Limb Loss Awareness Month is a month dedicated to:
Providing support for amputees and caregivers
Educating the limb loss community
Raising public awareness about amputation
Teaching about amputation prevention
Advocating for the limb loss community
The loss of a limb is a life-changing event. The person’s life will never be the same again and the recovery can be a long and difficult road. The prosthesis is only a tool; it will not magically replace the missing limb and make life perfect. However, the loss of a limb is not the end of life, as with the proper attitude, hard work and building the proper physical strength, amputees can live a full and active life. There are an estimated 2 million people in the United States living with limb loss, and a staggering 500 Americans lose a limb each day. The number one reason for limb loss is vascular disease, which includes diabetes. The number two reason is trauma; the third cause of limb loss is cancer and the fourth is congenital limb deficiencies. Below-knee amputees represent more than half of the amputee population. The huge advancements in prosthetics has certainly had a large impact on getting amputees back to their lives, but living with limb loss is a lifelong challenge. With the proper education, tools and support, amputees can learn to overcome the daily challenges and live good successful lives.
A month dedicated to amputee awareness is wonderful, but I live with the loss of a leg and I want to find ways to spread awareness every day. Not only spreading awareness year round, but to mentor, educate and show amputees that they can still lead full, active and successful lives. I have been blessed to have a positive attitude and strong determination to live my life as an amputee without limits. In all my 50 years of living I have never been more sure of what my next 50 years will be – giving back by helping not only amputees, but everyone to live healthy active lives.
Educating the public about amputation by showing amputee pride.
The amputation of a limb is something most people couldn’t ever imagine happening to them. The sight of a missing limb on someone else can be startling, especially to a child. People are often uncomfortable with amputation because they can’t conceive of living life missing a limb. This makes approaching an amputee or the subject of amputation uncomfortable for them. They have no idea how the amputee feels and lack the knowledge of what it is like to be an amputee. When I first returned to work without my leg, I had many co-workers avoid me because seeing the missing limb was shocking and uncomfortable, so they didn’t know how to approach me. One co-worker asked another “I knew Darryl was out, but what happened to him?” He couldn’t bring himself to ask me or even say “how are you doing?” I have also overheard whispered discussions about my lack of leg. “Why did he have his leg amputated?” “Look, that poor guy only has one leg.” “I can’t imagine having to live with only one leg.” “It’s not nice to stare.” The following story is one that I have experienced more than once and I know it is a common occurrence for other amputees.
A few months ago I was having dinner at the local diner. In the booth directly across from mine there was a mother, father and young son, probably around 3 or 4 years old. Shortly after they were seated the young boy said to his parents, “Look, that man doesn’t have a leg.” They quickly put their hands to his lips and told him to be quiet. He then said, “Why doesn’t he have a leg?” The father quickly swung around into the booth seat his son was sitting in so he could shield the boy’s view of me. I understand that they were embarrassed and were trying to prevent their son from offending me, but they failed miserably in their attempt. They failed because they assumed questions would offend me and that interrupting my dinner would be rude. The parent’s actions offended me, not the little boy’s curious questions. I would have happily answered the boy’s questions if I had been given the chance. However, after his parents hushed him and then blocked his view of me, I didn’t feel it appropriate to approach them. So, I uncomfortably finished my dinner and the parents spent their dinner making sure they never made eye contact with me. Instead of this being a wonderful learning opportunity for this young boy or an opportunity for an interesting conversation for the parents, we all lost. This could have all been avoided if they had simply said, “Excuse me, do you mind talking about your leg?”
Yes, I get it, they were only doing exactly what we were taught to do. It’s not polite to stare or to ask questions. How would they know it was okay to ask? I didn’t let them know it was okay to ask.
So how did I change these reactions and make people feel comfortable approaching me? By making it my problem, not theirs. I am a very capable amputee. I can do anything someone with all four limbs can, I just do it a little differently. I present myself as positive, confident, capable and independent, and that is how people see and treat me. If I read that someone I am interacting with is uncomfortable, I put my lack of leg out onto the table. I simply find that a short conversation with someone about my amputation makes a huge difference. Honestly, I usually just find a way to work in a one-legged joke. It is like magic; it breaks the uncomfortableness and suddenly my lack of leg is no longer looming over the conversation. At this point anyone I pass daily or have any interaction with at work or anywhere else is very comfortable with the amputation because I put it on myself to show that I am a fully capable and approachable human being.
