About Me

My photo
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.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Going to the DMV? Dress accordingly!

My driver's license expires at the end of this month. I hate going to the DMV but I reasoned that the middle of the month would be the best time to go. Resolved to be productive today, I gathered all of the necessary paperwork and mentally prepared myself for a long wait. I found a pair of shorts and a shirt with minimal stains, and I got dressed. All packed up and with a toddler in tow, I headed to the DMV.

When I arrived at the DMV, I was handed a renewal form to fill out. I answered the questions, pleased with myself that I was actually honest when listing my weight. The last question, do you have a disability, I answered in the affirmative. After all, I have a handicapped placard for my car, so a little cross checking would reveal that I was an amputee. I listed bka under "explanation of disability."

I was pleased that my wait time was not as long as anticipated. I was called to the counter within 10 minutes of my arrival, and I dutifully handed the forms to the clerk. As she was busy clicking on the computer, I was watching Robby busy himself by playing hopscotch on the tile floor. I smiled and thought that I had escaped the DMV stress I have come to expect.

And then it happened. The clerk excused herself and walked into the back room. She returned a few minutes later accompanied by a supervisor who informed me that I was not eligible for an automatic renewal based on my disability. I was told that I would need to return for a driving test at a cost of $50.


The supervisor and another worker explained that my amputation impacts my ability to drive a car. I explained, as calmly as I could, that I have been an amputee for over 5 years and that I have never had an issue with driving. The supervisor questioned my ability to drive a manual transmission car. I countered with the fact that many licensed drivers don't know how to drive a stick shift, and these individuals were permitted to drive. In addition, my car has an automatic transmission.

The supervisor excused himself explaining that he was "going to contact Richmond for clarification." I continued to argue my case with the clerks, and frustrations on both sides were rising. Even the security guard approached the counter to verify that everything was okay. Robby started running between the chairs which were quickly filling with annoyed customers.

After about 45 very long minutes, the supervisor returned and informed me that he was unable to get clarification from Richmond. He told the clerk that it was her call, and he walked away.

At this point, I was thoroughly frazzled and frustrated. Robby was now trying to build a fort with the folding chairs and had a very dirty diaper. I had been arguing my ability to safely drive with a prosthetic for almost an hour, and the line was backing up. I decided to switch gears and be proactive.

I reached across the counter and took a blank renewal form. I filled out the form, in front of the clerk, with all of my information. I checked "no" next to the disability question and handed my signed form to the clerk. I then smiled and asked her to pretend that I was wearing pants.

I walked away frustrated and tired. Robby was cranky and smelly. But, I have a new driver's license in my purse.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hey, I know an amputee...

It seems that, whenever I having a conversation with somebody I just met, the conversation always migrates to my amputation. After meeting somebody new, and if my prosthetic is visible, I can almost see the brain synapses searching and connecting. And then, they say it. "My Great Aunt Betty's next door neighbor's brother-in-law was an amputee. He got around great!"

There needs to be a section in manner books dealing with these situations. It is human nature to want to reach out, but it is also human nature to feel uncomfortable around anything foreign.

Attempting to demonstrate acceptance through association seems to be a universally employed conversation starter. I always strive to be polite and engaging. On occasion, I have a different reaction privately, depending on my mood. Sometimes I wonder what Aunt Betty's next door neighbor's brother-in-law was using for his prosthetic. Sometimes I chuckle at the stretching of a "friend circle" in an attempt to demonstrate that they are accepting and open. Sometimes I am annoyed. And someday, I am really worried that I'll respond by saying, "My Uncle Jake's ex-wife had a sister who was almost as ugly as you!"

Occasionally, I run into the "give me all the details" individual. These people quickly bypass all social etiquette by pressing me for details. "How did I lose my leg?" "How far up did I lose it?" "How long have I been an amputee?" "How do I take a shower?" "How do I have sex with one leg?" Other than directly telling the person that I don't feel comfortable talking about my leg at the moment, very little works to dissuade the "give me all the details" individual. I hate it when I encounter these types of conversations.

