Physical mobility is of great importance in my life. Stagnate is a word my brain will refuse to process. No claims are made here of great or superior athleticism, instead I simple enjoy partaking in a wide array of dynamics which challenge me both physically and mentally. In part, they define any aspect of myself. When asked I identify myself as a cyclist, yogi, snowboarder, scuba diver, rock climber, kayaker, hiker, and occasional runner. My stress relief and joy is to go dancing. Many a night I can be found bare foot with hips and arms swaying and spinning in a circle with a smile on my face. Dancing is therapeutic.
The feeling of soreness after an invigorating work out is addictive. Literally It is not just the feeling or the extra bonus of how society treats those who are fit and in shape. Exercise helps with emotional balance, coping with stress, general happiness, and helps prolong the effects of aging on the brain. When stress gets to me I deal with it by running it out and then am able to tackle any challenges clear headed as well as head on.
A few semesters ago, when we were studying neurology we covered spinal cord injuries. Mind you I am not a squeamish person by nature. However in class I would notice myself starting to sweat, feel lightheaded and a knot would burrow itself in the depths of my stomach. When we started discussing amputation it would invoke the same visceral reaction within me. I fear stating out loud or on paper how much I fear this. I fear and am uncomfortable discussing how this would apply to me in a hypothetical sense. My life, my self-identity, my independence would all be drastically different. I suspect that they way I feel in my own skin as well as my brain chemistry would be drastically altered.
It is impossible for me to truly understand and relate to someone in this position and any rational I have for how I would react is purely intellectually founded. In truth I have no idea how I would react. Logic says that I would go through the stages of grieving, would probably go through a bought of depression, and would finally over time come to acceptance of this situation. Furthermore I would like to think that I am a strong willed enough person that would not let limitations get in the way of me having the most optimal level of quality of life. I am too curious and there is too much to do and see. As the Buddha did, I try to live my life by example and this might be one of those things where I would be a success story people would site. Finances allowing and the current state of technology continuing to progress, I would hope to be a candidate to return to sport even with the loss of a limb. Maybe this condition would even motivate me to become better and stronger. Prove it can be done.
Once again to reiterate, this is not a situation I can speak to from a truthful place and can only speculate the mental and emotional state I would be in. My boyfriend Michael is a very dynamic person who for some time has been focused on the issues of strength and agility. I believe it allows him to throw off the shackles of limitations both physically and mentally and that was something he needed in his life. Michael bare-foot runs, hangs from ropes, does silk aerials, and one-handed cartwheels. Michael can scale any fence standing in his way and Michael is fiercely independent. I mention all this because two months ago he was hit by an SUV while riding his motorcycle sustaining an open compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula. This left him with titanium rod down the shaft of his tibia, non-weight bearing for two months, and for the first time in his adult life physically limited. I understand that this paper is about amputation and thankfully Michael’s condition is temporary but for the past two months, for all intents and purpose, Michael did not have a leg. The reason I write about this in the context of this paper is that by watching and being part of Michael’s life for the past two months is the closest I have come to understanding what it’s like to not have a limb. Although Michael might make a poor example because he refuses to let limitation stop him and there are very few people in the world that I would think would be hoping around on one leg fire spinning a month post surgery. But that’s Michael.
There are psychological, financial, and social impacts I noticed. Let’s start with the social. This world is not very well built for people with a mobility restriction. Just a simple task like going to the grocery store, pushing around a cart, picking items off the shelf’s and putting them in said cart is a daunting and tiring task on one leg. How about cooking and doing the dishes? How long can you stand in front of a sink on one leg before that leg fatigues and refuses to hold your body weight any more. One of the more challenging things I noticed for him was the simple transportation of object from one location to another. One cannot carry a glass of water from the kitchen to a table with an assistive device, or, in Michael’s case, by hopping on one foot. The items that are used in daily living need to be modified. Money needs to be invested for modifications to expand less energy and to save time. However these modifications allow the person to regain a sense of independence which intern helps with their emotional stability. There are times when I wanted to do everything for Michael, but I stopped myself and watched him struggle and eventually succeed. Other times he understood he needed to ask for help. I cannot comprehend the psychological impact of an independent adult realizing that he needs to ask a prefect stranger on the street to stop and help. Michaels self image of himself begin to change in his dreams to. He felt limited even in the most freeing of states. It’s funny the things the brain does sometimes.
These are just the things that need to be done on a daily basis that prove challenging. What about attempting something active? One day the two of us went to the Botanic Garden, which also provides wheel chairs for guests to use. So we acquired a wheel char and let me tell you, that place is so not wheel chair friendly. We had to take frequent rest breaks and by the end of the day were both fatigued. He from self-propelling, me from pushing from behind. However we were determined and admirably succeeded in seeing and doing the things we wanted to do.
From a social impact it has been beautiful to see the support network that was there to catch Michael when he fell. Be it emotional support, be it his mother taking him to the doctors, be it his best friend taking out the garbage, be it the many friends that have come to spend time with him indoors because he was to weak to come outdoors for a while. Just having people to talk to and process the current reality and the way he went about socializing was different. It has been inspiring to see and, I feel, like his bonds with people are stronger due to this. He is very blessed. I would imagine that losing a limb would be unbearably hard to cope with on a lot of different levels if a social network was not in place.
The person’s quality of life can be greatly effected by the financial situation they find themselves in when the loss of the limb takes place. I am fortunate that I currently have outstanding health insurance, disability insurance, and family that would be able to help me. I am the type of person that would insist on everything being state of the art for I would feel that it would help me regain my quality of life. Luckily I would likely score a 4 on the Medicare Functional Levels scale and would be a candidate for a higher level prosthetic. I probably could not work as a PTA full time, but I am thinking that I could continue to make work as an artist. This will probably over time affect my ability to financially support myself (unless of course my art really took off) and I would probably need assistance from my family finically. Then again I would be pretty determined to be self-sufficient and find work that I could do in that condition. Work that I would enjoy and be gratified in doing. This all might be slightly idealistic, but in these situations one needs to have the highest of hopes.
The most important thing I need to keep in mind is something Christopher Reeve wrote about in his book “Still Me.”
“We all have many more abilities and internal resources than we know. My advice is that you don't need to break your neck to find out about them.” ― Christopher Reeve.
What he is getting at is that he was a man that self identified by the physical activates that his body would allow him to do. Only once he lost the ability to do those things did he feel like he really got to know himself. My mobility is a gift and I cherish it every day however I hope I never have to experience a loss on this level to know that I am more then my mobility.