This month we've had more rain and storms than I have seen in 35 years of living in California. And a funny thing happened, I kept telling my wife Pat, "God, my foot is soaked."
She naively said, "Well, take off your tennis shoes."
I had to remind her that it's not the foot I have, rather the foot I don't have from my amputation. She had long ago forgotten that when you're amputated your brain sends signals to your nerves to protect you. So, for three weeks I walked around with a soaked foot that I didn't have, while the real foot was dry. Years ago a doctor had told me that that would happen, for unlike in other injuries, your nerves will calm down or die out over time; but when you're amputated, your brain is still sending signals to your nerves to kind of protect you. As he explained, they send "reinforcements."
Before I step into the shower, my foot is already soaked, and right now I'm in the house alone, looking out the window at this morning's rain, and my foot is soaked again!
It's got me wondering about my little three-legged companion Brie . . . Does she go through the same thing and have phantom pain and a wet paw when it rains?
Unfortunately, I haven't been on my blog since I came down with Covid a couple weeks ago. But now I'm ready to tackle something I never thought I would do. The people who are the closest to me think the next step for me to take is to write a children's book. And the more think about about it, now that Brie is officially my dog because of Lois' passing, I'm ready to write a book titled, The Adventures of Brie and Me. Stay tuned from the two amputees!
It seems like that this year is off to a very good start, for I've been invited to be a guest on my first podcast. The topic is "People with disabilities, and what they can do, rather than what they can't do." The name of the podcast is CanDo Chronicles, which is run by a gentlemen named Adam Bremen. He has cerebral palsy and has spent his whole life in a wheelchair. Someone who works for him picked up my book A Leg to Stand on, and thought I would be a perfect guest . . . of course, with Brie. We're filming on January 11th, and I'll let you know when it will be aired.
Of course, Brie will be with me because she has also shown what she can do with three legs, which is amazing. Soon I will post a video of Brie running full tilt, gracefully as a dog with four legs. It's quite amazing the speed she can pick up with my coaching. She really gets into it and seems proud of herself. I know, of course, that I'm partial because I love her, but I still am in awe of her fluid motion, making running seem natural. I can't wait to share the video with everyone.
Last summer this delightful young woman, Jamie, and her girlfriends were dining at il Fornaio, where I work two days a week as a host. We struck up a conversation, and they kept asking me more and more questions, and I didn't have enough time to say more, but I said, "If you really want to know more about my life, it's in a book I wrote, and it's for sale in downtown Carmel." Then in early December, Jamie walked into the restaurant and told me how much she enjoyed the book, and now her girlfriends were reading it. It was an early Christmas surprise! I never know how my books are going to touch people, for sometimes it may take a full year before I hear anything. It's very gratifying, and Jamie certainly made my day.
Since I've had my right leg amputated below the knee, of course, there are always funny episodes or nicknames people give you. But one of my favorites happened in 2019.
One day while sitting with my friend Phil, he asked, "Do you want to have a little fun?" I replied that I did, and he told me that our mutual friend, singer Maria Muldaur was doing a bus tour back east to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Phil said, "Let's give her a call and see how it's going."
Phil put his phone on speaker so I could hear the whole conversation. To my surprise, Maria said, “Oh, Tony Five Toes is with you?”
I chimed in, asking how the tour was going, and she said, “It’s funny to hear from you because just last night your name came up while I was talking to Melanie.”
Melanie is my favorite singer-songwriter, whom I’ve met several times. She had performed at Woodstock in 1969 and was celebrating the reunion of that great festival with Maria and other musicians of the era. Melanie said to Maria, “You know Tony in California?” Maria said that she did, and then it occurred to them that they both had signed my prosthetic leg. (The leg I wrote about in my last blog post.)
Well, the fact that Maria was talking to Melanie at the reunion in New York while I was sitting on my couch in California made me feel like I was the celebrity.
Phil continued his conversation with Maria while I was listening in and before they hung up, she said, “Tell Tony Five Toes goodbye.”
After they hung up, I asked Phil, “What’s this Tony Five Toes?” He replied, “Well, I was afraid it might hurt your feelings, but that’s how we’ve been referring to you.”
I said, “I’m okay with it, because, actually, it was pretty clever. So now that time’s gone by and I’m okay with it, they just call me Toes!
(It sounds like I have a Mafia name, Tony the Toes Albano!)
Being an amputee, I ended up with an old prototype leg that was just standing in my living room for a long time . . .
I turned to my dear friend Don Hobbs and asked, "What do you do with an old leg? Should I throw it out?" He said no, and suggested that I ask all the performers in the music industry that I admire to sign it. I replied that I'd never ask anyone for their autograph. He said,, "You know, a leg is different."
Well, one of the songwriters I most admired was John Prine, and when he came to town to perform at Carmel's Sunset Theater, I had to give it a try. So, after his sound check, I met him coming out and said, "John, would you sign my leg?" He said he would be happy to. Wow! It was so easy that I started really liking the idea, and when any performer came to the area that I admired, I would meet them after the sound checks.