Although rare, I always appreciate the direct approach. These are the individuals who say, "I can't help but notice that you are an amputee. If you don't mind my asking, what happened?" I like talking with these people, because they tend to accept any information I offer, without pressing for details I may not want to discuss. Acknowledging the "elephant in the room" opens up the conversation to different topics. After all, there is more to me than just being an amputee.

I don't mind people asking me about my amputation, and most of the time I don't mind answering questions. I know that it is difficult to approach the topic, and I try to make people feel as comfortable as possible. Conversation starters are difficult for all people, amputees included. Most people seem thankful when I bring up the amputation first. Sometimes I do this to relieve the nervous shuffle or hand wringing before me.

I am lucky because I have the best conversation starters ever. I can bring up my leg and prosthetic.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Freaky stalker or harmless devotee?

If you mention the term "devotee" to anybody unfamiliar with the amputee community, chances are they will not know what you are talking about. I had no idea what a devotee was before my amputation. It wasn't until I was recovering from the surgery and I started to do research on the Internet about amputees that I was exposed to the devotee culture.

A Devotee, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, refers to an individual who is attracted to an amputee. Many times this attraction can be likened to being attracted to blond hair, or to somebody who is tall or to somebody who is thin or heavy. I have no doubt that many loving and lasting relationships have been forged between amputees and devotees. The vast majority of devotees have an attraction to amputees, but they are non-threatening and non-confrontational.

Unfortunately, there is a small group of devotees who take their admiration to an extreme. I refer to these individuals as the Extreme Devotee, because I don't want to lump them in with the benign, non-threatening devotee. There is a difference between admiration and ogling. Run ins with the extreme devotee can be frightening. I was at an amputee conference last year, and I experienced this phenomenon first hand.

Walking through the mall, I realized that I was being followed by a group of three men. These men followed me for over 30 minutes, and were taking pictures with their cell phones whenever I stopped. I was scared, and I called my husband on the cell phone. He encouraged me to find mall security. When I approached the information desk, the extreme devotee stalkers scattered. As they walked past me, they told me that they loved my stump. It was just creepy.

I am usually approached by the extreme devotee when I am alone. I have been approached in the produce section of my grocery store and told that I would be "sexier" if I didn't wear my prosthetic. When getting coffee at 7-11 in the morning, I have had somebody whisper that they wanted to "lick my stump." This upset me because I had my son, an infant at the time, with me. I have received offers of up to $250 for a single picture of my leg.

Within the amputee community, devotees have a negative connotation because of the actions of a small group. The radical extreme devotee demonstrates an obsession versus the admiration shown by the general devotee. I do not understand individuals who harass and stalk amputees to satisfy a pornographic desire.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Birthday blues...

Today is my 35th birthday. I used to love my birthday. In fact, I would drag the celebration out over the week. This year is different, and I'm trying to figure out why.

Perhaps it is different because I am now forced to move up a dreaded "bubble age" category. I am now forced to check the 35 to 60 category. It is hard for me to comprehend that I am now part of the "middle age" range.

In many ways, I feel much older than 35. I have had more than 30 surgeries. I have survived cancer, and I am living and thriving with an amputation. All of these experiences have aged me. Not only physically, but mentally.

I look at life with an altered perspective. I'm not saying I no longer get stressed out by life's tribulations. I do have a repertoire of coping mechanisms to utilize when life gets hard. Surviving an illness and/or amputation can be empowering. I now know that, no matter what, I can not only survive any situation but I will be able to thrive. I recognize that there is a strength that has developed within me because of my experiences.

This being said, I find myself in a funk today. I never imagined I would be living my life as an amputee. But, I guess this isn't something anybody ever envisions. I am missing my leg today, but I am trying not to dwell on the loss.

