Blog: Jackie Hagan

The comic writes about how losing a leg was the making of her

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I had a crush on this man, a bit older than me, very well to do, pinstripe suits, long words. Me – Fray Bentos pies, jumble sales and laughing till dawn. Not sure how I’m going to convince him I’m the one for him. After all, I am chaos, and that’s the last thing he wants in his life.

I manage to convince him to come and sit with me and my friends in the pub. Him – Laphroaig whisky. Me – Tia Maria and coke. My particular brand of flirting is a delicate mix of push-up bras and bullying but something’s putting me off my stride – my foot. It’s agony even through the booze. I take off my Doc Marten and my foot is bright white. I can’t get the blood back into it. He comes with me to A&E. They rush me through quickly. The pain has got worse. Gas and air. Soon I can barely breathe. Diamorphine, hallucinations. Not sure where I am. I pass out.

The day after the operation I ask the nurse when the pain is going to go away – the pain in the leg that isn’t there any more

Eventually I sit on the bed, days later, still in pain. There is a cluster of blood clots in my leg. They don’t know what caused it – a spasm in the vein. They will do everything they can to save my leg. But of course, they don’t.

The day after the operation I ask the nurse when the pain is going to go away – the pain in the leg that isn’t there any more. She explains to me about phantom pain – the exact same pain that I thought would go away if they amputated it can stay. It is called phantom but it doesn’t feel any less real. Phantom pain can go away at any point, but as I sit at my desk six years later the same pain is still there. However my ability to cope with it has sky-rocketed.

On the day I went down to surgery I wrote a Facebook status saying: “I’ll make this the making of me.” I knew that it could make or break me and my mental health had never been 100 per cent anyway so I went in for militant optimism. I didn’t listen to people who expected me to be miserable, I didn’t allow an ounce of self pity. I grieved, but in a controlled and sensible way – I would put a blanket over my head and cry my heart out and then take it off and crack on with life.

I wrote a show about it while I was in hospital called Some People Have Too Many Legs and toured it to 56 venues, many of them before I’d learnt to walk.

I’m now a multi award-winning writer and performer and have travelled the world performing comedy, poetry and plays. I have just filmed a piece for BBC Four called Paper Knickers. Having my leg off and owning it gave me the confidence to do and say the things I want to. I use my platform to talk about the ways in which working-class women are portrayed, and the representation of disabled people.

People always want to know why I had my leg off. I get asked every day (I also get told by every taxi driver that I could be a Paralympian. Yes mate and you could be an Olympian!). The truth is is that sometimes bad things happen. I do have a diagnosis: I have something called systemic sclerosis, which means my internal organs are all a bit dodgy now, but few people have their leg off as a result of it. It really was a mystery spasm.

And obviously I got the man. He’s in the kitchen as I type, making me a Fray Bentos pie.

Jackie Hagan performs her new show The Aw Factor in a double bill with poet Mandla Rae at part of the New Queers on the Block Weekender, 28 Feb, Art B&B, Blackpool 

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