amputation shark attack

The current edition of the How To! podcast features an amputee named David, who lost his right leg below the knee in a shark attack. Grisly details of the attack itself take up only about a minute of the episode. The bulk of the narrative addresses David’s long, difficult process of mental and emotional recovery. While some of his challenges are specific to the traumatic circumstances of his amputation, much of David’s journey applies to nearly anyone who loses a limb. We learned from and were encouraged by what we heard.

We’ve included a brief excerpt below. Listen to the whole episode here.

I had become this bitter, angry person who, on one level, was very grateful that they were still alive, but on the other level just didn’t have a lot of patience for other people. People would complain about something they had just gone through that was upsetting to them, but I couldn’t care less. I was like, “Trust me, it’s not as bad as what I just went through.” I don’t think that’s the right attitude, but I think at a subconscious level, that’s how I was operating for a pretty long period of time.

People would say, “Hey, you want to go on this ski trip?” And you’re like, “Yeah, I can’t ski.” Or, you know, “Hey, you want to go for a jog?” “Maybe in a couple of years.” On one level, there is a physical disability that makes it so you can’t do things. And then on another level, you’re unable to emotionally connect with these people in the first place. And so that can result in being really lonely.

One conversation with my mom that really stood out to me was her telling me that I was being a jerk. My mom was doing everything for me, but I was kind of rude about it. I was not thankful and gracious for all of the things she was doing. . . . I had zero empathy or zero understanding for others. I was so brutally robotic and mechanical about things, and I think a lot of that comes from disassociation of my emotions and emotions of people around me. But the thing that’s hard to understand is I wasn’t aware of it.

After this moment of realizing I had been a jerk, I really leaned on being grateful. Something about being grateful for everything I had made me feel better. I wrote letters telling people explicitly and honestly how I felt about them and thanking them, whether it was the medical team who saved my life or my friends or co-workers. People don’t get a lot of letters, and so there’s something nice about getting a handwritten note that makes them realize how appreciated they are and how grateful somebody is.

. . . .[V]ery improbable things can happen to you—you think about how improbable a shark attack is. Some of those will be as bad as shark attacks, but some of those could be really good things, too. You should look at the flip side, look at the positive of those improbable things.