Before the holidays I received emails from two new amputees posing similar questions. With their amputations being so new (each under a year), both ladies were anticipating visiting with distant relatives and spouse co-workers who were unaware of the limb loss. Wanting to avoid lengthy accident stories, both new amputees wanted advice on how to answer the unavoidable questions without dwelling or providing too many details. I have found that my answers to the "What happened to your leg?" question often are dependent upon a number of variables. When my amputation was new, my relationship to the person posing the question, the social situation and my mood all impacted my answers.
Typically, I simply explain that I had an accident and, despite the doctor's efforts, we had to amputate. I have mastered the art of changing the topic after my responses leaving little time for follow up questions. After eight years, my answers have become somewhat rote.
Occasionally, after I provide my standard response, I am bombarded with more invasive and, quite frankly inappropriate, questions. Some people want to know every detail and seem oblivious to my body language. I have had more than one encounter where I have been told that I should have sought a different doctor and that "they never would have amputated." I hate judgmental people!
When my inquisitor is especially pushy and I am in a "witty" mood, I have been known to spin elaborate stories. I remember telling one salesclerk that my foot was crushed by the Pope Mobile when the Pontiff was visiting Baltimore. I have claimed that I lost my leg due to a snake bite in the Amazon and during the Iditarod race in Alaska. (I would not recommend this method if the individual is within your or your spouse's social circle, but it certainly is fun to do every once in awhile!)
While explaining my injury to adults is easy, I struggled with finding the right words when dealing with children. Inquisitive by nature, I am often approached by children asking me about my foot. They ask numerous questions and, unlike their mature counterparts, actually seem interested in the answers!
I want to provide a truthful answer in terms that would not frighten a child. I worry that simply saying, "I was in an accident" might cause a particularly sensitive child to become fearful of suffering a similar fate. It took a long time for me to hone my response.
Whenever a child asks about my limb loss, I always give the same explanation. "I was in an accident. The doctors tried to fix my foot but they couldn't so they gave me a new one. Isn't it cool? I can do everything that you can do, but I get to take it off."
Sometimes the subject of my limb loss becomes awkwardly avoided, especially in a new social situation. I typically diffuse the tension by bringing attention to the "elephant in the room." I found that making a small joke, or an off-hand reference to my prosthesis can make the uneasiness evaporate. Sometimes other people just need to know that I am okay and that I'm not going to break down if the topic is brought up.
I'm not offended when I am asked about my amputation. I have become accustomed to the questions and, in a way, I have come to expect them. Having my responses both rehearsed and ready has helped me navigate the social minefield relatively unscathed.
- I am a below knee amputee. More importantly, I am also Mommy to two boys, a very active 10 year old (Robby) and an mischievous toddler (Timmy). I have learned that being a parent with a disability can create some unusual and sometimes humorous situations. This blogger is available for hire! Let's talk and learn how a blog can expand your business.