Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Face It and then....Embrace It

I finally stepped (or rather rolled) out of my comfort zone on Sunday. When I was at the the prosthetist's office last week one of my prosthetist, Eric, gave me a flyer about a picnic type of event at the lakefront hosted by an organizaton called, "Adaptive Adventures."

The flyer talked about having free food, drinks, music, and for me, more importantly, kayaking and riding a hand controlled bicycle. After my usual vacilating, should I or shouldn't I go, I decided to give it a try.

OMG I had a great time. I met several people, traded email addresses, and got some interesting viewpoints about life as an amputee. I am so happy I went.

First of all, the kayaking was a blast. I was in a two person kayak, I was seated in the front and an experienced kayaker was in the back. We were out on the water of Lake Michigan about 45 minutes, it was great. It was a wonderful experience, something I definitely want to do again.

After the kayaking I wanted to grab something to eat....too late ALL of the food was gone except for  a small amount of pasta salad and some questionable chicken. Live and learn. I guess you have to get to the food part as soon as it is presented or you are out of luck. These people did not have disabled appetites.

One of the men I met at this event was named Jorge. He was well known to most of the people in attendence and is apparently an intregal part of promoting amputee and disabled persons  participation in sporting events like softball and basketball. Jorge is very funny and very easy to talk to.

I expressed to Jorge I had misgivings about surrounding myself or immersing myself in the amputee and disabled person's culture. I said it may sound like I am a jerk or that I feel "above" other disabled persons but I didn't want to be defined by my limb loss.

Jorge explained to me that my feelings were not unusual, many people feel the same way. As he continued, he explained   that not everyone wants to be surrounded by fellow amputees or disabled persons.

It sometimes comes down to whether you want to embrace your new lifestyle as an amputee/disabled person and really take advantage of all of the life experiences you can realize when you participate in the amputee/disabled person community. Some people are content with life as it is and others seek to broaden their experiences and not allow their disability to hender them from living life fully.

A lot of concerned people  ( both able bodied and disabled) have worked very hard at establishing laws to protect and enhance the life of persons facing disability. Not so long ago there were many inaccessible places ( some still exist), including sidewalks and parking lots that were not designed for wheelchair users. It is funny before I became disabled myself  really didn't give it much thought, as most people don't, now I am of course very aware as are those who's lives I have touched.

One of the realizations that was made manifest to me on Sunday was that I have faced my disability head on and most people have told me admirably and what I am attempting to do now is to embrace my disability. Part of that embrace is to get out more into the community, be seen, and participate in the special programs specifically geared toward persons like myself who have special needs.

Like everything in life, it is a matter of evolving into the best person you can possibly be, given your circumstances. I feel I have made as healthy an adjustment to my life as a bilateral above knee amputee, with respect to my mental and emotional outlook as possible and now it is time to address other issues.

Those issues include going out into the community more, taking advantage of the special programs instituted specifically for disabled persons and trying to be more confident about where life has placed me. I realize this is no small order, but at least I believe I am at the point where I am willing to give it more of a try than I have in the past.

It should go without saying that endeavoring to do more means learning easier and more efficient ways to get into and out of my car and letting go of making excuses as to why I can't do things.

This Adaptive Adventure's barbecue taught me that there are a lot of people like me who refuse to let their disability stand in the way of their living their lives to the fullest, regardless of how difficult getting to their desired destination might be.

It  is a natural transformation that occurs, first you become disabled, then you face the disability, and if you choose, you can embrace your disability, and by doing so,  help to create a more fulfilling and happier life.

I will keep you posted on upcoming events and I will do my best not to lose the momentum I have acquired in part, because of attending the Adaptive Adventure's lakefront event.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Don't Believe Everything You Hear

I have been following the results of a series of questions posed by a woman on a website called, "Empowering Amputees." These questions were about what people experienced through their limb loss.

The results were varied and the attitudes of the respondees ranged from optimistic to down right bitter. I would say the overridding common responses were that people should not believe all that they are told with regard to what they will be able to achieve after the loss of a limb. Often times thay can achieve much more than what they were originally told.

