an emphatic "No!" turning my face away. The wounds healed with such amazing rapidity that I could not help but notice the joy with which the nurses announced it to each other.

Finally, I looked. First at the space where the rest of my leg and feet should have been. Then I looked at the stumps. The nurse examining them looked up at me, “they are healing so well” she said. “It is remarkable.” The skin was dry and peeling off in big chunks. It required that we applied a special lotion every night before putting a light bandage on them. First, my husband offered to do it. Then my sons took turns every night to apply the lotion and bandage the stumps before leaving the hospital for home. They did not show any awkwardness touching the stumps neither were they ashamed. It was a huge deposit on my self-esteem account.

And that was the beginning of the path to my emotional recovery. It was rough but I am still standing, kept by the grace of God and the support of my husband and sons. Watch out for the concluding part of this story in the next post.

Feet of Grace 2015 Charity Walk_Hit The Street For Their Feet:

 Be a part of making the dreams of these amputees come true. Walk with me or support my 5km Charity Walk to raise 15,000 Swiss Francs. This will be used to procure prosthetic limbs for Chidi and Olivet and wheelchairs for those still waiting. Read more about this on my last blog: Feet Of Grace In Motion

Date:  Saturday, April 25th, 2015 D.V.

Let a message in the comment box below for more information. Together we can help these amputees regain their autonomy and get on with their lives.

May the Lord richly reward your generosity.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Feet of Grace In Motion

March came upon us with the speed of the lightning. It is apt that my first blog post in March should be about matching and moving forward. The chorus below composed by Lorraine Gwanmesia-Missatou, and beautifully sung by the Tribe of Judah Choir (TRCI, Geneva) summarizes the post so well.

We are matching,
Moving forward
Rising in the name of the Lord
You are Holy. You are Lord
There is no one else like You.

A healthy adult is expected to take an average of 10,000 steps a day. I work at home. I spend most of the day sitting; writing, beading or working on the computer. I go out of the house 2-3 a week at best. So when I make an average of 2000 steps a day, I am rejoicing. But it wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, I ran 4 x 400m relay in the university. I jogged the perimeter of the University College Hospital, Ibadan. I walked up to 3km as part of my routine exercise. I flew with wings spread wide.

Then life happened. My health went down the hill. I became oxygen-dependent in 2007 and home-bound by the following year. And it got to the point when I longed so much to stand upright and walk that I wept.

Let me recap the story of God’s amazing grace that sustained me through the valley of affliction and put me back in motion again.

Here’s my story:
For twenty years, I lived with a chronic respiratory disease and a debilitating neuromuscular disorder, which my doctors referred to as a complex multi-systemic disorder. The pain and the distress of the latter eight years of this period are beyond what I can share in this post, which took its toll on every sphere of our lives as a family.

In April 2013, I underwent a surgery to replace my diseased and failing lungs. Though the lungs transplantation went very well, I developed severe complications within forty-eight hours following the surgery, which required that coma was induced as my organs began to fail. When I came out of the coma four weeks later, my doctors and my husband broke the devastating news that my hands and feet may need to be amputated. This was because I had poor blood circulation during the coma resulting in insufficient flow of blood and oxygen to my extremities, causing necrosis in both my hands and feet. My hands recovered miraculously, but God promised to give me the Feet of Grace that will take me to places beyond my imagination and where my natural feet would not have taken me.

My legs were amputated below the knees on Friday, May 31st, 2013. At the mid of life, I was faced with the challenge of living life as an amputee. When I came out of the theater without my feet, all I could say to my husband with tears streaming down my face was “they took my feet.” Two days later, on Sunday afternoon, the nurses switched off the oxygen and the ventilator. For the first time in over seven years, I took a breath without support and my oxygen saturation did not flinch. It remained at the normal level. It was a breath of fresh air for our lives, a breath of hope and grace. As we laughed and praised God, the balm of Gilead was released on our hurting hearts.

One month later, I stood up straight and erect between parallel bars surrounded by Physiotherapists, but it was with mixed feeling. Happy that after a long period of lying flat on my back, then oscillating between the bed and the wheelchair, I was finally able to get off my rear. I stood up even though it was for a few minutes. My doctors said I had a remarkably fast healing and recovery. I was their first amputee ready to walk with prosthetic limbs within one month of amputation.

At the same moment, my heart was heavy as I looked at the provisional prosthetic limbs, and I couldn’t imagine walking with them for the rest of my life. That was when the reality of what had happened finally dawned on me. I revolted against it. Focussing on the limitation it posed, the pain and the difficulty almost overshadowed the joy of standing again. Thankfully, God ministered His peace into my heart and brought me through that valley.
My Feet of Grace

I took my first step with the prosthetic limbs the following day. It was with great difficulty and pain. I chanted, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” every step I took as I learnt how to walk again. I learnt how to maintain my balance. I have been marching forward since then.

Within one year after the amputation, and following extensive rehabilitation with the support of my family, friends, doctors, and physiotherapists, I was able to start living life to the full and the overflowing again. And now, I can walk up to 5000 steps at least one day a week, which is about 3km.  

I am a living testimony of the truth that there is no one else like God. It confirmed what my husband said following the amputation that people will see me and declare; “she is grace in motion.”

Going Forward:
The idea to start the Feet of Grace Foundation was birthed about six months after the amputation. My Sista-Friend confirmed the word God gave us earlier. She told me that my assignment going forward is to take the testimony of God’s amazing grace that sustain me through my season of storms to every place God will open up to me. Sharing the story of God’s grace that kept me through the twenty years of living with chronic and debilitating diseases, gives me the opportunity to inspire hope in people facing life’s challenging situations. I know for a truth that God’s grace is sufficient for when life happens.

The period during which I was compelled to sit down without being able to stand or walk was relatively short. However, it gave me an insight into the plight of those who are compelled to sit down for a long-term because of the inability to access funds for prosthetic limbs. Being able to walk again made a huge difference in regaining my autonomy and pursuing my dreams. This ignited my desire to do the same for other amputees especially those who cannot afford the high cost of the prosthetic limb.

So it is with gratitude to God and great joy that I present to you….

Our Vision:       
To enrich lives and inspire hope in those facing life’s challenging situation.

Our Mission:    
  1. To bring the message of God’s amazing grace that is abundantly available to sustain believers through the dark seasons of their lives. We are endued with grace to endure afflictions and trials.
  2. To create opportunities for those compelled to sit down in a stand-up world, to stand and walk again.
Feet of Grace Foundation will bring messages of hope and encouragement to those facing different life challenges as well as to people living with amputated limbs and their families. We plan to have a website and a Facebook page for this purpose and to showcase the activities of the Foundation. The foundation will also create awareness and advocate friendly environment for people living with disabilities. We will carry out activities to raise funds for the procurement of prosthetic limbs for amputees.

The first of such charity activities, tagged "Hit The Street For Their Feet” is scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 25th, 2015. This is a 5km Charity walk around the Commune of Versoix in Geneva. Please mark the date. The funds raised will be used to provide prosthetic limbs for two amputees in collaboration with Irede Foundation in Nigeria.

Be a part of making a dream come true:

Dear Friends, join us to make the dreams of these two amputees come true. Together, we can. If you are willing and ready, please leave me a message in the comment box.

Keep marching and moving forward. You can do all things through Christ Who strengthens you.