For this blog I interviewed Craig Towler, who started an organization called the Amputee Concierge in order to help people find answers to their questions and connect them with resources following limb loss. I first heard about Craig shortly after the incident that lead to amputation of his legs happened, and was recently connected with him through my friend Nicole DeBoom. Craig is extremely insightful about amputation and life in general, so I hope you enjoy reading the thoughts that he was gracious enough to share below.
Can you talk a little about when and how you were injured?
My amputation was the result of an intoxicated driver on July 4, 2016. I made it home after putting on a 10k/5k run at the Boulder Reservoir to unload my vehicle. I was excited to go celebrate the 4th of July with friends and watch fireworks. Just as I was about to finish unloading, I felt an impact that pushed me into the back of my vehicle, and before I knew what had happened I looked down and saw both of my legs detached. I immediately knew my life was in danger, and action had to be taken immediately for me to survive. I was in tremendous shock at the time, but I remember everything very vividly. I was standing behind the tailgate of my SUV when I felt the impact, and I was pushed into the back of it with my legs hanging out the back. Shortly after the impact, people who were nearby at the time came to my assistance and called for an ambulance. I instructed them to help me lay flat on the ground. To this day, I’m still not sure how I had the mindset that I did, but my thoughts were very clear, and I knew exactly what needed to happen if I did not want to die. Once I was on the ground, I could see the amount of blood that I was losing, and I was losing it very quickly. I then instructed the people around me to remove their belts, and secure them as tightly as possible to my upper legs above the injury to work as a make-shift tourniquet. I later learned from the doctors that the tourniquets had stayed on my legs until I entered surgery hours later, and are the reason that I am alive today. I was taken to the local hospital near my house, and was then air lifted to another hospital with a more advanced trauma unit. Once there, I underwent 5 surgeries throughout the course of the week involving the amputation of both of my legs. One is below the knee, and the other is through the knee. Skin grafts were also taken from both of my upper legs to close the wounds. I was in intensive care for over a week.
What sort of familiarity did you have with the amputee/disability/adaptive community prior to your injury?
Prior to my injury I was not very involved with the adaptive community. Through my work with race production I saw some amazing adaptive athletes compete, as well as worked with a few organizations like Athletes in Tandem, and the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
What sorts of thoughts went through your mind the first few months following amputation?
A lot of thoughts were going through my mind. In the beginning, everything was happening so quickly it was hard to comprehend what was really happening. Everything changed in a split second. When such a large change takes place without any warning or preparation I think it takes a while to come to terms with the new reality. I’ve added a paragraph from one of my own blog entry which describes this, and how I decided to cope with things personally: “Focusing on what we can control is how we become empowered. As a bi-lateral amputee I was never asked if I wanted to lose both of my legs. No one ever asked, ‘is it cool if you spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair?’ Asking what if, and why me are all things that cause cycles of waste and lead to negativity. The reason for this is there is not an answer to these questions. Therefore, we need to only present questions to ourselves that have answers. Like; ‘how can we improve our life circumstances?’ That’s a very broad question, so let’s bring it in a little. How can we feel better on a day to day basis? Still a little broad, so let’s make our world a little smaller, and start with ‘what can I do today personally to make my tomorrow better?’ This is where I started. I was uncertain (and still am) of my future, and had no idea what I was going to do with my life now that I’m an amputee. With this uncertain information, I decided to focus on what I could control in that moment.” Read more of Craig’s blog by clicking here.
What sorts of things helped you adjust to your “new” life as a person with a disability?
Honestly, I don’t think there was any one tangible thing that did help. Time has been my greatest ally in the process. I have a better understanding of time, and how valuable it is, as well as how healing it can be.
Have you been fit with prosthetic legs, and what has that experience been like?
I was fitted for prosthetics in November 2016. It has been a very slow and frustrating learning process due to a few healing complications that have been slowing me down. In order to keep my left knee, and to keep my right femur fully intact I was forced to have two skin graphs taken from both of my thighs. Skin grafts take a very long time to build layers and the normal elasticity you have with normal skin. This restricted me to only walking for about 10-15 min tops once per week. I’ve also had an area on my right leg which has not been healing properly and has prevented me from wearing my prosthetics for the past 5 moths. Just this week I found out that my body was rejecting a fiber wire suture that was used in my initial amputation and was trying to push it out of my body. This process has created a deep pocket inside of my leg, and I’m back to doing wound care every day. I’m hoping I can finally start the real healing process and be back on my feet in a few months.
