I’ve been an amputee for over nine years. I’ve cruised the amputee websites for even longer than that, as I was one of the lucky few who got research the one legged life before I lost my limb. There are many things I’ve learned from being in the amputee world. One of them is that explosions almost always equal lost limbs.
Whether it’s in a war zone or at the finish line of a famous marathon, if something blows up, the chances are good that it will rob someone of an extremity. It’s the first thought I had, when I heard about the Boston tragedy. I knew that at least a few people would be joining my sub-set of society. And I knew it would be devastating to them and their families.
The irony is, the story they will tell about how they lost their limb, when questioned by people in public, as we all are, will revolve around a day that was dominated by fitness, health, and vitality. But all they’ll have to say is, “I lost it in Boston,” and for many years to come, that will be enough.
My heart breaks for them, for the new journey they are on. I picture them in my mind, laying in hospital rooms across Boston, surveying the empty space at the end of their bed, wondering what it will all mean. Many may still be fighting to recover from other injuries. Because of the amazing strangers who came to their immediate aid, many will be out of the hospital by this time next week. And the rest of their lives will begin.
I wish I could visit each one of them today. I wish I could walk into each of their hospital rooms, hug their moms, dads, husbands, wives, and children, and have a chat with them. I didn’t lose my limb in a terrible explosion on a beautiful day but I’ve lived with an artificial limb for almost a decade, and heard the stories of hundreds of others who click on arms and legs in the morning, and I know a few things that might help them feel better.
So if wishes could come true, and I could visit with each and every one of them, this is what I’d tell them. Boiled down to five simple things, this is what I’d say:
1) Take a deep breath. It will be okay. Take the time to let your body heal, really heal, and take it one day at a time. Don’t pile the fear and expectation for the rest of your life in a big heap on yourself today. Tomorrow will come. Today needs to be about healing. Look around your hospital bed and see the people who will be there as you face tomorrow and the next day. Because they will be there. The people who love you will help you through this thing, if you will let them.
2) You might not realize it yet, but there are thousands, dare I say millions, of people across the country rooting for you. You know how jazzed up people get when there is a need for a soldier amputee to be encouraged? That’s your gift too. Your country is on your side, fighting for your success. Every amputee in this country and every able bodied person who has a heart in this country, is hoping and praying for you right now. Close your eyes and feel our support. If you are going to let anything weigh you down, let it be the blanket of love and encouragement that your country is weaving today.
3) This life with one less limb ain’t so bad. Even if you’ve lost two, don’t lose heart. There are many stories in the news about the amazing developments in the prosthetic world. I write about them for the venues that publish my work, and reporters from every major newspaper have written about them. When you’re ready, the life restoring prosthetics are there.
Organizations like Limbs for Life can help you buy the limb(s) you need. Your communities will rally up if they find out you’re in need of a limb. You will get back to an active life. And it will be rich. Life is about the people you love, and living with one less limb won’t matter to those people who circle your hospital bed. They’re just thanking God that they didn’t lose you–all the parts of you that really matter.
4) You have a lot of support out there, from people who truly understand, if you want it. I found amazing answers and encouragement from websites like Wiggle Your Toes and Empowering Amputees. The Amputee Coalition of America is not only a great resource for answers you and your loved ones have, but their Facebook page is a community of amputees from around the world, who ask each other questions and give honest, heartfelt answers. When you’re struggling, someone there will understand. When you’re confused, someone there will say, “I’ve been there. Here’s what helped.” Don’t forget to reach out, even if it’s just anonymously at first. You may be surprised how many people do understand exactly how you’re feeling.
5) This is your experience, and your experience alone. Just because other amputees climb Mt. Everest doesn’t mean that has to be your goal. Just because some amputees run marathons doesn’t mean you have to, even if you’d just completed one in the minutes before the blast. Your life is your own. Your injury is unique. If you need a fitness goal to keep you motivated, talk to your physical therapist and come up with something that fits you. But you don’t have anything to prove to the rest of us. Don’t let that pressure weigh you down. Yes, there are endless activities available to amputees today. Organizations like The Challenged Athletes Foundation can help you get back to any activity you might want to try. But every goal should be about what you want, not about what you believe others think you should do.
My goal was to keep up with my four kids. Oh, and to ski. I hit the first goal within six months. On the first anniversary of my surgery I learned to ski. But those were my goals. Figure out what yours are, when you’re ready, and don’t apologize if they don’t fit the expectations of anyone else.
Your main goal should be to get back to life. You know, the part of life that is about making memories with the people you love, and doing the things that make you happy? Whatever it takes to get you there, is perfect. It might mean walking unassisted on a prosthetic leg by Labor Day. Or it might mean getting used to a comfortable pair of crutches, or a wheelchair. But never forget what really matters. You’re alive. You’re surrounded by people who love you. You have a nation cheering for you. And you are never alone. As long as I’m around, and my fellow encouraging amputees, you will never, ever be alone.