I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that people have lost the ability to listen. It's easy to hear words, but listening to somebody is a skill that is becoming increasingly rare in today's society. Technology offers us "quick fixes" to just about every problem. If you are hungry you just need to log on and order a pizza which will be delivered to your door within 30 minutes. There is no need to speak to another person throughout the transaction, keeping human interactions to the bare minimum.
Although technology has made our lives easier, there is no replacement for a personal interaction. Inflections, facial expressions, and a gesture as simple as a hug cannot be replicated through a keyboard. It feels like the immediacy and anonymity of the internet has relegated the ability to converse to a fading art form. People just don't seem to know how to talk with each other, what to say, and more importantly, when to listen.
A friend of mine is preparing to conduct her first peer visit since becoming an amputee. I am excited for her because I clearly remember talking with her when she lost her leg several years ago. Now she is able to pay it forward by mentoring somebody on their journey. It is wonderful to see her come full circle.
Preparing for her visit, she asked for advice. She has the experience and compassion to be able to help anybody, but I did offer one reminder: when doing a peer visit, or even when listening to a friend who is struggling with their own demons, it is imperative to do more listening than talking.
Whenever I am meeting with a new amputee or a soon-to-be amputee, I try to keep my input and experiences to a minimum. It's a bit of a dance between trying to offer enough information so that the individual feels validated and knows that I am experienced without trying to outdo them. Sometimes volumes can be communicated by my speaking few words. I am not there to compare experiences, war stories or emotional and physical scars. I am there to offer support. I've learned that my saga does not need to be revealed and that offering too much personal information can often derail the visit.
Let's face it, when you are upset and confiding in a friend, the last thing you want to hear is a tale about how they endured more than you. Nobody likes to be one upped, and it is especially detrimental when you are already upset and feeling scared. During my initial interactions, it doesn't matter how many surgeries I've had or what diseases I have survived. The visit is about listening to the new friend and providing information, resources, and assurances that they are not alone. They want to be validated, not outdone. They don't need to be burdened with the mentor's story.
The moment phrases such as, "I know exactly what you mean, my doctors had never dealt with my unique situation before" or "Well, if you think that is bad, wait until you hear what I went through" are uttered, the visit will fail. The mentor needs to spend more time listening than comparing notes. After all, nobody wants to be one-upped in the problem department!
- 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.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Like many of my female friends, I have tried to be proactive about personal safety. I've taken self-defense for women courses and even achieved my yellow belt in karate, the result of my ill-planned scheme to meet men when I was single. I would like to think that my preparations have only fortified my instinct to fight and defend myself. Apparently I was wrong. A few nights ago, I discovered that my response to be scared would be more embarrassing than valiant.
I woke up around 3 AM parched from another afternoon spent swimming in the sun. I laid in bed for a few minutes, debating whether or not I was thirsty enough to put on my leg and amble to the kitchen and back. Only after rationalizing that I would fall asleep faster if my thirst were quenched did I decide that it was worth the effort, and I put on my leg and not so daintily tip-toed to the kitchen.
I thought Scott was still sound asleep when I walked back into the bedroom, but apparently he had woken to use the bathroom. He walked out of the bathroom at the same time I was walking in front of that door. Still groggy and now fully awake, I was surprised when I saw him.
I remember Scott mumbling, "Hello" and looking at me. After standing frozen and unresponsive for what I'm told is three or four seconds, my natural instinct kicked in: I stood perfectly still and screamed. Then my knees went out and I fell to the floor where I curled into the fetal position and began to cry. I am not sure when it happened, but by the time I calmed down I was lying in an unexpected puddle.
Schlepping the carpet cleaner out of the laundry room in the morning, I felt demoralized and humiliated. I wish that I had the gumption and courage to defend if necessary, but apparently that is not my response. Despite my plans and best intentions, my "fighting" instinct apparently dissolves into a puddle of my own urine. So much for being a great protector!
at 6:18 AM
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Scott has started back to school which means that I have been on full-time Mommy duty. Robby, who had been sleeping until 7:30 during the summer, is suddenly awake and ready for adventure at 6:00 AM. By the time the sun is setting, he is still going strong and I'm exhausted. I wish I had his energy!
I am fairly certain that Scott and I hate his first week back to work although our reasons are probably entirely different. He becomes bored in what I dub the "I believe that children are our future" meetings which monopolize his schedule during these first in-service days. I used to love teaching, but I don't miss the mandatory meetings! This year I decided to give Scott a back-to-school present and loaded Hotspot Shield onto his smart phone. This way he can log onto the school's wireless network and discretely surf the internet without being blocked. Needless to say, this simple gesture propelled me into the strata of "World's Best Wife."
I detest the first few weeks of Scott's school year because my husband becomes grumpy and short tempered when his summer vacation closes. I realize that he's tired and is trying to adjust to a new schedule. I also understand that the required meetings are dreadfully frustrating and exhausting. I've learned through the years that I can't change his mood and that it is best to go into stealth mode by trying to stay out of his way and allowing him plenty of room to decompress without putting undo demands on him. I am always walking on egg shells for the last few weeks of August. Let's be honest, I've never been adept at walking lightly!