Do you deal with chronic pain (phantom or otherwise)? If so, what sorts of strategies have worked for you (if any)?
I experience phantom pain, as well as just general discomfort every single day. I’m still waiting for that morning I wake up feeling as I did before: refreshed, energized, and ready for the day! I have not used any specific strategy except for an understanding that my body is now different so there are going to be different feelings associated with my new body. The only thing that I did not like was being prescribed drugs to cope with my physical and phantom pain. Our bodies are not meant to be numbed to life just as our brains are not! We are designed to feel pain for a reason, and this is all part of nature’s healing process. I am currently not taking any narcotics for pain, and have not since a week after I was released from the hospital. I am currently weaning myself off my prescribed nerve blocker for my phantom pain and looking for natural remedies/supplementations. It is a very freeing feeling to not take prescription drugs. In my mind, they are shackles preventing us from being our true selves. Yes, they are needed in certain circumstances, but our doctors have a culture of continuing to prescribe us drugs when they are no longer necessary and it’s up to us to decide what is best for not only our bodies, but our minds as well.
Do you think of yourself as a different person now? Why or why not?
After a life altering event, especially one where trauma occurs, it would be untrue and naïve to say that I am not a different person. However, I am not a different person purely because of those events. I’m also careful to not refer to what happened to me as an accident, because I do not feel that when something can be avoided it can be called an accident, and takes the accountability out of the situation.
To say a person changes after the event only because the event took place takes away the agency involved in the change. As people, we have the ability to evolve and survive through anything. If we allow ourselves to think outside events can change us, that takes away our consent to what is happening in our own lives. I could say that after my life was changed I became more introspective with my thinking, but to say this takes away any potential I had for this type of thinking in the first place, and in a way, gives control to the outside event.
I’m choosing to empower myself and my thoughts by understanding that yes, I have changed since I have lost my legs, but whether my thoughts have changed is unknown other than the fact that I now have experienced more pain, feelings, and struggles. We have potential in our minds and every life experience unlocks some of the thought potential we have stored. Just as a person travels the world their thoughts evolve with the growing knowledge they acquire. A person who experiences trauma, and pain, gains that same knowledge in respect to those life experiences and therefore unlocks new thought potential.
To allow a horrible event to become something other than that is to take away from the event itself. People will begin to view that event as the turning point for good. The terrible event needs to remain as such, and the focus needs to be on the actual person overcoming adversity. It was the person that overcame adversity and is the survivor, it is not the event that caused this.
Do people tell you that you’re an inspiration? If so, in what context and how do you feel about that label?
Yes, people do tell me I’m an inspiration. Right off the bat I say thank you and understand that they are very well intentioned. Internally I do not really understand the label, externally I know I’m faced with a lot of adversity and watching someone overcome such adversity can be inspirational. I know this first hand. While I was in the rehab hospital I used social media to explore and connect with people who have experienced similar life changing events as mine. I was also able to see the amazing things that these people were accomplishing in their lives. This helped motivate and inspire me to try new things and never put up boundaries for myself. I’d like to put myself out there with hopes of inspiring others just as I was myself.
What goals do you have for yourself in the next few years?
I’ve decided to not give a timeline to my goals. I find this to be restrictive in a sense, as well as unrealistic with so much unknown out there yet to take place. When we place a timeline on ourselves and our goals, we are restricted to what can be accomplished and in some circumstances, delay a result. If we have a certain amount of time to complete something, why would we finish early? Every dream and goal that I have has a sense of urgency attached to it to accomplish it as soon as possible.
Can you explain the Amputee Concierge – what is it and why did you start it?
Amputee Concierge is based off of a necessity, and a lack of direction that I experienced personally since the day I was released from the hospital. After a traumatic life changing experience the victims are now faced with a lifetime of new challenges. Thankfully we live in a time where there are tons of organizations and victim’s advocacy platforms available to help people, but the problem I encountered was finding them. If and when I finally found an organization I felt could be beneficial, mustering up the courage to reach out to them was also very challenging.
I created Amputee Concierge to help people bridge the gap between the victims and the help they’re searching for by creating a free advocacy platform designed specifically to help people find the answers they need. I want to use my knowledge, and resources I’ve learned through my experiences to help others get their questions answered faster, and have an ally in their journey.
Anything else you would like to share?
I invite you to learn more about my own story and Amputee Concierge. We’re defined and connected by our shared experiences and the connections we make with one another are invaluable with unimaginable potential.