By the way, I have had people say “do you mind talking about your leg?” My answer is “I am happy to talk about my leg.” The conversation is always a very rewarding one for both parties.
During my recent trip to Disney I happily discussed my lack of leg with many curious children.
That is what I want to show people – that it is okay to approach me and ask questions because I am a proud amputee. This is why I find ways to invite conversation or show my amputation humor. What better way to spread education and awareness about amputation than to evoke conversation? And who knows, something I say could possibly prevent someone else from needing an amputation in the future. A conversation could also lead to helping someone they know who might be dealing with an amputation.
During shorts season my prosthetic leg or stump will be exposed for the world to see. I have no intentions of trying to shield it with covers that look like skin or wear pants to cover it. The pipe will be exposed and the socket will sport my custom cover that, if nothing else, will let people know my attitude. I have been tempted to hem my left pant leg so that the prosthetic would always be seen. That’s a bit extreme though, so I will just have a pair or two hemmed for when I am visiting new amputees at the hospital or an occasion that seems appropriate.
I have several tee shirts that show my humor and which are hopefully conversation starters.
Car window decal
I have this decal in the rear window of my car, just one more way of showing I am open to talking about being an amputee. After only two days of placing the decal in my rear window, I had a half dozen people make positive comments about it. One said, “Is that your car out there with the I’m Stumped window sticker?” I said, “Yes it is.” His response: “You made my day.”
I am not at all a tattoo person, however I find myself very drawn to having one done to make a powerful statement. I am not talking about one on my face or neck or one that is loud and wraps all around an arm or leg. I am talking about a simple statement on the back of my right calf that represents how I have handled my circumstance. Of course, it needs to show humor as well.
These are the conversation pieces on the coffee table. The conversation starters that show I am comfortable with my limb loss, so everyone else should be too.
Mentor new amputees and motivate amputees to get out and live.
My determination to quickly get back to work, back to life and be completely independent taught me that having one leg wasn’t going to stop me. I want to show the world that I am capable of doing anything I want, whether I am wearing my prosthesis or not. This gives awareness that amputees are very capable people. My hope is that it will teach, help and encourage new or struggling amputees that life doesn’t end with amputation. With the right attitude and determination they too can live active and full lives. I also want to motivate not only amputees, but everyone to give up the excuses, and improve their lives by getting active and healthy.
In the fall I will become certified as an Amputee Peer Mentor. Once I have this certification I will make myself available to meet with new amputees or those facing amputation and their families. Facing life with an amputation can be devastating. Hopefully, having an amputee who is happily living a full active life to talk with will give them hope and make their transition easier.
Give amputees the resources they need to return to their lives.
I was very fortunate that I had the luxury of preparing for the loss of my leg. I also had good medical insurance to pay for all the medical bills and the prosthesis. My family had the financial resources necessary to survive. This is not the case for many amputees. The amputation is often sudden and without time to plan. Without the opportunity to prepare, facing limb loss is devastating and makes the mental recovery more difficult than the physical recovery. Amputation can also lead to loss of income and even permanent job loss. Many amputees don’t have sufficient medical insurance to cover their medical bills and no coverage for prosthetics. These situations leave the amputee without a limb, depressed, unable to return to work and unable to support their family. Therefore, I would like to find ways to raise funds for organizations who step in and help amputees and their families. These organizations help with paying for the prosthetic, help with medical bills and help with the adjustments including the counseling needed to successfully return to life as an amputee.
Little by little I will work towards fulfilling my goals. Year round I will wear my shirts, flash my prosthetic leg, push my limits at the gym, write motivating blog posts, do amputee peer mentoring and contemplate the tattoo. I will also get to work planning and organizing events and challenges to raise funds for amputee foundations.
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