Sometime wins look like losses
My name is Joel Ellen, and I am an above-knee amputee. In 2010, upon graduating college, I began experiencing chronic pain in my hip. I tried to find the source of the pain through many trials, tests and treatments. I pursued all forms of Western and Eastern therapies and modalities to try to understand and heal this debilitating pain. As the years went by with no success in relieving my pain, I sought out a pain specialist, who prescribed narcotics and muscle relaxers.
As with most narcotics, my body eventually became dependent on these drugs and I became addicted to the relief they provided me. While the drugs helped reduce my pain, they affected every aspect of my life drastically. Things became so bad, that my long-time girlfriend threatened to leave me if I did not stop taking my meds. I did quit, but the pain soon overpowered me and I desperately turned to other sources to ease my state. Alcohol became my method of self-medication.
Eventually my life spiraled, and my addiction to pain relief resulted in an enormous amount of debt, DUIs, loss of jobs, loss of relationships, jail time and ultimately, rehab. I lost everything. I became homeless and put myself into situations that will take years to remedy. The toughest part of it all was that I let down my family, as well as the friends who stood beside me. I became a disappointment in my father’s eyes. I hit rock bottom when I was court-ordered to rehab. I finally realized that the only choice was to start turning my life around.
During my court-ordered stay at rehab, I went back to school, found a job, and started repairing my relationships. Eventually, I graduated from rehab with flying colors. Over the next year I still had to deal with a painful breakup, debt, being on probation, traveling using public transportation and managing constant pain. Still, this was progress and my life was turning around.
With all of this great progress, something was still missing within the deepest part of myself. I still felt empty inside and could not forgive myself for all of the disappointment I caused to my family.
On March 3, 2017, I became a believer of Christ, and my life and perspective completely changed, I could see with fresh eyes and an open heart. For the majority of my life I was an atheist who went to church to make my mom happy, and who went to temple to make my dad happy. In being caught up in this religious “tug of war,” I ended up not believing in God or any religion. I lived this way until I met two very special people who showed me that faith and belief isn’t about religion, but about nurturing my personal relationship with myself through God. I finally tapped into my spiritual self, and began experiencing all of these revelations, miracles and epiphanies. I felt a higher power around me, and that is the moment when my internal healing began.
After an incredible year of recovery and hard work and unimaginable success, I became over-confident in my healing and mental heath. I thought I could drink socially, like everyone else, without it affecting my life in a negative way. I began drinking on occasion, like normal people do, without difficulty or consequence. One day was especially tough. I was depressed and in a lot of pain, so when I got home from school I decided to drink the pain away. I ended up going on a binge for two days and woke up in the hospital a few days later, attached to machines to keep me alive. Apparently, I passed out in an awkward position, cutting off circulation, which formed a blood clot in my leg. My body must have tried to wake me up by telling me that my foot had fallen asleep, but the warning never registered because I was intoxicated and passed out.
The ambulance took me to the hospital on August 31 (10 days after my birthday) and I woke up a few days later on life support.
When I woke up, I had no idea why I was there. I remember waking and looking around, seeing machines hooked up to my body and doctors and nurses in the background. I was told that I had almost died; I had tubes and other devices hooked up to my body allowing me to breathe, eat and empty waste. While I do not know the sequence of what happened, the paperwork says that I had a high anion gap metabolic acidosis, lactic acidosis, acute renal failure, rhabdomyolysis, traumatic compartment syndrome of right lower extremity, acute embolism and thrombosis, hyponatremia, transaminitis, hyperglycemia and right above-knee amputation. I was told that I would be on dialysis for the rest of my life. My doctor and I agreed to try and see if my body could recover on its own, so he took me off of dialysis. I stayed in the hospital for two weeks as my body fought to lower its creatinine levels so that my liver and kidneys would function properly again.
After a few weeks, my levels finally normalized, and I was discharged from the hospital.
My New Life
People ask me on a daily basis how I stay so positive and happy, and I tell them all the same thing: Everyone who knows me knows that I have always been an athlete and consistently active. It has always been at the core of who I am. Losing my leg has obviously turned my world upside down; I don’t know how I could have dealt with this in the past, but now that I’m a believer, my perspective has shifted. I have learned that there is always a silver lining. It is my duty to turn this “loss” into a “win,” not just for my loved ones, but for myself.
One month out of the hospital, I decided to start exercising again. People around me were very inspired to see that even though my leg was gone, I continued to live the same life I always had. I began telling my story and creating exercise videos over social media to share with whomever found value in them. I saw that my contribution helped others who were struggling with their own health, lives and personal situations.
How do I stay so positive? I stay positive because of all of the people who follow me and tell me that I have helped them in some way. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I do know that my purpose is to help and inspire others. There is nothing more important in life than giving back.
I thank God every day for clarifying my purpose. Since I lost my leg I have gained so much more power than ever possible, allowing me to be in service to those in need.