Hello everyone! I’m Terri Ross, a Lead Advocate for the Amputee Coalition, founder and President of Paducah Area Amputees in Action, Inc Support Group and also the proud mother of Kristin and Kelsey, wife of David and the very proud Gran of Colton. I am also a daughter, little sister of the family, Aunt TT to several nieces, nephews, and great nieces and nephews. My husband and I are both second generation farm families and proud to continue the family tradition of row cropping, although we aren’t as involved as we once were when his family farmed their own farms and others, too.
My husband, David and I now enjoy taking a long weekend when we are able; attending car shows, drag races and visiting with our long distance friends. Our girls are older now, the oldest graduating from college this spring, the youngest graduating from high school in May. We enjoy traveling to warm locations in the winter with friends and basking in the sunshine for a few days to escape the dreary winter weather. These are memories we are making together that will. hopefully, last a lifetime.
There was a day in September, 2003 when I almost lost the chance at making memories with my family. Just another busy workday for me, not enough time in the day to get it all done, working through lunch, grabbing a bite to eat as I worked at my desk, too tired to cook, so we planned to eat out as we did often. Life was good, we were on top of things, had nice cars, great jobs, I loved my job, bought my kids whatever they needed and most of what they wanted. All that came to a screeching halt on that beautiful September Friday afternoon.
When I woke up the next Wednesday afternoon for a few minutes, I wondered where I was, I could tell I must be in a hospital, but I knew it wasn’t the familiar surroundings of the local hospitals I had visited and even been a patient in a a few times in my life. I heard a few familiar voices, people speaking to me, but back to sleep I went, then later, doctors surrounding me and telling me I was going to have another surgery, this one to wire my jaw shut in the morning. This, I understood and wanted no part of, but someone must have hit the “sleep” button again because they upset me. The next thing I remember is my husband, David, standing beside me and leaning down beside me and softly telling me, “I have to tell you, something, Babe.”
It’s been over nine years since those words were spoken to me and I have literally come a long way, Baby! Back from the edge of death, so that the thought of it doesn’t frighten me like it once does, I don’t fear the pain or uncertainty of wondering what happens in those final moments. I am definitely a believer in Heaven and Hell, but today I am not here to argue those points with you, just to tell you since I have been to the brink, my fears were quieted. From being silenced by a respirator, a tracheotomy and jaws wired shut to conquering one of my biggest fears, the dreaded public speaking.
Although by accident, my accident has led me down a new path in life. At first, I refused to take part in any of it. I was determined to return to my job and work as I did before, although it took me 13 month of intensive rehab and numerous surgeries and setbacks, I returned to my previous position with the company on a part time basis. I worked part time until the they would no longer allow me to stay in a part time position and I had to leave my job. This was like a kick in the gut, I had worked so hard, tried so hard to to return to what I loved doing and be the best employee I could be and for this to happen sent me spiraling into feeling as if I had been working for nothing. My job defined me, I was good at it, I was great at it, really. I did whatever needed to be done and left no task unfinished. There were days before my accident I was so sick with fever, the safety manager, followed me around, demanding me to leave, because I was sick and probably spreading germs. I refused and told him I could not leave, I had work to do and vacation/sick days were for days when I was not sick, when I could enjoy the day off, but I hardly took a day off, I rolled over vacation days into the next year or took the cash instead because I was too busy.
The “after accident” me would drag myself into work for five hours a day, four days a week. Some days I could only get myself there in a wheelchair. I would have someone back my truck out of the garage so I could get in it from my wheelchair. Going out the back door of our now modified house, I would hold my walker in my lap, along with my purse, wheel to the front of the house and load my wheelchair in the back of the truck. I would then hop to the front of the truck on my walker. Then, after loading the walker, I would get in and drive to work, already tired after just getting loaded up to go to work. A few times, I forgot to put the brakes on the wheelchair and just as I stood up, the chair would roll backwards down the driveway, almost to the road, usually ending up at the foot of the driveway. I would stand helplessly, watching it roll, praying it didn’t roll out in front of a car and hurt someone and silently cursing myself for being so stupid. By the time I could get it retrieved by driving down and loading it up, I would usually be in tears and I would just try to get myself together before I got to work and wipe the tears away before I arrived.” Everyone has bad days”, I would tell myself. “When I get to work, I’ll forget about this and I’ll be ok”
I began talking to other amputees in my doctor’s office, at physical therapy and at my prosthetist’s office and asking them questions about their prosthetic limbs. Did they like their limb they were wearing? How did they lose their limb? Why did their limb look different from others I had seen? My curiosity about these things had me asking so many questions to my doctor, he approached me about starting a support group for amputees in our area. He told me he always knew there was a need, but felt they needed a person with leadership qualities and I might be the right person. He asked me to think about it and I agreed. Later, he asked me to visit a patient of his, who was having difficulty adjusting to limb loss.
This would be my first peer visit and it was both difficult and healing for both of us. I approached the patient, an older lady, who was in physical therapy at the hospital after her amputation, learning to use her prosthesis. When I spoke to her and suggested I was going to start having meeting with other amputees, offered her my support, told her my story, she began to cry. I was very upset also and went to the nurse’s station, found a nurse who had cared for me several times in the stays on the unit and also cried in her arms.
Later, I attended a clinic, where several amputees and family members were gathered and saw this lady with her daughter. The daughter was asking if anyone knew of a support group which her mother had been told about by someone who had visited her while in the hospital. I reluctantly spoke up and told her it was me, but was relieved to learn she was excited to come to a meeting. The lady and her daughters attended meetings until she passed away from another condition a few years later. She was able to wear her prosthesis, walk with a walker, then a cane and return to her home, which was her goal. We were so proud of her success. Mission accomplished.
I knew I wasn’t finished with my mission, I had only begun. From a conversation with a lady who needed some encouragement and who also helped me find myself. My new path in life. Starting a support group is difficult and there are times I want to quit.Those days when I am tired and want to go home and relax. But, then I worry if there is someone new coming that night and if I am not there, will that make the different in whether they succeed or fail? If my friend, Jeanne and her husband had not shown up the first night at my first attempt at having a meeting and been so loyal all these years, would my group have been successful? Jeanne has been an amputee since age 8 and will tell you being an amputee at 8, was very tough, kids are mean and life was rough for her at times. She married a wonderful, loving man, who attends these meeting with her because they still enjoy each other’s company after over 30 years of marriage. She worked long hours and walked three flights of stairs every day for over 20 years and has been my inspiration since the day I met her. There’s nothing Jeanne can’t do and I was determined to do the things Jeanne told me she could do and inspired me to try new things. She has been through so many things in life and never thinks twice about just doing whatever everyone else does. I would not be where I am today without Jeanne and her support for our group.
These last few weeks have been hectic and I have gone places I have never been before. Representing all of us by testifying before the KY House Insurance and Banking Committee on behalf of the prosthetic parity bill is something I had been working toward for almost two years. The Amputee Coalition has been preparing people like me for the chance to be ready to represent each state that does not yet have prosthetic parity. I am grateful to them for having faith in me to represent all of us. Speaking for us, representing those without a chance to speak, who do not have the opportunity given to a select few by luck of the draw, or media spotlight, by being an outstanding athlete. Those who get up every day and try again, blisters, socks, pads, pain and squeaks, I represent each one of you and I am one of you, the blisters, socks, and pain, included. Thank you for letting me represent you.
If you have questions about the Amputee Coalition or Paducah Area Amputees in Action, Inc. Please go to http://www.amputee-coalition.org or call 1-888-AMP-KNOW
You can contact Paducah Area Amputees in Action, Inc. at 270 488-3020 or find us on facebook