The Final Leg

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She likes sitting in gardens and following the lazy flight of a butterfly with her eyes. Everybody likes sitting in gardens but not everybody notices butterflies. Which is a shame because what’s the point of butterflies if you don’t notice them? Butterflies are nature’s perfume. It’s the COVID-19 season. The bareness of the roads. The haziness of the future. The lack of recognisable continuum. Sitting in the garden seems like a treat, something illicit, a cheat-day. But here she is, her legs stretched out on the rocking bench. If you look closely in that picture, it’s smaller than the other leg- knee-down, like it belongs to someone else – a thin girl.

She’s spending the last weeks with her left leg before it’s amputated.

She’s 32 and she seems to have spent a great deal of her life trying to either save it, or live with it.

She remembers the time she and her aunt went to India in 2014. How the heat rose from the very pavements of Bangalore. When it rained, it felt warm against your face. The air, spicy and smoggy at the same time. Children pointing at them in the streets, touching her hair. She recalls how a gaggle of doctors would gather around her leg with files and pens, scribbling, asking questions in their heavily accented English. How attentive they were, keen and very curious and eager, constantly writing her responses down in long yellow pads. How older, bendy specialists with silver mustaches would come into her room in a cloud of wisdom, flanked by more fresh-faced doctors, standing away in great reverence, pens poised like intellectual swords. The older specialists always sat on the edge of her bed as if they knew each other before and were there to read her a bedtime story. They all spoke to her softly, almost in a fatherly way. They never took notes. They didn’t need to; their brains were sponges. Their eyes the colour of black tea.

The hospital didn’t have many black people coming to that hospital so the doctors spent more time on her, driven by curiosity but also by science and an adventurous sense of discovery. “There were some very cute ones,” she says. Floppy-haired Indian doctors who resembled Bollywood villains. India was the last resort. She had done the rounds in the major hospitals in Kenya – Aga-Khan, KNH, Kijabe – and specialists had prodded and X-rayed but it all came to naught. So she stayed three months then went back again for two weeks. They all tried everything and said the same thing; this leg was alive. It’s not dark. The toes can move. It was a nerve thing but nothing can be done because all everybody did didn’t help.

When you have a bad leg, you don’t have a normal teenage life. Teenage flies right over your head. Your leg sticks out like a sore thumb; you are the girl who walks funny. “The usual mischief of teenagers – partying, going out, lighting your first cigarette – was lost on me,” she says. Then she stumbled into college and what she remembers about college was that she got a crutch. A crutch – though it helps greatly in locomotion – comes with its own problems; it’s an admission that you are not quite like everybody else and that your leg is no good. That you need help to walk. And you are slower at it. You are also aware that you can’t run if it came down to that.

A crutch is not discreet. You can’t blend in a crowd holding a crutch. People notice. And they stare. And often ask insensitive questions. “So I learnt to lie, to make up stories, the wilder the better.” She fell off a roof. A car ran over her foot. She was running from a mama hippo in Naivasha. A psychotic boyfriend pushed her out of a moving vehicle. The dog ate it – after eating her homework. [OK, this is just mine]. “I learnt to detach myself from my leg and talk about it like it belonged to someone else. Like in the third person.”

Then the men. Her dating history is minuscule, faded and wiped off like wind on a drawing in the sand. There are men who imagined the leg was a small accident that would recover after three days and were shocked when it didn’t. There are men who were attracted to the idea of her with a crutch. Who saw it as a fetish. It’s how something rose in their eyes when she leaned on it.

“Some said they found it very sexy,” she says. “They wanted to try it on, as if it was some kind of hat. I have heard some strange things.” She sips her Fanta.

“Have you ever had to hit someone with your crutch?” I ask.

She laughs. “Yeah. Of course a few times. Against an ill-behaved man, of course.”

However, the biggest problem with going about with a crutch is that you are reduced to it, she says. “Everything about you boils down to, Julia with the crutch,” she says. She has never been seen in any prism but through the crutch. But she chooses to see it differently. She has four crutches but the one she has today is her favourite, she calls it Sophie. It fits well in her arms. “We have been partners in crime, we go everywhere together. I will miss it when I no longer need it.”

How her leg became what it is now is that when she was about four or three years old, she got a vaccination injection that went awry. Her leg swelled and became tender and she remembers missing school a lot and not being able to walk properly. “But I never knew this until recently when my dad told me.” she says. “My mom wouldn’t tell me.”

A leg like that comes with pain and pain is something she is well acquainted with. Physical pain. “There is no time I remember in my life that my leg didn’t pain. It hurts all the time. And it’s not just an ache, it’s the kind of pain that keeps you in bed. So I have always been on pain medication throughout my life to manage this pain and it’s always been different types of pain at different times. There is the pain when it’s a hot day or a cold night or a hot night, a rainy day. It’s a horrible pain that makes you wish for death. Sometimes it feels like someone is sawing off my leg slowly, or there is a fire burning right inside my bones, or someone is trying to rip off my leg but a last strand of muscle is still holding it tight. It’s mostly right here, from my knee going down,” she says. “Having this leg has been like taking care of a baby. Sometimes I could be sleeping and my leg wakes me up because it’s too hot and painful so I have to uncover it or it’s too cold and painful. I get these uncomfortable painful twitches.”