Soon the employees at the Sunset Theater got to know me, and I didn't have to explain why I was there. They'd say to the artists, "You've got to sign the 'leg man's' leg!' So, after their sound checks, that's what they did. Artists who've signed the leg are Graham Nash; David Crosby; Merle Haggard; and Art Garfunkel. Jackson Browne also signed it, but I was also told by the staff that he wouldn't be too happy if he saw my plastic water bottle, so I ditched it in the recycle bin before he came out. Maria Muldaur started singing "Midnight at the Oasis, while she signed the leg. Others were Timothy B. Schmit, from the Eagles; Arlo Guthrie, and his daughter Sarah.
Funny things happen when people sign your leg. For instance, before meeting Arlo Guthrie outside his tour bus he wanted to look at the leg before he signed it, so he could see in whose company he was in. After signing it, he said, I don't want to see it on ebay." He also told me to have Sarah sign it, "Because she's the real star of the family."
Melanie, the great singer/songwriter who influenced me the most in my teenage years, unbelievably signed her name right in the middle of the leg, as if it was waiting for her to sign it there.
35 years later I met Melanie again at her hotel in Salinas prior to a concert. She had read the story in my book, "Life is a Bumpy Road," about how she took me into Carnegie Hall when I was 18, and didn't have tickets to her concert. The night of the concert in Salinas when I was sitting in the audience, she asked me to come up and tell the story to the people who came to hear her. It was a thrilling night for me to be reunited with my biggest inspiration.
(An interesting thing I've observed after all the people have signed the leg is that the women always signed it with colored markers, while men use black.)
As I mentioned, John Prine was the first one to sign the leg, and several years later, I happened to run into him at Walgreens. I told him how much his music meant to me, then added, "By the way, John, I want to thank you for signing my leg a couple years ago. You know, you were the first one. Do you remember signing my leg?"
He answered, "Of course." I was shocked that he even remembered me, and said, "Really?" And he said, "It's the only leg I've ever signed."
And that's how I got known around town as "the leg man."
Recently my three-legged buddy, Brie, and I met a lovely young woman named Kait. And like the two of us, Kait also has leg problems. She's had many operations that have tested her resilience and outlook on life, but she handles her challenges beautifully. As a physical therapist, I'm sure she brings a special kind of understanding and caring to those with whom she works. And what a smile! I'm glad to have become the recipient of Kait's friendship, not only because of what we have in common, but because I sense that she has so much to offer the world. What she's experienced gives her a unique perspective, making her the type of person to whom others in like situations will naturally turn. Yes, she's definitely a breath of fresh air!
Sometimes I consider myself very fortunate that I lost my leg in my fifties, because I can only imagine how difficult it is for, let's say a teenage boy or girl. I'm sure dating is awkward. I'm also very grateful that my amputation is below the knee, which gives me directions on my movement. And being aware of all the different situations, I do get many compliments on how well I walk, and so many people say they wouldn't know that I was missing a leg had I not been wearing shorts.
Over the years many people have come to me for advice, especially when newly amputated. It's a wonderful feeling to help out fellow amputees. One of the most asked questions comes from loved ones asking if it would it be okay if I came and spoke to a person they care about who needs encouragement in giving an artificial leg a try. So, I am here to help anyone who is having trouble not only trying a leg, but also trying a leg and finding it too difficult. Since I'm in this situation, I have many answers for some of the problems that come up. Sometimes people give up because they are going to the wrong Prosthetist. Over the years I have recommended the man I go to right here in Monterey, who has given me great success. His name is James P. Kirn, Certified Orthotist-Prosthetist, here in Monterey at 831-655-3580. Don't lose hope, because in the beginning it is very difficult, but my biggest regret is that I can't wear sandals!
Since I've had Brie since she was a puppy, her being my three-legged companion, I took it for granted how smoothly and gracefully she walks and runs. But now I have come to be fascinated that she's able to do that with ease; because as an amputee myself, when I went to see my "prosthetic man" with Brie, he brought it to my attention that what she does is not easy. Somehow she's adjusted and does it flawlessly. Now, when I bring her to the beach and let her off the leash, I am so much more aware of the speed that she can pick up, without leaning to one side. You would never know she's missing a leg. I am in awe of this amazing little being.
When Brie and I are out, people are amazed that she and I are both missing a leg. She lost her leg as a puppy when she was dropped, and I lost my leg in a car accident. The part I never tell people, because they probably would think I was making it up, is that my grandfather, who helped raise me, was also missing a leg! He lost his leg in an elevator accident when he was 17. I never mention that because it seems unbelievable and people would think I was just fooling around, but it’s true. Brie and I are missing a leg on the right side, and so was my grandfather! I don’t know what the statistical chances are of that, but if someone has an idea, I’m all ears.