I flipped my hair up, switching the hair dryer off, and pressed play on my Audible app. I'd been listening to the book Stronger, by Jeff Bauman, for the past week. Jeff is a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing who lost both of his legs in the aftermath of the blast.
I've put off reading this book for months now. After watching an interview of his on the Today Show, I realized the book would probably force me to confront some very real and difficult emotions. Four months past my amputation, I felt like I was finally ready for that.
Chapters in, I was loving it! He articulated the days immediately following surgery with humor and heartache. Reaching for my foundation to continue preparing for the day, I was set to continue enjoying it - that was, until I heard this sentence.
"Having a knee is huge for amputees...If you lose one leg below the knee, you'll be back to your normal life within weeks."
I'll be honest, I pride myself on rarely ever being offended. It's difficult to get an emotional rise out of me. But at that sentence, I felt actual anger pump through my veins. I'm honestly ashamed to say that, because I know it was written offhand. It wasn't meant as an insult. It was simply meant to illustrate a point, the difficulty of his own recovery. But in doing so, he minimized the reality of the pain of so many fellow amputees.
Jeff lost both of his legs above his knees. I would never suppose to have any clue how difficult it is to adjust to life as an above knee amputee - let alone a double above knee amputee. But Jeff has never been a below knee amputee. His offhand suggestion that I could somehow return to "normal" life within a few weeks after surgery sparked anger in me. Anger, I'm certain, rooted in grief over the life I've lost and am still mourning.
I love the idea of establishing a "new normal" - because after a life altering event like losing a leg at any length, there is no going back to the life you had before.
I am now sixteen weeks past my below knee amputation and nothing will ever be the same. Understand that I am not complaining or lamenting my situation - but there are real, and permanent changes, that have no quick and easy fixes. We all become experts at adaptation, but adapting comes at a cost.
I'm still hobbling around on crutches, dealing with post-amputation complications and the difficulty of prosthetics that just won't fit. More surgery looms on the horizon to fix issues my residual limb is causing me.
I pep talk myself into walking out my front door every day, bracing myself for the stares that are inevitable. I am a spectacle everywhere I go now. I no longer have the option of being invisible, of blending in with society.
Silly things like brushing my teeth take new balance as I stand on one foot, and I've tipped over more than once. My showers are now taken seated down on a cold plastic seat. Sitting down on a toilet seat takes new coordination and comes with the possibility of landing pant-less on the floor.
I hop around on one leg at home. The many sets of stairs in my house that I once strode up without thought are now a daily obstacle course. I plan my trips up to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and come down out of breath because of the effort it takes.
Going anywhere is an event. It takes planning and forethought, where before, it was simply hopping in the car.
I now question my husband's attraction to me; he married a woman with two feet, and is now hitched to an amputee. He tells me he loves me and thinks I'm perfect the way I am, but the insecurity I fight, and will one day beat, is crushing. And so -
I love your book, but you are wrong in your assertion that below knee amputees return to a normal life in weeks. The adjustments are constant and some days utterly exhausting. I will never be "normal" again - I'll always be different. An amputee. And I can sit with that and appreciate that good in it, the possibility, the hope, but on some days it is difficult to stomach. There is no going back - ever.
There is moving forward to a beautiful new life - full of bumps in the road, yes. Every day I am moving towards the sunlight that hope of a pain-free life gives me. The possibility of walking my dogs around the block and maybe even jogging with my Dad someday. But the suggestion that my path is easy, simply because another's is harder, is incorrect. We all have our crosses to carry, let us not judge one another's simply because we are carrying our own.
Respectfully and with love,
A fan and fellow amputee