There was no relief when she decided that she would amputate it, do away with it. And then Coronavirus happened and now she’s waiting for it to end then she will have it taken off. The wait has come with nightmares. “I have dreamt that I’m standing in the theater and watching them amputate my leg and I’m crying uncontrollably and when I wake up my pillow is wet and I’m dehydrated.” She dreams of a surgeon saying that he will upload the video of the amputation on YouTube and she’s begging him not to and he’s saying, you don’t have a choice, it’s going up and millions of people will watch it. “I have dreamt of the anesthesia not working and I wake up as they are sawing off my leg and I’m screaming in pain but they can’t hear me.”

She has dreams of someone chasing her, dogs barking, her stumbling down, soil in her mouth.

You wonder if there is relief now that she’s ridding herself off the pain when she gets it amputated.

It’s confusing, she says. “I will definitely miss doing my toenails. I have been told I have nice toes. I also don’t know what will happen when I take away the pain. I don’t know what will replace it because I have known pain all my life, it’s occupied my thoughts and mind. I have always known that if I’m in pain then others must be in pain. It’s because of this that I’m very sensitive to the pain of others.” She pauses. “I’m conflicted. I want to stop the pain but what will that turn me into? Will I be less sensitive to other’s pain because I was caught up in stopping mine?

Whatever happens next, she is now spending her last days with her leg. She takes her everywhere. She paints her toes different colours so that one day she can remember how it felt to have a left leg with toes. It’s been a complicated relationship and she realizes that it’s time to let go of the leg and the pain and everything that comes with the leg. Maybe after, she will discover a new life in this final leg.

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120 Comments
  1. New life in this final leg!
    Deep stuff. Please assure her that she doesn’t have to have nightmares, at least regarding anaesthesia. For it’s much safer nowadays . Even smooth. But surgery
    ……..!

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  2. Oh the things we take for granted, like painting our toe nails.
    Dear God, thankyou for my toe nails.

    Thankyou for sharing this story with us person with beautiful toe nails. Have you tried the colour turquoise on them? I think they’d look great!

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  3. Wishing her a better life.. without the pain.
    Had an accident and hurt my left leg, it’s been a year since with crutches,then a crutch and now a walking stick and a little pain. Can’t imagine a lifetime of the same.praying for her

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  4. This story has taken me back a sad memory lane.

    May God give you all the strength that you need and trust in Him that all will be well.

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  5. Endurance is the queen of all virtues…May God grant you the strength to endure these hard times. My prayers are with.

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  6. You read such stories and you are grateful for life, for being healthy, having all your faculties… It’s a lesson to always give gratitude man

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  7. Julia is an inspiration to many. She’s a strong lady and just everything normal we have. Her pain are the everyday challenge she goes through like us. Lets take a pause and reflect if you have a good body without pain is a gift enough to God. You will make it through it all and your smile will keep on shining.

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  8. Ooh dear God they little blessings that we never think of, like having toes
    May joy and peace replace your pain

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  9. May she have even better experiences after the surgery. Her positive countenance makes her pain in life much more bearable. BTW, thanks for your directions to the Rolling Stones website. I am passing my lock down time doing a lot of reading there.

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  10. Gee, what a story!
    We do take a lot of things for granted! Don’t we!
    My prayers too, are with her as she prepares to say bye to her hurting leg. May she know pain no more!

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  11. Am so conflicted by this sad story ☹️. I couldn’t help but cry a river. Oh the things we take for granted till we don’t have them anymore! It shall be well with her after the leg is gone. More grace dearie

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  12. It is only after reading this and immersing myself in her world that I realize I take a lot for granted. May we learn to appreciate all the…i was gonna say little things in life like air but NO, being able to breathe is major, moving around with no masks or fear of COVID-19 is something. How I miss and appreciate life before we were enslaved by the Corona Virus!

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  13. Praying for you…life sucks at times…. Look at it like starting another season in life. God will hold your hand my dear .

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  14. The most strong girl around. I’ve known her all through our primary school days and the teenage life. Everything will turn out right Julia <3

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  15. She is a statistic in some pharmaceuticals while we continue to bear the agony with her.and to think hers is not the end but more follow her down the path of vaccines

  16. Her story reminds me of a scar on my left leg after a vaccination injection that went wrong and my Dad revealed this to me as well.Grateful for the gift of both my legs, and that I can still paint my toe nails is a miracle never to be taken for granted.It shall be well Julia

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  17. Hugs Julia.You are the strongest girl I know..How you manage to always smile beats me.
    May the pain be replaced with a lot of happiness.Sending you love

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  18. Each day we learn to appreciate each little thing that we have
    Cliff the tall where are you ….Peter wesh too and Bumbelee …Tushy hi

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  19. She’s so brave
    Biko you forgot to ask if she plans to get a prosthetic…….. I picture her with a cool robotic leg that she can build even wilder stories about ❤️
    Wishing her all the best

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  20. This article came at a time when I was in pains at 3am and thinking hard! Probably I might as well need to tell my story, Biko. Pain is bad, may she find peace.

