One Exceptional Life
My name is Wendy Wallace. I am a wife, a mother and a quadruple amputee. In 2011, I developed necrotizing fasciitis. What we believed to be the flu turned out to be a deadly “flesh-eating bacteria.” One day I was fine; the next, I felt like I had come down with a severe case of the flu. After some time, we realized that this was no ordinary flu and my family took me to the hospital, unable to predict the coming storm and the lasting effects it would have on me and my family. Upon further examination by several resident doctors, it became clear that whatever ailed me was out of their hands and I was shipped off to Dartmouth for emergency surgery via Life Flight; I had never expected my first helicopter ride to be under such circumstances. Upon my arrival, the doctors were able to diagnose my sickness and take action. Necrotizing fasciitis moves very quickly, and within days I was in a medically induced coma. I underwent four surgeries to remove the infection. I also underwent surgery to remove both hands at the wrists and both feet below the knees. Necrotizing fasciitis attacks soft tissue and spreads to the internal organs. When those start shutting down, the extremities start to die.
I spent three weeks in a coma on life support. The doctors told my husband I would die, but he refused to accept that. The faith of my family is very strong, and in addition to our local church, there were people from all over the country praying for me. God heals, and he healed me. It is a unique experience, waking up from a coma; even more so when you awake to the sudden disappearance of your four limbs. I have vague recollections of my time when my surgeries took place. I do remember my husband in the room and he showed me my dying hands and told me I would need to have my appendages removed in order to live. I told him, “Save my life.” I would rather live without my hands and feet than die. My family still needed me.
I spent two months in the hospital and another month in rehab before I could come home to start to live my life again. While I was in rehab, I spent a lot of time with strengthening exercises and learning how to use a transfer board to transfer myself from places like my wheelchair to my bed or the toilet. I remember my physical therapist. He was a former Marine; he was very good at his job, and always pushed me to work hard and strive to improve in therapy. It was a period in my life where our oldest child was graduating from high school and I didn’t want to miss that. As it turned out, I didn’t get released from rehab in time but I did get permission to leave for the day to attend his special day. I had to go back afterwards, but I was released permanently the following week. Going home was a joyous occasion. I missed my family and my home.
Getting back into the real world was only possible through my faith in God and the wonderful love and support of my family and friends. Learning to live without my hands and feet was the most difficult thing I ever had to do in my life.
It wasn’t long before I was walking with prosthetic legs. My prosthetist, Tony, was very helpful. He was very talented at creating prosthetic legs and arms. I was successful with my legs, and walking came easy once I got used to them. I tried different types of arms but found I was more effective without prosthetic hands. I tried myoelectric arms but they were extremely heavy and not very productive. I also tried hooks but because my forearms were long, they were very difficult to get on and off. Ultimately, I was more successful without the prosthetic arms. It took several months of learning new ways of doing things but today, with the help of my family and some daily preparation I am pretty self-sufficient.
The emotional challenges have been the most difficult part of this whole experience. I’m unable to do the things that I love such as cooking and crafts. I found myself depressed at times due to the fact that I could no longer engage in such activities. Instead, I turned to coaching my family. I would find a meal or a project I’d like to try and elicit their help in making it.
God has a reason for why this happened to me. My favorite scripture is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Whenever I feel discouraged or as though I’m slipping back into a depressive state, this scripture comes to mind and I remember that with the help of the Lord, I really have nothing to worry about.
For the last few years, I have spent a lot of my time doing nothing and perfecting my desire to be a hermit. My kids and my husband got me out of the house on their days off and I went to church when the doors were open. Otherwise, I wasn’t very productive. Recently, however, I’ve gotten more adventurous and it’s made me realize that I’m more capable than I previously thought. I’m thankful for the exposure to new things. Instead of all of the many years of talking about the things that I couldn’t do, it’s time for me to say, “I can and I will.”
I have recently started a blog where I talk about the daily adventures I face living as a quad amputee. Not only has it helped with healing, it’s given me a new project where I can try new things as well as inspire others. Check it out at OneExceptionalLife.com.