There is an etiquette, many times left unspoken, when dealing with an amputee. Many of the "rules" are driven by common sense and basic manners. Unfortunately, I frequently encounter individuals who unknowingly commit a manner faux pas. In most instances, the offender is unaware of the breach. Although it varies according to the tolerances of the individual amputee, I wanted to share my personal list of etiquette "rules."
1. Yes, my name is Peggy. Please refrain from calling me Peg Leg Peg. I may use this nickname for myself, but I don't find it humorous when called out by others. Along this line, don't refer to me as "Hop Along," "Gimpy" or any other term considered endearing for an amputee.
2. I may, at times, make fun of my amputation. A tight knit circle of friends and family have earned the right to joke about my disability. As a general rule, if you question whether or not you have a relationship appropriate for such jokes with an amputee, err on the side of caution and refrain.
3. If my prosthetic should fall off, it is okay to laugh with me. I do not think it is okay to laugh at me. I know that it can be humorous, but please remember that it is also embarrassing for the amputee.
4. Many people do not understand that a residual limb becomes a private, personal part of an amputee's body. In many ways, it becomes as personal as the genitals. I don't mind showing somebody my stump covered with my liner, but I shy away from displaying my uncovered limb.
Do not ask to see somebody's stump. Do not try to "catch a glimps" when the amputee is not looking. Do not take a picture of an amputee without his or her knowledge, especially if the individual usually wears a prosthetic and is not using the device at the moment.
5. It is okay to inquire about the circumstances surrounding the amputation. Rely upon both verbal and non-verbal cues before soliciting more details. Sometimes I feel comfortable sharing specifics of my story, and sometimes I do not. Please try to be respectful because the amputee may not be ready or comfortable sharing all of the details.
6. I am never offended when a child asks about my prosthetic. I am happy explain my amputation and my prosthetic to any youngster who asks. I would rather a child simply ask and learn versus whisper and hide from me.
Along this line, sometimes children ask inappropriate questions. I do my best to respond to their inquiries, but parental guidance is always appreciated. Sometimes children will want to discuss all of the gory details at a time when I need to focus on something else.
7. My amputation has not made me oblivious to the medical struggles and the pain of others. I know that sometimes people don't want to complain to me because they view their pain "trivial" compared to my amputation. Pain is not a competition. I don't minimize somebody else's pain through comparison. I can relate, and I am happy to be a sounding board.
8. I know that I have a limp. Its severity varies depending upon a variety of factors, including but not limited to shoes, socket fit and pain. Unless asked, don't comment on my limp. It makes the amputee feel self-conscious and insecure.
9. I am continually astounded by the number of individuals who feel comfortable approaching me to voice their opinions concerning my disability. I had a woman at the grocery store tell me, in no uncertain terms, that I was not going to go to heaven because I was an amputee. I have been approached by salespeople hawking magnets and oils. I have been told that I was a sinner who was being punished by God. All of these encounters have left me unsettled and upset.
10. Yes, I have a handicapped parking placard. Yes, it is convenient, especially at malls and amusement parks. No, I am not "lucky." I would gladly give up my priority parking tag for my leg. It was not a fair trade.
Every amputee has a different set of etiquette standards. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and simply ask. I am never offended by questions brought about out of concern and with sincerity.