The picture above shows Bobette and I hanging out in our favorite spots on the overstuffed purple chair in our living room. At this moment I had my laptop on my lap and I was typing away on a a dissertation-related project. Bobette was doing what she does best: relaxing.
In many ways, my life as an amputee is something I don’t think about too often. I get up the morning and put my leg on just like anyone else gets up and gets dressed. It’s just part of my daily routine and I’m fortunate to have a high-tech prosthesis that’s very comfortable to wear. Lately, though, it’s seemed a bit larger in my life because I’ve chosen not to have a cosmetic cover put on my leg. This means that I attract a lot more attention when I love through public spaces, which is a constant reminder that my body is “not like the others” out there. It’s not something I typically mind, but there are some moments when I do feel a bit annoyed by the stares of passersby…
So the other day when I was biking home from the grocery store and my leg came off, it hit home to me just how vulnerable being an amputee can be sometimes. If my leg malfunctions (and there are any number of ways this can happen), I am reliant on the attention of anyone nearby to lend a hand. This happened once while I was traveling in China–my knee jammed while I was on an airplane. And the result was that it was “locked” straight. Now can you imagine trying to sit in an airline seat with a knee that was stuck at a 180 degree angle? Well, I couldn’t do it (as you can well imagine), and a kind stewardess ended up offering me her seat in the plane entranceway so I could sit safely as we landed. It all worked out, but it was a quite awkward, to say the least(!).
When my leg came off while I was biking, it wasn’t necessarily apparent to passersby because I was wearing long jeans. I suppose they might’ve noticed that one of my legs was _really_ long all of a sudden. They probably saw me stop pedaling and grab my thigh. They undoubtedly wondered why I stood there for a few moments indecisively clutching my handlebars and wondering what the hell I should do next.
Oftentimes I can just shift some weight onto my prosthetic leg, which will release a little whoosh of air and re-establish the suction seal that secures the artificial limb to my stump. But in this case the suction wouldn’t hold for more than a few seconds, and the air was whooshing in and out of the socket with loud burpy/farty sounds as the seal tried to hold.
I ended up coming up with a strategy that got me home. I did a sort of limb dragging zombie-walk with my right leg (my jeans keeping the prosthetic from falling off altogether onto the sidewalk) and I balanced myself with my handlebars–sort of like a ‘walker’. The awkwardness was magnified a bit as I attempted to go up a few small ‘hills’ and perhaps when I crossed a major intersection, but I’m guessing that few people even noticed, or they probably just thought that I’d hurt myself falling on my bike and was headed home. I thought about stopping someone who passed by to ask to use their cellphone to call for help, but after I’d walked about a block (I had about 3 to go), I decided that there wasn’t a whole lot that anyone could do anyways–I just needed to get myself home no matter how slow or ungainly that process would be.
So why am I sharing this story with the internets? Primarily because I think it’s helpful for folks to know how those of us with disabilities ‘make do.’ I think we are all more than a bit MacGyver-ish as we solve problems and get things done! Also, I’m sharing this because I’m thinking a lot about amputees right now because I’m raising money for HandReach for my birthday. I have a prosthesis that allows me a lot of mobility and I’d like to help other amputees have this same benefit. So I’m raising money for a 12 year-old girl, Huang Meihua, to get prosthetics for the legs she lost in the Sichuan earthquake. If you can, I hope you’ll join in this effort along with me.