The following are ten lessons I have learned in my journey of becoming an amputee. You don’t need to be an amputee to follow these valuable lessons.
1. Determination goes a long way.
We live so much of our lives saying “I can’t.” The first time I took a shower as an amputee I had to quickly take the “I can’t” out of my vocabulary. The simplest daily tasks we do every day, without thought, become challenging when experiencing life missing a leg. I was fortunate to have the ability to take on the mindset “if it needs doing I will adapt a way and get it done.” With each successfully accomplished task, I soon learned that I could do anything. Never say “I can’t” – say I can and get it done.
2. Never take your health for granted.
I was a healthy active man in his early 40’s and it all changed with the results of one MRI. A fracture in my ankle led to six ankle surgeries, debilitating pain, years of needing crutches to walk, and ended in a lower leg amputation six and a half years later. Never, ever take your health for granted. Do everything you can to stay healthy and injury free, but this is life and we aren’t always in control of disease and injury. So, every morning when you wake up take a minute to appreciate your good health and then make the most of the day.
3. Make every day count.
Ten years ago on my 40th birthday I blissfully joined the seasons pass holders’ ski race with my kids. Three short years later I spent the winter on crutches trying to heal my ankle. The same followed for the next 5 years. All my kids wanted was to ski with their dad, and I was no longer able to ski with them. It was heartbreaking. I have fond memories of that race day, but it was just what we did; I didn’t make it count because I would race with them next year. We can never go back and you never know what tomorrow will bring. Find a way to cherish every day and the special moments while they are happening.
4. A weed in the landscaping is free foliage.
My yard was my statuary and I was obsessed with having everything perfect, right down to how each piece of mulch was laid. A weed in my yard was an evil intruder and I would immediately terminate it. I still like my yard kept neat and maintained, but perfection seems silly now. For the rest of my life, just to walk from my bed to the bathroom involves either a pair of crutches or a multi-step procedure to attach a prosthetic leg. Fighting with nature just takes a back seat. A few weeds in the landscaping simply become plants I didn’t have to pay for.
5. Nicks and marks on the walls and woodwork give the home character.
For years I fought the endless battle of fixing every nick, scratch and mark my three kids and dog made in the house. I spent my weekends running around like a madman with paint brushes, paint cans, and wall patch making sure no imperfection escaped me. For years after my injury all the marks became magnified and reminded me of what I could no longer do. They have now faded from my radar. When you’re constantly fighting for your mobility, cosmetic things just don’t seem important. The time I can comfortably use my leg is too valuable to waste running around the house covering up the imperfections life causes. The nicks and marks are the character my kids created that make it our home.
6. Attitude can be contagious.
I present myself as a capable independent human being and that is how I am treated. In the seven months I have been an amputee, very rarely have I felt anything other than respect from people. Yes, almost every day someone opens the door for me, holds the elevator door and lets me go first. Why, because I have one leg. This is just common kindness that we learn growing up. I don’t need this done for me, but I say “thank you, have a great day” and move on. I have never sensed anyone feeling sorry for me or treating me anything other than a capable man. Whether I am using my crutches or my prosthesis, I present a positive, capable attitude and that’s what people pick up on. When someone says “you inspired me to rethink my problems” or “you motivated me to work harder” I don’t get bent out of shape. If someone is inspired to improve their life because of me, it only inspires me to live my life even better. Choose to have a positive attitude and let it be contagious.
7. A pot with scratches and burn stains on the bottom still boils water.
One of my obsessions was my stainless cookware. I didn’t want scouring pads or abrasive cleaners used on them. I was afraid they would get scratches. Therefore, I would do anything possible to prevent anyone other than myself from cleaning them. For twenty years they remained looking shiny and new. It didn’t take long balancing over the sink on one leg to learn that the scratches and the burn stains on the bottom don’t change their function. If someone wants to help me out by washing my cookware, I sit back and enjoy the help. A pot with a scratch still boils water; learn to appreciate the help.
8. Life is easier with a sense of humor.
I am thankful that my lack of leg hasn’t robbed me of my sense of humor. Every single day since waking up from surgery my sense of humor has made coping easier. It opens up conversation about the amputation, it puts people at ease and lets them know I am good with the amputation, so they should be too. My humor has helped my wife and kids accept the amputation and being able to laugh at all the predicaments amputation has landed me in has aided in my acceptance. For example, a few months ago I was in the grocery store. When I opened the freezer and reached up to get a carton of ice cream my crutch tip went into the freezer. When I went to bring my arm down I realized that I was stuck in the door of the freezer and couldn’t move my arm. My crutch was wedged between the freezer floor and my forearm. By the time my wife got to me to assist, I was laughing so hard that I just about peed my pants. Don’t let getting stuck in the freezer defeat you; find the humor in the situation. A sense of humor can make a big difference in accepting the punches life throws at you.
9. Take notice of those special people who help you along the way.
In my seven-year journey with this ankle I have happened upon some very special people who make a difference just because that is who they are. They are amazing professionals who made it their business to care. These are the people who believed in me, helped me, pushed me, encouraged me and never gave up on me. A physical therapist I accidentally met due to an appointment mix up, the orthopedic surgeon I found by randomly calling an orthopedic group and asking for an appointment with any doctor that was good with ankles. A lady who was leading a career counseling group, for free, at the local library and my trainer who pushes me to greatness each week, cutting me no slack for being a one-legged guy. These people had no idea what they did for me, so I made sure I told them. I hope my email, letter or text put a big smile on their face and made them feel wonderful. Don’t focus on the negative people, take notice of those who make a difference and find a way to let them know how special they are. Sending someone a thank you for what they have done just might make their day.
10. Don’t sweat small potatoes.
Let things roll off your shoulders. We spend so much time stressing over insignificant things that may and may not happen. For years I got through saying the worst that can happen is my leg will get amputated. The worst happened, I accepted it, prepared for it and I not only lived through it, but I turned out a stronger person. Focus on the positives in your life; don’t stress over the little problems and for the bigger problems use the following advice. In Dale Carnegie’s words “First ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.”
These are the lessons I learned that I now follow every day. They have made me a stronger, happier and more positive person. Once again you don’t need to be an amputee to follow these lessons. They will help anyone lead a positive and less stressful life.
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