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Please Cut Here

June 2, 2015 AT 2:27 pm

A 15-foot bull shark came out of nowhere and decided to take a chomp on my foot. I was working as a crab fisherman in Alaska and a rope wrapped around my leg and took it right off. Sawmill accident. Bear attack. A Yeti took my boot off on an Everest expedition and my toes succumbed to frostbite.

I have only been without my left foot for a year now, and I am already running out of crazy stories to explain its disappearance. The truth is that on June 25th, 2014, I made the decision to have my left foot amputated. Now this is the story all about how I got my life flip-turned upside down. I’d like to take a minute, just stay put, and I’ll show you how I told them to cut off my foot.

In 2008, doctors found a crap-ton (the medical term for “a lot”) of benign tumors in my foot during a routine ankle surgery. I was diagnosed with a rare joint disease called Pigmented Villanodular Synovitis, and I immediately started practicing how to pronounce it correctly, though I found it’s actually much easier to just say PVNS. The doctors said the chance of me contracting this condition was 1 in 1.9 million, so my pickup line became “Hey ladies, I am one in 1.9 million.” (It only worked on my girlfriend)

Three surgeries and three years later, the PVNS had been destroyed. However, the cartilage in my ankle had been damaged as well. The remaining tissue caused me incredible pain, and I started to lose the ability to do major physical activity. I am an active dude. I love sports, especially extreme sports. As I lost the ability to do the things I loved, I realized that this was not the way I wanted to live the rest of my life. It was then I told my surgeon to “Cut baby, cut!”

Before the surgery, my girlfriend Johnna and I decided to make my last month of having two feet memorable. Every weekend was full of paint-balling, skydiving, or the Caribbean.  The final event was Firefly Music Festival. The festival ended two days before my surgery, so it was a great way to take my mind off of the looming operation. And boy, did Firefly do a great job of keeping my mind occupied!

Firefly 2014 was the single funnest event of my year (yes, I mean funnest). I had a great group of friends to go with, and we made a ton of new friends while we were there. The event staff took amazing care of me since I had trouble walking with my crumbling ankle. The accessibility staff golf-carted me from stage to stage, and I didn’t have to stand on my ankle for long periods of time. Enter Laine, the coolest person to walk The Woodlands. She heard my story and gave Johnna and I VIP tickets and took amazing care of us, just because. The VIP experience ramped up an already fantastic time, and Johnna and I could not be more grateful.

One of my goals at Firefly 2014 was to get bands in a picture with my recent ankle tattoo, saying: “Please cut here.” I ended up meeting The Royal Teeth, who invited me to their concert after my amputation was over. I also got in a picture with Cherub, and recently I caught up with them at a Richmond, VA concert. These relationships and memories were created solely by the amazing atmosphere and energy at Firefly. When you’re at the festival, you have the ability to become instant friends with anyone you meet, even if you are shoving your dusty foot in their face for a picture.

Switching gears to the future, Firefly 2015 is shaping up to be another life-changing, friend-making, fun-having time. I had a recent nerve surgery in my stump (think of it as a car tune-up, but with nerves), and the recovery has been an uphill battle, but Firefly 2015 is my light at the end of the tunnel. I will be completely outfitted with a robot foot, the process being similar to strapping a pogo stick to my stump. This festival gives me a point to strive for: the ability to run/jump/get-my-robo-foot-dusty with all my old and new friends. So if you see a cyborg hopping around The Woodlands, don’t be scared, it’s just me having the time of my life.


Joe Pleban