The long and winding road to recovery

“I’m going to walk over on my artificial leg. And maybe get up and do a slow dance with somebody.”

Benefit and dance for Tom Lessard
Saturday, November 3 – 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Crediton Community Centre
Sponsored by Centralia-Huron Park Lions Club. Age of majority required. Lunch provided.
Entertainment by Li’l Audrey.
Admission: $5.
Tickets: Corry Price (519) 228-9907 or Debra McNair (519) 235-0158.
Proceeds will offset costs associated with leg amputation Tom received this summer. An artificial leg costs (after government help) at least $2000. Tom could need three in total.

As told to Casey Lessard
Photos by Casey Lessard

Tom Lessard: The pain was out of this world. I’ve never gone through pain like that. Some of it was the gout, but that was just in the toe. The rest of the pain was just a constant screaming pain. Even morphine didn’t work. I had constant pain in my leg 24 hours a day. It was excruciating.

It all started in 1988. I used to go back and forth to Exeter on Fridays. Then my leg started cramping up in my calves. I went to Dr. Gans, and he didn’t know what the heck it was. He was treating me with cortisone and all this other stuff for almost a year. Finally, he said, “You ever been tested for cholesterol?” I said no. “Well, let’s get you tested.”
It was way up. “All right,” he says, “let’s get you on this stuff,” and he put me on Zocor. He got me an appointment with Dr. Mike Sweeney here in London. I got down to him and he said, “I’ll tell you what. You smoke?”
“Yeah, I’ve smoked for 40 years.”
“Well, you either quit smoking or I’ll take your legs.”
I said, “Well, that’s easy enough, I’ll quit smoking.”
Smoking dried out the arteries and took away the elasticity they need. The cholesterol builds up in there. That’s hereditary from my mother and father, but back then we never knew.
The doctor said, “We’re going to put artificial arteries in your legs between your groin and your knees. We’ll do the one this time…”
I said, “Can you do them both?”
“It’s quite an operation,” he said.
I said, “Let’s do them both.”
I got in on the 16th or 17th of December, they did both my legs, and I had some heat down there and the pain was gone. It was December 25th when I got out.
He said, “I’ll guarantee it five years.” That worked along pretty good until about 2002 (14 years later), and then I had problems with my left leg. It started going crampy and all sorts of funny little things. So I went in and they gave me an angioplasty and sort of scraped out the inside of the artery, so that fixed my left leg.
Then in 2004, the same thing happened in my right one. They did that one, but then I got a fungus in my toes. That was about a year and a half ago, at the beginning of 2006. My family doctor tried to treat it but it kept getting thicker and thicker and thicker. Then I got what seemed like gout in my big toe.
At first, they said, “Just stick a piece of cotton batten in between your toes,” so I did that for a week and it didn’t work. So I went to a clinic and the doctor there said, “You’ve got gout.”
She sent me over for x-rays and blood tests, and sure enough, that’s what it was. I got this gout treatment, but nothing was healing properly. My toenail fell off. The foot started swelling up and problems in my right calf again.
I went to see my specialist, but I had a hard time getting to see him. Finally I did, and they hauled me in and that was February of this year. They did an artery bypass from my groin right to my ankle.
After it was over, they took the stitches out a little early and in my calf, there were five or six of them and it didn’t heal properly. They treated that for six months.
I’d go to the specialist and they kept taking pieces off my heel. Then I had an ulcer down there, the toenail was gone, and it was getting black. Finally, they said, we’ll take your toes off. This was the last week of June.
They took the toes off and part of the heel, and two days later when they took the wrapping off, I looked down at my toe and my foot was all black. They took off the rest of the leg to the knee the next Friday.
I came out of the operating room and I felt like a million dollars. I hadn’t been in my bed since October – I couldn’t sleep in my bed because it was too painful. I went 31 days with no sleep in that stretch between October and July.
I played pool the other day with the therapist. I had the leg on and you go around the pool table and see how long you can stand and move around. Also, we played shuffleboard last week. You try to stand for half an hour without too much pressure or getting too tired.
My leg feels better, but I’ve got a job to do at the post office. I like to go visit my friends at the bar. I’d like to go shopping, running to town and back. I can’t rake the lawn or do anything outside, which I always liked to putter around. A lot of the time I can’t even sit out there because I need someone to make sure the doors open for me.
I’ve lost my home life for the time being, and when I’m home I can’t do much. I have to ask Rita, “Can you take me out?” Then we have to get the wheelchair out and the walker and get down the steps. Then we get to where we’re going and it’s a big chore. So I very seldom even ask her.

They say if you’ve had gangrene, it’s a 50 per cent chance you’ll lose your other leg in five years. I had gangrene, so 50 per cent; that’s not bad odds. I’ve had 70 years (his birthday is October 27), and I went 20 years on a five-year promise.
If I have to lose the other one, what can you do about it? If you don’t want to live, you just say leave it on and let the gangrene take you. But I’m not going through that because that gangrene is deadly.

I think it’s very nice of these friends and neighbours to hold this benefit. I’m not going to turn them down. If they raise some money for me, I can certainly use it. We don’t have a lot of money.
I want to walk over there (to the benefit). I’m going to walk over on my artificial leg. And maybe get up and do a slow dance with somebody.