It should come as no surprise that the amputee is as successful in their attempt to "overcome" their disability as their particular attitude, willingness to work, and their experiences with various heathcare professionals, especially, the prosthetist and physical therapist.

I was surprised by the number of amputees in the survey  that had experienced problems with their prosthetic limbs and or their prosthetist. Granted, we will all have problems with our prosthetics and  some will have difficulty with their prosthetist. Perhaps we should not look at them as problems, but rather  a new reality. Learning to accept your new prosthetics, learning how to use them, and realizing it will take time to get the right fit and build up a tolerance to wearing them, is now a part of your life, don't look at it as a problem, just reality.

What I have learned throughout my ordeal is that prosthetic limbs are like a car engine, it needs to have adjustments made periodically, like rotating the tires or changing the oil. The job of a  prosthetist is a daunting one, trying to mimic the natural abilities of  natural legs or arms using a mechanical device.

I learned early on that you need to establish a good relationship with your prosthetist, if that is unattainable, you need to find a new prosthetist. A good healthy bond between you and your prosthetist is essential, after all they may be a critical deciding factor in your success, and more likely than not, be a part of your life as an amputee.

I remember when I first started dealing with a prosthetist, I felt I was complaining to them about every little thing, I felt I was being a nuisance. This could not be farther from the truth. A prosthetist can only be as good a problem solver as you are in your ability to explain what you are feeling when you wear your prosthetic limb.

A prosthetist can't read your mind nor can they try to fix something unless they  know a problems exists and what the problem is.

The degree of your limb loss can and does vary greatly among amputees. I know from personal experience that being a bilateral transfemoral amputee is much more difficult than having lost only one of your legs or being a below the knee amputee. Having a knee component on at least one leg or being a below knee amputee puts you at a great advantage over someone who has neither knee component, be thankful for that.

Several of the participants in this survey, I spoke of earlier, explained that they were told they would not be able to do this or that. The fact of the a matter it depends on each individual. Some may have thought that I, being a bilateral above knee amputee, would never be able to sustain myself, maintain an independant  living environment and live alone, and yet I have.

You learn new ways to do old things. You find ways to shower, to drive, to use the bathroom, cook, do laundry, etc. Your ability to be creative in approaching new ways to do things you used  do easily, is critical. Don't assume you can't do it, instead figure out a way to do it,  but do it differently, while at the same time still accomplishing the task. Of course some things will be impossible, but more are possible than are not possible, and that has to be your mindset, if you are going to be successful.

Having a correct attitude, being creative, working toward achievable goals, and establishing a good relationship with the healthcare workers you deal with, will make your life as an amputee, a little easier and hopefully, a lot happier.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I was driving to physical therapy last week and I drove past a man who was a double above knee amputee sitting in a wheelchair, begging. It touched me to my core. It touched me first of all because I can relate to his situation probably better than anyone I know and secondly because it made me feel sad for him. I wondered how he was in that situation?

The whole scenario made me feel thankful for all that I have despite the fact I have lost both of my legs. Sometimes we can get caught up in our own lives and our own predicaments and forget how fortunate we really are.

It is easy in our day to day lives to forget those whose lives are wrought with basic problems like lack of food, shelter and clothing. Perhaps my seeing this disabled man begging for money, reminded me that if it were not for my own insistent longing for the betterment of my life, I could be that man.

Sometimes I question where  a person's motivation or lack of motivation really comes from. Are we born a certain way or are we a product of the environment we were exposed to as children and molded by the events that occur in  our lives as we grow into adulthood?

Whatever the answers to these and so many more questions may be, it makes me thankful for my home, my family, my friends and even my lifestyle. Granted, my life has taken a turn that has put it in a place of perceived hardship, but seeing someone like the man I described earlier makes me realize and appreciate all that I have.

As I was writing this particular blog segment, I received a phone call from a friend of mine named Sylvia. Sylvia was my in home physical therapist, who helped me through a lot of my post-operative traumas including many of the by-pass operations and ultimately through the loss of my leg, both times.

