By Eric Quander
Many of us wanted to be superheroes when we were kids—leaping over buildings in a single bound, possessing the strength of 100 men, climbing walls like arachnids. However, as we grew older, most of us reconciled ourselves to the fact that we are just standard human beings. Unfortunately, many able-bodied folks have a hard time dealing with amputees because they only have two ways of viewing us—either as superheroes able to overcome any obstacles or as helpless in a world built for those with two arms and two legs. As a result, we can find ourselves crushed against the walls of their expectations.
I understand how the super-amputee mythology was created. For a long time, amputees were tasked with educating the abled-bodied that despite some physical challenges, we are fairly regular people with aspirations, families, and goals. The intention was to provide knowledge and a face of humanity to what some saw as a pitiful circumstance, and the results have been phenomenal. Exploring magazines targeting anyone from aboriginal artifact collectors to zoology enthusiasts, one will find articles on individuals with disabilities who have beaten the odds, broken down barriers, and achieved the nearly miraculous. From the armless girl who is a leader in her high school ROTC program, to one-legged skiers, to the limbless veteran whose fiancée stood beside him throughout his recovery and went on to marry him, these stories are worthwhile—they inspire, encourage, and motivate. Stories of such individuals help bring a bit of light into the lives of recent amputees who often find themselves grasping for hope in the midst of a dark tunnel.
Who doesn’t love a heroic tale? Indeed, we need them; heroes help us through difficult times. Tales of the journeys of heroes have been shared since our nomadic ancestors huddled around campfires, mesmerized by dancing shadows on the walls of a cave. In his 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces,author Joseph Campbell describes the basic narrative pattern as follows: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won. The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
This journey may sound familiar to many amputees. Our world of normalcy, having four limbs, is radically changed, and we are catapulted into the unknown. Our lives suddenly become inundated with the world of hospitals, rehabilitation, limb liners, and prosthetics. Eventually, we develop a relationship with our residual limbs and learn that where there is a will, there is often a way. When we find ourselves back in the environments from which we were forced to venture, we find that many are inspired by our ordeal. Witnesses to our physical and spiritual transformation are amazed at the demonstration of chutzpah that amputee life requires. I appreciate the admiration; however, the stories of those who thrive despite their physical condition can make some amputees feel less capable, un-worthy, and depressed.
Before my amputation, I watched YouTube videos, joined several online groups, and pored over articles in magazines like this one, recognizing that becoming an amputee was not synonymous with life being over. After sharing our experiences as amputees, most of us have heard and seen the amazement in others’ voices and eyes. “You’re so brave.” “I could never endure what you must go through.” “How do you do it?” If you’re like me, most times you just smile, maintaining the air of positivity that they seem to need. Yes, I said it is something they need because I think that’s what it comes down to; at the heart of their admiration lies a bit of pity. Pity that you don’t have all your limbs, pity that you have lost your independence, pity that it’s so difficult for you to find love. Well, who doesn’t have issues? Being an amputee can certainly add another layer to life’s challenges, but these obstacles are part of any human experience. I’m sure most of us have challenging times and situations. It’s important for us and those we encounter that we acknowledge them.
I dread cold nights and mornings. Awakened by a bladder that seems to fill quicker than it ever has, I hate the process of venturing into the cold bathroom. Slipping on a cold gel liner, putting on prosthetic socks, and of course waiting for the metallic clicking sound of my below-knee prosthesis locking into place—all before I can go relieve myself. It sucks!
There are other difficulties as well: the lack of confidence in navigating an unfamiliar environment; the inability to run carelessly with your children or share their first rollercoaster ride because the amusement park doesn’t want to risk liability for you falling off or another park attendee getting clobbered if your prosthesis suddenly pops off; or the inaccessibility to establishments without facilities to accommodate disabilities. Despite these inconveniences, we find a way to keep on living—perhaps through prostheses, wheelchairs, driving aids, and other assistive devices; knowledge passed on from others who’ve gone through similar experiences; or pure grit.
Post-amputation, I’ve learned that I will encounter instances where being a one-legged man in a two-legged race will be downright frustrating. It is important for us and those around us to have the courage to strip away the fantastical and mystical and deal with the reality that we are neither superhuman nor helpless, just spiritual beings on a corporeal journey. No matter what you see on the internet or in magazines, the most important person you need to prove yourself to is you. The only person you need to impress is you. The only person who should be allowed to set boundaries in your life is you. As you continue your journey of life as an amputee, it becomes easier to let go of others’ extremely high and extremely low expectations and shift your focus to becoming a Super You. Yep, each of us is just a one-of-a-kind human being—and that’s pretty awesome!
Top Image © zahar2000 /Adobe Stock