We all remember that old saying our grandparents used to tell us, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” It’s a pretty basic concept, right? If you can’t say something positive, then keep the negative to yourself. Well, once I became an open amputee (meaning I don’t hide my prosthesis or cover it up), I discovered that is a lot harder for people to do than it sounds.
On a recent trip to Wal-Mart, I encountered a woman in her 60s who obviously had forgotten this rule of thumb. As I stood there waiting for my daughter to finish looking at something, she came right up to me like she knew me, even though I was quite sure I had never seen her before. So there I was standing in the town that I write books about, and I’m thinking, “Okay, smile and be pleasant. She probably read the book.” And I no sooner finished thinking it when she opened her mouth. What came next told me she lived by the rule, “If you have something to say, say it.” She started waving her hand in the direction of my prosthesis while saying, “You should cover that up, no one wants to see it.” And before I could open my mouth, she was gone. I’m pretty sure if there had been a camera pointed at me that very minute, they would have gotten quite a range of facial expressions.
I’ve been physically challenged for enough years to know that she was judging the book by its cover. It happens ALL the time. It isn’t always as blatant, but here are a few examples.
Amputees want to “show off.”
Yes it was December in Minnesota, and yes it was cold. You see, I don’t wear shorts because I want to “show off” my leg. I wear shorts because I get very hot wearing said leg. Every morning when I get up, I put on a silicone liner and cover it up with three to five wool socks and then put it inside the carbon fiber socket for 18 hours. For comparison, imagine getting up and putting on a rubber dish glove and then three pairs of your favorite wool socks over your arm. Now walk around for a while and see how long it takes before you start to sweat. I can tell you it’s not long! With the knowledge that everyone is going to see my leg, I try to keep it interesting and fun for people to look at. My motto is “People are gonna stare, might as well give them something to stare at.”
Amputees don’t want to “talk” about it.
Yes we do! We’d much rather answer your question about how it happened, if it hurts, if it’s hard to learn to walk again, if we can run or any other question a person might have. We’d rather be engaged than stared at. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Amputees shouldn’t park in handicapped spots.
There is no right answer here. Do I still park in a handicapped spot? Sometimes, like if there is two feet of snow on the ground and the parking lot hasn’t been plowed, or if my leg is really bothering me from phantom pain, or it’s broken I will park where I can be closer to the door and there’s a cart to use for support. On a sunny day and my leg is feeling good I don’t park in the handicapped spot, and you know what? It feels great! It’s the little victories in life sometimes.
Amputees have no life.
Truly, people believe this! I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Katie, and I am a below-knee amputee. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, full-time medical transcriptionist, author, ballroom dancer, living kidney donor and strong advocate for #lifewithoutlimitations. Most nights (like tonight as I’m writing this at 11:30), I find that I have an abundance of life, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
I don’t often get upset about anything that is said to me. I’d probably spend most of my time in public angry about one thing or another if I did, but this woman really got to me. Her assumption that “no one” wants to see my prosthesis really peeved me because I know a lot of people who want to see it. I have a husband and three kids who are ecstatic every morning when I put my leg on and get up and start my day with them. They LOVE to see it. I was very glad my daughter was not near us when she said these things, not because I don’t think my daughter can handle it, rather I don’t know if the woman could handle my daughter! 🙂 I went to my in-laws that night and was telling them about it. My father-in-law, who was an educator in their district for 33 years, was appalled. He suggested I write a letter to the editor and say what needed to be said, and I did just that. (See below) As I sat down to write it, I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to say, but my heart knew. When I finished writing the letter and submitted it to the paper, I can’t say I felt great satisfaction in responding to a negative remark, but I hoped I had done it in a way that was “being the bigger person.”
In my books, and my life, I’m a solid believer in a reason for everything. Sometimes we know, sometimes we don’t but there is always a reason. For me, Dec. 7 in Wal-Mart was my reason. I felt that little piece snap into place, that piece that said, “This is your mission. This is why you are an amputee. You will be the voice of those who can’t or won’t stand up and say I am still ME. You will stand up and be an example for living your #lifewithoutlimitations.”
I’m happy to report that the letter was shared more than 100 times and even made its way as far as Japan and Australia, but more than that are the responses I have gotten from other amputees. Words like, “I’ve always hid my prosthesis, but you have given me the courage to shed my cover and just be who I am.” The experience has opened doors for me to continue to be a voice in my community, and I look forward to all the wonderful changes that continue to evolve.
Another saying goes something like this, “Don’t judge a book by its cover, you might miss the great story inside.” I hope everyone who reads this will let that become their new motto for 2013 and join me in living #lifewithoutlimitations.
Dear Female Wal-Mart Shopper,
On a recent visit to Cloquet my daughter and I stopped at Wal-Mart before visiting my in-laws. As I stood in the aisle, you approached me and stated, “You should wear pants because no one wants to see that,” all the while motioning towards my prosthetic leg. I was a bit taken aback and saddened by the fact you felt the need to lay your negativity on someone who was minding her own business and not affecting your life.
Our encounter left me wondering what you would have said had you looked past the cover and read the story inside. When you judged me, you didn’t see my beautiful daughter shopping in the aisle across from us or my two boys at home with my loving husband. You didn’t see the woman who works full-time and takes care of a home and a family. You didn’t see the bestselling author who has adopted Cloquet as her second home and writes novels about the beautiful Twin Ports. You didn’t see the woman who loves ballroom dancing, shopping with her daughter and walking on the beach with her husband. Who you didn’t see, very simply, was me.
I am more than the carbon-fiber foot I wear on the outside. In fact, I wear that carbon fiber proudly because it has shaped me into who I am today. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a writer, an organ donor, a lover of life, oh yes, and an amputee.
As the holiday season is upon us, it is my hope that the next time you see someone in a wheelchair, wearing a prothesis, talking with their hands or using a guide dog, instead of bringing them down you reach inside yourself and find a way to raise them up. Offer to hold the door or even an encouraging smile.
Our country will never move forward if we continue to teach our children intolerance and hate. It isn’t until people stop judging a book by its cover and take the time to read the great story inside that we will shed the heavy coat of intolerance and find out how good it feels to wear acceptance.