Go to Google Images and look up “person with prosthetic leg.” You’ll be overwhelmed by men and women competing in strenuous athletic events or going about life in their otherwise perfectly gorgeous bodies and doing extraordinary things, like this guy:
The two-legged guy on the left is thinking, “Wow, look at that one-legged guy bounding up from where he just moored his yacht. Is that a snorkel in his backpack? I wish I had the strength and stamina to swim with barracuda.” As the “able-bodied” man turns to hoist his sack of flour (laundry? cash?) up onto his shoulder, he briefly considers whether barracuda or sharks were to blame for the missing limb. He dismisses the aquatic notion and settles on the more comforting idea of a motorcycle accident on a patch of black ice.
Recently, a young man from my hometown was in a serious car accident. When I first learned that his leg was badly injured, I thought of my spouse who, at the youthful age of 19, was in a serious accident that nearly killed him.
Obviously, my husband of close to 18 years didn’t die. He did, however, end up an amputee.
On the left side, above the knee. Kind of like the guy in the photo.
Kind of, but not really.
While my husband has a “fancy” leg, he is plagued by side effects from his socket. (Yes, that’s the cup-like part that holds his “residual limb.” We don’t say “stump” in our house, unless we’ve been felling trees.) Chaffing, which oftentimes can lead to open and painful sores, is just one of the more common and more annoying aspects of using a prosthesis. What is much, much worse though is this: as the nervous system from his upper thigh down was severed, he experiences a frequent misfiring of the neurons which result in phantom limb pain.
(Side note: I’ve likened watching him having these pains as what it’s like to watching a pregnant woman in un-medicated labor. And not TV-sitcom labor, the real deal . . . groaning, crying out in pain, white knuckles.)
For as awful as it is to see, it’s clearly exponentially worse to feel. No amount of (non-existent) yachting or (imaginary) snorkeling can augment this reality. No degree of “it’s got to be better than wheeling around in a chair” can mitigate the fact that his leg is not growing back.
So when I learned a few days ago of the young man from my town–off at college in his spring semester with his whole life ahead of him–I couldn’t help but think of my spouse, who, too, was off at college in his spring semester with his whole life ahead of him. All I could think was “oh, please, please, please, save his leg.”
This regressive thought surprised me. You see, I fell in love with, married, and have four children with a “one-legged” guy. (He was that way when we began dating.) It wasn’t his (non-existent) yacht or (imaginary) snorkeling skills that drew me in. It was his heart and his mind and his spirit that I fell in love with. And yet, seeing his regular chaffing discomfort and his infrequent, though very real bouts with agonizing phantom pain, I couldn’t help but wish that this recently hurt young man be spared the forever curse of having a perfectly manageable “disability” for the rest of his life.
You may not know that one in five Americans is considered and/or identifies as “having a disability.” This is a large, though often forgotten “minority” of our population. There are people in my own community who may not know that my spouse has “a cut-off leg.” (That’s how our then 3-year-old daughter referred to it.)
I am happy to know that, at last check, the young man from my hometown is expected to make a full recovery, i.e., he will return to his fully able-bodied self. Though I imagine he will be looking at lifelong scars, his leg was “saved.”
For this, I am grateful. I see “disability” on a daily basis: a disability balanced with strength and grace, but a disability nevertheless.