  21. May the lord God Almighty continue giving you the strength like he has always done.Your story is so inspiring. You are in my prayers. All will be well

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  22. She is my hood mate and what she is saying is so true…..she is actually my age mate and all the years I hv known her with the crutches.i wish you all the best with your new decision and just know we love u just for been u.

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  23. Good read,
    Meanwhile that blog that had musterbating elephants, I don’t seem to remember the title yet I d like to go back to it, a reminder would do me justice
    Thank you

  24. Life… so unscripted!!! Small things that we are so ungrateful for, Lord forgive us. May her pain never go into waste.

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  25. “There are men who were attracted to the idea of her with a crutch. Who saw it as a fetish. It’s how something rose in their eyes when she leaned on it.”
    These are men I would want to fight on her behalf.. As I thank God for my toe nails..
    Best wishes her way ..

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  26. Oooo so touching… This pandemic has affected way too much than we thought. I wish her successful surgery,and my she recover well, and know no more pain.

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  27. It must have taken a lot of courage for you to come to that decision. I don’t know whether your name is Julia or its just a name Biko used, but all will be well. Believe that. Stay safe

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  28. What kept running through my mind while I read this is that while we go through life, it’s the experiences, the love, the pain, all in different forms that give life a meaning, and we all have different experiences..
    This is your story, it’s your journey, the world shall be a better place because you walked the face of it..

  29. Strong lady. May the rest of your days be pain free. May the Almighty lay His healing hand on you.
    Thanks for sharing your story, the things we take for granted…

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  30. spending the last weeks with her left leg before it’s amputated… My heart almost sunk after reading this. Wishing you peace and healing

  31. Felt this story cause it could easily be me.The same story of vaccination going awry.Saved though have a scar. Stay strong siz, you’ll be through this.Bless up.

  32. We are about the same age. The same thing happened to me. The effect on me is on my left hand and slightly on the left leg.
    Hope all will be well soon.

  33. I hope she finds happiness even after all this. A life with no pain.

    We really take some things for granted – like having both legs.

    I wish her the best in life!

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  34. It’s going to be ok.
    There’s always some pain in our lives, only takes different forms, but there’s always pain. This is what I’ve learnt.
    So take heart, once the leg is gone something else will replace it, nature abhors vacuum.

  35. It is sad to read this ……a case of negligence. Very many happening around the countries some fatal. May she continue being strong!

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  36. ”When I take away the pain I don’t know what will replace it,because I have known pain to be part of me” felt this.Wishing her well.

  37. The anxiety and what if’s are the worse positions to be in. However, looking at the brighter picture it’s said, it’s better to look/enjoy the moment because in the end things always turn out okay. If you worry so much and not live in it, the future comes into perspective and u laugh back saying “look man, am okay, it’s okay, there was nothing to worry about”

  38. She must have had a hard time.
    My prayers are with you.

    I don’t mean to negative but people who have undergone amputation develop a symptom called Phantom pain.

  39. It’s sad when she says she’ve known pain all her life.it helps me remember to count my blessings.hope she found counseling to help her go through it all.may she find peace ahead.

  40. being whole has always been taken for granted until something unusual happens to you then you realize how blessed you are

  41. This article has made me realize that we should never take anything for granted and should always be thankful foe each and everything… Hope she gets to live without any more pain after the amputation and live life to the fullest..

  42. This is surreal. Goes to show you things we take for granted.
    Adjusting to an amputation takes time and she may experience a variety of emotions throughout the journey. Utilising practical strategies such as self-care, staying in touch with support networks and being informed and involved in the recovery process can all facilitate the process of coping, leading to positive health outcomes.

    We wish her well

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  43. Final Leg…. I get it. But what does she plan to do with the amputated leg? Bury it? Keep it as a souvenir? Allow some heartless people to cremate it? How do you allow someone to take the toes you have been painting for 32 years?

  44. May God see you through the process. May he rid you of pain and enable you to face life without the leg. It shall be well.

  45. I have decided to call myself the binge reader. Today is June 5th and I am reading this post from April 7th. Life happened and I suddenly became too busy. I was an avid reader of this blog. Every Tuesday I would refresh my email from morning until the post came up and read it while still fresh. But then I realized Biko’s work is a work of art. You read it for the first time and you get so engrossed in it like it’s a whole novel. You re-read it and you notice things you never noticed the first time. It’s amazing. So now I am a binge reader. When life chases me I run with it, when I slow down like on the train or the bus I open my email and search bikozulu. I scroll down to the oldest one that I hadn’t read because I am obsessed with following order. The older it is the juicier for me.
    I pray that this covid season ends quickly so that she may get to have her leg amputated. Living with pain like that from a young age is depressing. All will be well

  46. Such a moving story but I love that this lady has made peace with her leg, for there’s nothing more precious than inner peace.