I have been debating whether or not to write about the following topic. I have discussed it with some friends and family but I still couldn't make a decision. An experience Friday morning solidified my need to bring up this relatively taboo topic.
I was entering my prosthetist's office and ran into an above knee amputee who was leaving. Unsolicited, he looked at me and said, "I wish I was a bk (below knee). You get all the cool stuff." Then he said, "I don't even know why you bother to call yourself an amputee, you have it so easy." He then jokingly laughed as I stood still, stunned. Keep in mind that all of this was said without any pleasantries being exchanged.
Now I completely understand that ak (above knee) amputees have a unique and difficult set of struggles with which I cannot even begin to relate. I don't pretend to know what it is like to be an ak. Nor do I know about the unique yet equally difficult struggles of arm amputees.
Why is there such competition among the amputee community concerning struggles and obstacles? I am not the only amputee who has noticed and been bothered by the animosity displayed by other amputees towards individuals whose amputations are deemed lower on the "struggle totem pole."
When I first lost my leg, I thought there would be an unspoken understanding and a sense of empathy among all members of the amputee community. After all, the opportunity to interact with others who truly understand the loss of a limb is rare. When I do see another amputee, I certainly don't want to engage in the "I have it worse than you have it" game.
Before I became a Mommy, I was a teacher for the blind. I know that a similar and unspoken hierarchy exists within the visually impaired community. Those who were born totally blind are at the "top," and are deemed to have it worse. That is followed by those lost their vision later in life. Individuals who have partial vision, although recognized as blind by the rest of the world, are many times not accepted into the blind community. The pecking order is clear.
My point is this: The amputee community is small. As amputees, we all face obstacles and struggles which are not encountered by our friends and family members who do not have a limb loss. Why do we then need to further divide and isolate ourselves into subgroups? The answer appears to lie in human nature.
It would be wonderful if, as amputees, we could just support each other. Instead we are dividing ourselves into a class system based on disability level. Maybe, if we are more aware of the prejudices we inflict, we can begin to erase this class system. After all, nobody wins when we discriminate against each other!.