Sometimes Being an Amputee Sucks...
Yes, there are times when I think that it just sucks being an above-the-knee amputee. Obviously. And often this feeling creeps up on me when I am around my kids (three lovely kids, the youngest one is almost five, the other two are eleven and fourteen). When I want to do things with them and have the feeling that my amputation sets unwanted limits. When the fact that I have an artificial leg seems to dictate what I can and cannot do with them. I remember how I wished I had two legs when our little one was crying in the middle of the night. When I just wanted to get up and carry him around for a bit so he would fall back to sleep within minutes. Instead I first had to switch on the lights, get into my prosthesis and make sure it fits properly. Only then could I pick him up and start walking around. By that time he was normally fully awake. Or when we were in the mountains and it was mainly up to my wife to carry our baby - and later our toddler - up and down then peaks without me being much of a help. Or when we are near the sea, a lake or just the local swimming pool and I want to run around with the kids, dash in and out of the water, be silly, have fun. Or now that the youngest one is about to learn how to ride his bike and I am not able to run next to him, support him, show and teach him how its done.
...but in many ways it brings out the best in the people around you.
But while some of this has been annoying for me, it‘s not really an issue for the kids. It never has been. And now, as I am looking back at the last few years and how they have been growing up, I actually think it‘s been good for them to have an amputee dad. Honestly, I think it‘s an advantage. Collateral good, so to speak. Why? Well... No. 1: Learning the beauty of diversity First of all, the children have learned from a very early age that people come in all forms and sizes, with their strengths and their weaknesses and with an immense variety of skills and abilities. Some people - like their dad - might be missing a limb or two and might look a bit different. But so what. They are still ordinary people. Normal, so to say. Their missing limbs are nor reason to have reservations about them. For my children, interacting with an amputee is the order of the day, nothing special. This experience has been a good foundation to talk about broader issues of tolerance, mutual respect and acceptance. It has been a good foundation to encourage our children to appreciate the diversity among human beings, strive for inclusivity and embrace the richness it brings to our lives. No. 2: Developing awareness for people in need of assistance In addition the children have learned from an early age to be aware of when someone needs assistance - and offer a helping hand when needed. Having an amputee dad often breaks up the traditional roles and responsibilities within the extended family. Daddy being the strong and reliable one who can always assist his children just wasn‘t a viable option. And there were times when I found that hard to accept. Bus as with so many other things and with a bit of practice, I got better at it. So depending on the situation roles in our family keep on changing. When we are out in the hills, it‘s often the kids who help me down a slippery mountain slope after a bit of rain, guide me passed an exposed part of the track or assist me over a creek when we try to take short-cut. And again and again it is amazing to see how they take on and manage these responsibilities. It‘s an encouraging and rewarding experience to see you children easily adapt to a huge variety of situations, constantly growing with the tasks. An experience I am grateful for. --- see the world be a better place! No. 3: Nourishing creativity And last but not least, it‘s just cool having a dad with a bionic knee as it opens a window into a whole new world of fancy gadgets and pioneering technologies. While playing around with daddy‘s rotating adapter to make his foot point in the wrong direction is the fun part for the kids, the exposure to various artificial legs and a variety of sockets has stimulated a keen interest among them of how to develop better equipment for amputees. Sometimes it almost looks like a competition: Who can come up with the best improvement for the actual knee? Who can think of the cleverest details for a foot especially designed to handle one or the other new adventure I want to be engaged? Or what are the options we have to build a socket that can deal with daddy‘s volume fluctuations in his stump over the course of a day? It‘s great to see how the children take these challenges and grow with them. And it‘s amazing to listen to their proposed solutions and how well thought through most of them are.
A lesson learned by a proud amputee dad
I know, having an amputee dad - or mum or sibling or so - is not a precondition to discover the beauty of diversity, to develop an awareness for people in need of assistance, and to nourish creativity. And it‘s no guarantee either. But looking at my kids, I am convinced it played a significant part. And that helps to accept my limitations and be more relaxed about them. Sounds like a wind/win situation to me.
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This text was first published on www.theactiveamputee.org, a resource page for amputees and their families.