Survival

I woke up with no hands and feet

Wendy thought she had the flu but it was far more sinister

Wendy Wallace woke up one day to find her life had changed forever

Stuffing laundry into the washing machine, I whizzed through my to-do list in my head.

A mum to three teenagers, Mike Jr, then 18, Megan, 16, and Matthew, 13, life was busy. My husband, Mike, 44, worked full time and I ran a business from home.

It was full on, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

But one day, I woke up feeling more tired than usual.

‘I think I’ve got the flu,’ I said to Mike.

I noticed a strange pain in my left leg, too. Achy and exhausted, I spent the next few days in bed.

As I struggled to even make it to the bathroom, Mike became worried.

‘Let’s go to the hospital,’ he said.

‘Don’t be silly, it’ll pass,’ I replied.

I thought it was just the flu

The next day, though, when my chest became tight, I agreed.

Halfway there, I began gasping for breath and Mike stopped the car.

‘We need an ambulance,’ he told me.

When the paramedics arrived, an oxygen mask was placed over my face. Then everything went black.

The next time I opened my eyes, it felt like I was underwater and there was a doctor leaning over me.

‘If we want to save your life, we’re going to have to amputate your hands and feet,’ he said.

I looked down at my hands but the soft, pale skin I was used to seeing was no longer there.

Black and charred-looking, my hands were unrecognisable.

What choice did I have?

Nodding to the doctor, I drifted off to sleep again.

When I woke from my medically-induced coma three weeks later, Mike and the kids were at my bedside.

Opening my eyes, I could see the fear and relief on all their faces.

Then I looked down at the bandages at the end of my limbs.

It wasn’t all just a bad dream. My hands and feet were gone.

I had a tube in my throat so I couldn’t talk. Instead, I closed my eyes and prayed.

Please give me the strength to get through this, I thought.

I thought it was a bad dream

I hadn’t yet grasped the enormity of what had happened, but I was grateful to be alive.

‘The doctor told us you wouldn’t make it,’ Mike said. ‘But I knew God would get you through this.’

My doctor explained that what I’d thought was the flu was actually symptoms of a ‘flesh-eating’ bug called necrotising fasciitis, where bacteria infect soft body tissue.

Starting in my left leg, where I’d felt that pain, the infection had started attacking my insides and turned my body septic.

My liver and kidneys had begun to shut down and I was given less than one per cent chance of survival.

Surgeons had removed my dying hands and feet and then I’d had several skin grafts.

Thinking back to where the swelling in my leg had begun, I realised that I’d had an ingrown hair at that spot.

It was possible that could have been the source of the infection.

How could something so small almost kill me? I wondered.

The next few weeks in the ICU were a blur.

While our relatives pulled together to help with the kids, Mike stayed with me day and night.

He was my rock.

‘I love you, you’re going to get through this,’ he told me.

After two months in hospital, I moved into a rehab centre.

In an electric wheelchair, I was itching for freedom.

Then, fitted with prosthetic legs, I slowly learnt to walk.

My first day out from rehab was Mike Jr’s graduation.

Terrifying as it was to know people might stare, I watched from my wheelchair at the back of the room as Mike Jr walked on stage.

Looking out into the crowd, he caught my eye and I almost burst with pride.

I had to learn to walk again on my prosthetic legs

This was the reason I’d survived. My hands and feet didn’t matter when I had my family.

After a month at the rehab centre, I came home.

Adjusting to my new life wasn’t easy.

I’d always been fiercely independent, but now I needed ever-supportive Mike to feed me, bathe me and take me to the toilet.

I also struggled with people staring whenever we went to the shops.

‘I wonder what happened to her?’ I’d hear people whisper.

In time, I learnt to tune out my insecurities and, at home, I picked up tips and tricks from other amputees online.

I had my car modified with easy-to-reach buttons that allowed me to drive, as well as hooks on the handles so that I could open the door.

I also tried out some prosthetic hands but they were too heavy.

Instead, I used a cuff that slipped around my arm and I could hold a fork, toothbrush or stylus, allowing me to type on my phone.

I started blogging as a way to inspire other amputees, and anyone with challenges, and let them know they can get through.

It’s amazing to think of how much I can do, rather than what I can’t.

In the 10 years since my illness, I’ve tried pottery, painting and even ridden on the back of a motorbike!

Now, I want my story to help save others and to raise awareness about necrotising fasciitis.

While a bug might have stolen my hands and feet, I won’t let it steal my life.

Follow Wendy’s journey at oneexceptionallife.com

It's now been 10 years since my illness

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