Sylvia seems to have called me at just the right moment and I told her I was writing about my thoughts and feelings regrding the bilateral above knee amputee in a wheelchair. I have always held Sylvia in high regard, she is a very intuitive and spiritually aware person and has offered me her insight on several topics many times.

Sylvia believes, as do many people, that our lives are a product of the choices we make. At the risk of sounding unsympathetic, she said she thought that it is possible that the man has chosen to be in his situation. When I say chosen, I don't mean he chose to be a beggar in the street, but rather that he chose not to fight to overcome his situation. In short, he may very well be content where he finds his life.

Sylvia believes it is best to try to accept people and their situations for what they are, being as unjudgmental as possible and of course offering help to those who want to help themselves.

Those of us who feel we are compassionate human beings, look at other people's lives and their subsequent perceived happiness or unhappiness, then make  our own assessment of their situation based on what we want from our own lives.

As I  have written about on other occasions, we can never know what another person has gone through to arrive at where they are, nor should we make assumptions or judgments about where they are now.

I guess in an atempt to make some coherent sense of my ramblings, I will say that I am thankful and  appreciative for my life, and how I have managed to keep my spirit alive despite some very difficult obstacles. I am thankful God has given me the wherewithal to continue down my path with optimism and compassion for my fellow human beings.

May God's grace and love be with the man I saw in the wheelchair, that he may lead a life of peace and happiness.

*To leave a comment please click the comment box below, to contact me personally write me at: glennartinc@yahoo.com     

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Family Reunion

I returned from a week long visit to Indianapolis last Friday. As expected, I spent most of my time floating around in my sister and brother-in-law's swimming pool.

One of the main reasons I went to Indy was to participate in my aunt and uncle's 50th wedding celebration, which was combined with a long overdue family reunion. This was the first time since the loss of my legs I have seen many members of my extended family.

I must admit I was a little apprehensive about seeing all of my cousins and my Aunt Lynda and Uncle Joe because of being in a wheelchair.

I don't know how other people in my situation feel about seeing long lost relatives for the first time after such traumatic physical losses occur, I can only speak for myself.

I felt so comfortable with everyone, so at ease, and there were no awkward moments. I thought people might ask me to go into details about what has happened to me, but that never happened.

My Aunt Lynda was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease a few years ago and this was the first time I had seen her since her diagnosis. I am so proud of my aunt and how she meets her health challenges head on with strength, confidence and dignity.

One of the reasons I wanted to write this particular blog passage was to use it as a tool for other people who might be facing a similar situation as I have just described.

Seeing family and friends for the first time after there have been physical changes can make a person feel ill at ease. My trip home turned out to be a great experience for me because it was a kind of coming out of the disability closet, so to speak.

Many of my cousins, I have not seen in over 20 years and most of their children, my second cousins, I had never met. We all had a great time meeting and reacquainting ourselves with each other, reminiscing about our past and talking about where our lives are now.

I have been told by some people in my life that I think about things too much or over analyze things, that may be true, however, those persons are not in my position and don't have to think about appearing differently than they always have (except for the usual changes caused by getting older.)

I can tell you if you are contemplating attending a family function, or any type of gathering with persons you have not seen in quite a while, especially after having had a life altering physical change in your life, often times those concerns or apprehensions turn out to be non-issues.

I was completely accepted by my family with no reservations. In fact my cousin, Dee, was particularly accommodating, always asking me if I needed anything to eat or drink etc.

I know we all sometimes feel like doing this or doing that is more trouble than it is worth, but in the final analysis, when we look back, it was in fact worth the effort we put forth.

After having left the reunion, and having time to reflect upon it, I am really proud of my family. I never realized there are so many artists in my family, painters, musicians, dancers, photographers, and writers. I was pleased to learn  there were so many talented and gifted people in my extended family.

I found my extended family to be a group of really interesting people, with diversified outlooks on life, it was refreshing and uplifting.

I am certainly glad I put my apprehension aside, went to the trouble (with a lot of help from my sister) to attend, I feel like I am a better person for having done so, you can't ask for more than that.

*To leave a comment click the comment box below, to contact me personally email me at: glennartinc@yahoo.com