Perhaps the most pertinent and difficult adjustment is experienced by Robby. He misses his Daddy dearly when he is at work. I know that his days will soon be occupied by school and friends, but in the meantime he quickly becomes sad because Scott isn't here. Two or three times every hour he asks if his Daddy is coming home from work yet. I understand his being anxious, but if I hear "When is Daddy coming home" one more time I might pull out my hair.
Because I don't have anybody to watch him, Robby has been relegated to accompanying me on my appointments. He sits and plays on the IPad until I'm done with my meetings, never making a peep. I know that this isn't a lot of fun for him, but I have been so proud of how well he has been behaving when he is forced to come in tow. When my work is done, usually by 12:00, I try to do something fun with him, so although it hasn't been terribly hot, we've been spending our afternoons at the pool. Apparently cool temperatures and frigid water don't stop my little water bug!
Scott has off today and tomorrow, but will resume his meetings on Friday. I know that the next week will be difficult, so I'm going to just try to enjoy the next two days. The Summer of Awesome will continue, at least for a few more days.
at 6:06 AM
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
A few nights ago, Robby and I were curled up on the couch watching another exhilarating episode of Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, when Scott walked into the room. He had a pained look on his face and explained, "It really hurts when you stub your stump." After agreeing, we both chuckled that this is not an experience that can be shared by the vast majority of couples.
This remark parlayed into a lengthy discussion about Scott's toe amputation. He is typically guarded on the topic and often devalues his experience by trying to compare himself to other amputees. Realizing that a loss is a loss and sensing that he needed to talk, I encouraged the conversation, asking a few questions and doing a lot of listening.
For the first time Scott revealed how he felt about losing his toe, and I was shocked. His cavalier facade faded away when he referred to his stump as "disgusting and ugly." It was in this moment that I realized that I never asked Scott how he felt about seeing my limb. Taking a deep breathe, I asked him the question even though I wasn't sure I wanted to hear the answer.
We ended up spending the next 30 minutes reassuring each other that our residual appendages were not revolting and that the appearance did not matter. I can understand why Scott feels his foot is not attractive because only when I'm completely honest with myself do I admit that I think my residual limb is ugly. It is flabby and unnatural looking. I have come to accept it just as Scott has accepted his foot, but they aren't features either of us feel like highlighting. It is fascinating how we can revile something about ourselves yet easily accept it when featured on somebody that we love.
We have been married for 9 years, but I just learned that Scott has been sensitive about showing his foot in public. I never really considered his footwear style as an attempt to conceal his missing toe, but it turns out that his choices have been deliberate. It is only within the past few years that he feels comfortable walking barefoot at the pool and beach. I asked him what changed, and why he now felt comfortable showing his foot. I was expecting him to credit time, perspective and acceptance. Instead his answer again took me off guard, and made me chuckle. "Peg, I realized that I could walk next to you at the pool dressed like Donald Duck and nobody would notice. You are so used to it, but at the pool everybody is always staring at your leg. It's kind of liberating to be next to you."
I quietly listened to him recount his return to college after his accident, and how he felt about soliciting help because he had not fully healed. It saddened me when he explained feelings of humiliation and isolation because he lost his toe. Although his loss is less visible, his feelings and experiences speak to the profound grief that occurs when a part of the body is lost.
at 6:48 AM
Monday, August 19, 2013
Yesterday was dreary and grey which equated to the perfect time to take Robby to the movies. He has been chomping at the bit to see Planes, but since I don't like sitting inside when the weather is nice, we have been waiting for bad weather. He immediately began asking to go see Planes almost as soon as he peeked out his curtains in the morning and saw the rain. I was slightly concerned that the movie would not live up to the Robby hype, but I am happy to report that we both gave it five stars! Robby was enthralled from the beginning scene, and I was entertained enough that I wasn't fidgeting and trying to figure out how long we had been sitting.
I love going to the movies with Robby because his animation makes me smile. He is always quiet, or rather I should say that he tries to be silent, but he quickly becomes enveloped by the plot. He holds his breath, ducks, covers his eyes, gives high fives and clenches his fists during all of the action sequences. After 90 minutes of high flying Planes fun, he was exhausted!
Sometimes Robby becomes so involved in the plot that he forgets his movie theater manners. Yesterday this happened after the final scene of the movie when his favorite little plane finished the race. Always enthusiastic, Robby jumped up and screamed, "Now that's what I'm talking about. Don't mess with the United States of America- oh yeah!" I should probably note that this was an odd reaction because there was no patriotic theme in the movie. Nowhere was the nationality of the planes was not a subplot, so I'm not sure why Robby took the celebratory opportunity to make a patriotic reference.
After several uncomfortable seconds of silence, a few fellow movie goers began to clap. Then the applause began to build and somebody shouted, "Way to go Dusty (the name of the plane)." Before I knew it the entire theater was as animated as Robby, cheering the little plane and shouting patriotic declarations. I am not sure why, but somehow my little guy managed to whip up a patriotic frenzy after an animated movie about planes!
His enthusiasm continued during the drive home. I was delighted that he actually put down the IPad and talked non-stop, recounting every plot twist. I still don't know how Robby managed to turn Planes into a patriotic movie, but I'm glad that he thought it was the "best movie of his whole life."
at 6:38 AM