My foot was initially injured due to a freak accident when I was attending a conference. I suppose that this is the reason I tried to gracefully bow out professional conferences when I was working as a teacher. When my attendance was mandatory, I muddled through, but I was never particularly happy to be there.
Other than the conference which crushed my foot, I had never been to an event which changed my views or made much of an impact. The speakers have always been dry and uninspired. I quickly learned that the attendees were there to collect professional development points, as was I, rather than to learn new techniques.
When I was asked to work in the Ossur booth at the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) conference several years ago, I was expecting a similar experience. I did not expect to learn anything new or even to enjoy myself. I didn't realize that those few days would change my entire outlook on my life as an amputee.
I learned volumes during my time at the conference despite the fact that I never left the booth to attend any sessions! Seeing and meeting hundreds of amputees of different levels and abilities was inspiring. My job was to invite the attendees into the booth, answer their questions and make them feel comfortable. I didn't expect the memories of some of those individuals to be with me years later, yet I now know that I will never forget some of them.
I don't wear a cosmetic cover on my prosthetic. I did wear a cover for about a year until one morning I woke up and realized that I didn't have anything to hide. I wasn't walking on my real leg. I was tired of pretending that I had two legs simply to make the general public more comfortable: I was using a prosthetic which was beautiful in its own right. I peeled the cover off, and I haven't worn one since.
Because I don't wear a cover, I am more apt to receive stares and gawking glances whenever I am out. I have learned to continue with my activities and, most of the time, I don't notice. I was shocked at how liberated I felt being amongst hundreds of amputees at the ACA conference. For the first time since I lost my leg, I was not "the only one" but one of many.
There is a freedom to blending into a crowd that isn't missed until it is gone. I never realized how comfortable it is not to be deemed "different" in a crowd. At the ACA conference the tables were turned, and those with all their limbs stuck out and drew attention. Conversations about components, liners and "bad leg days" abounded, and nobody gave it a second thought. For us, it is just a part of daily life. For a few days within the confines of the hotel, being an amputee was the norm.
I spent a few days at the conference and I had the time of my life. I gained a lot of confidence and resolved to start writing about my experiences. I made friendships which I cherish. Although I missed my husband and my little boy, I didn't want to leave.
I am excited to write that I have been asked back to the ACA conference this year, and I will be working the Ossur booth again. If you are attending the conference this year, please stop by the booth and say hello. I would love to meet you, and I'll even give you a t-shirt! It would be great if we could arrange for all of my readers in attendance to meet up one evening. I'm not big into the bar scene though, so instead of meeting for a drink maybe we could all meet up for cake?