I have a beautiful little boy, a wonderful husband, a loving family and a loyal group of friends. I am very lucky. I am stronger now, both physically and emotionally, than at any other time in my life.

Despite all of these blessings, I am feeling blue. I never wanted to be an amputee, but this is something over which I had very little control. Sometimes, this moment being one of them, it is cathartic to express my frustrations and anger over the situation. I miss my leg, and I am sad and angry!

My birthday present to myself this year is permission to feel and express these feelings. I know that moments like this are fleeting, and that I will return to embracing life and all of the joys it can bring. I also want to be true to myself, and that includes acknowledging these feelings when they arise.

I am excited to see what unfolds during the next 35 years, but I am realistic enough to know that I can't predict my future. I do know that I will always have the strength and fortitude to survive and to thrive. This I have already proven to myself. Happy Birthday to me...

A Leg Bedazzled...

As the weather warms and I start to wear shorts more often, I find that I want to add a little pizzazz to my prosthetic. I've painted the toenails on the foot shell, and I am ready to personalize the socket for the warmer season.

Last summer, I created a rhinestone anklet around the circumference of the prosthetic. I liked the effect, but the application was time consuming. I found the rhinestone stickers in the scrapbook section at Target. Each rhinestone had to be individually applied. It was difficult removing the backing off those tiny little disks.

This year, I selected my summer accessories from the dollar bin at the craft store. Unlike the gemstones I used in the past, these are quick and easy to apply. The little jewels are attached to a strong sticker in transparent strips. The gemstone strips were designed to decorate flip-flops, and there are a myriad of designs.

I decorated my socket before my trip this weekend. Hugh Laurie, the actor who plays Dr. House on the Fox TV show House, saw my leg and commented that he liked the socket. It takes very little to make this Mom happy.....

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Comedy of Errors...

Flying as an amputee is always a challenge. Flying with a toddler can be nerve wracking. What happens when you are an amputee Mommy flying with an active and grumpy three year old? I'm not sure they make enough Lexapro to make that trip easy!

Going through security is always an adventure as an amputee. Because of the prosthetic, I set off the metal detector, necessitating the dreaded pat down. I have come to anticipate this, and, unfortunately, so has my husband. We flew to Ohio yesterday, and I wanted to share our experience.

Robby is at a very clingy stage, and to say that he is resistant to separating from me is an understatement. As I am led to the screening, he is in his Daddy's arms, screaming. Sitting in the plexiglass room, waiting for my screening, I was helpless as I was watching the comedy of errors unfold before my eyes.

Scott struggled to put the computer, laptop bag, the cord for my leg, the diaper bag, the stroller, the car seat, my purse, his shoes, Robby's shoes, and all of the contents of his pockets on the conveyor belt. He then held onto Robby and proceeded through the metal detector. The metal detector is apparently scary when you are three, because Robby started to scream and fight his Daddy.

When they were through the metal detector, Scott put down Robby so that he could open the stroller. He struggled with this, because this is usually done by me. Robby, pleased to be free, took off running through the security area, in his socks.

The stroller was finally opened, and Scott was able to catch Robby. Robby was put in the stroller. Unfortunately, Scott forgot to buckle him in. As Scott turned to gather our belongings and puts his own shoes on, Robby crawled out of the stroller and took off running again, screaming "weeeeee." The stroller, no longer balanced, tipped under the weight of the diaper bag that was put on the handle.

Leaving the stroller on its side, he chased after Robby. After an invigorating game of "catch me if you can" Robby was finally caught. He was carried back to the stroller. Scott struggled to upright the stroller while keeping a wiggling and screaming three year old tucked under his arm. Finally, Robby was put back into the stroller, and this time he was buckled.

Only after all of our belongings were safely claimed and Robby was sitting in his stroller was I finished with my screening. Scott muttered that he hates going through security, and offered little empathy for my pat down. On the bright side, we have two days until we get to repeat the whole process!