Later this week I finish my 17th year as an amputee. In honor of this milestone, I thought I’d share with you the top 17 things I’ve learned over that time period (not all of which are prosthetic-related).
17. Socket technology hasn’t fundamentally changed dramatically since 1996. Socket designs and materials remain, for the most part, the same.
16. Knee and foot technologies have changed enormously since 1996. When I became an amputee, microprocessor-controlled knees and feet were still years away. Now, we’ve gone past passive microprocessor-controlled devices into the world of motor-powered prosthetics. If you’re an amputee, now’s a pretty good time to be alive. (But see #13, below, for the caveat.)
15. Sweat in the bottom of your socket isn’t desirable. After working out, it feels like the bottom third of my limb is in a tepid, salt-filled bath. For many years, my solution to this problem consisted of refusing to exercise. Sadly, the negative effects of this fix outweigh the more fleeting discomfort of marinating in your own sweat.
14. I don’t know how any amputees live south of Washington, D.C. (and that’s pushing it, geographically). When I feel my limb expanding in the socket from the humidity as I walk off the jetway in Orlando, there’s a not-so-small piece of me that contemplates either (a) never flying to that part of the United States again as long as I live or (b) killing myself. To date, I have not worked up the resolve to implement either solution.
13. Even though many more amputees today have theoretical access to prosthetics because of legislative requirements than they did 17 years ago, just as many or more may be suffering from the effects of systematic cost-shifting by payers. As people with limb loss/difference face the growing financial obstacles associated with obtaining even relatively basic prostheses, the question they’ll increasingly face isn’t, “Does my policy cover prosthetics?”, but “Can I afford to pay for my share of the prosthesis that my policy covers only a small part of?”
12. If I never read another article about the helpless and brave dog/cat/goose/dolphin/llama/alligator/wolverine/beaver/giraffe/ sloth/bat/elephant or millipede that required prosthetic intervention, it’ll be too soon.
11. Within the next 17 years, it’s likely that an amputee runner will come close enough to setting an able-bodied world record that the governing bodies of track and field will have to make some very uncomfortable decisions on the subject of “technological doping.”
10. Note to my 27 year-old self: all those times you said you’d worry about the cumulative damage to your body because of your one-limbed life when you turn 50? You should’ve been more worried at 27. I stood – didn’t run, didn’t walk, didn’t hop - stood on my feet for just over 3 hours more than a week ago and my sound foot still doesn’t feel right. I don’t even want to think about 60.
9. Since I lost my leg, the Red Sox have won 3 World Series. I’m thinking if Satan had come to me in 1996 and asked me if I’d take 3 World Series wins before I turned 45 in exchange for my left leg, there’s at least a 50/50 chance I would’ve said yes. And it would’ve been worth it.
8. While we’re on sports, I’d like to thank my amputation for the unhealthy interest I have in sports radio. When you sit around on your floor stretching for 30-45 days before getting a prosthesis, there’s not much to do besides watch TV and listen to the radio. And since daytime TV was at least as bad 17 years ago as it is today, I had no other options. WFAN: thanks for entertaining (Mike and the Mad Dog) and infuriating (Russ “I-can’t-speak-in-complete-sentences-without-a-teleprompter-but-sweet-Jesus-they-gave-me-a-talk-radio-show-for-a-few-months-anyway” Salzberg) ways to while away the hours when recuperating.
7. I love the FitBit Flex 5 days a week when I work out and find my way close to 10,000 steps a day. I hate it on the weekends, when I decompress and am lucky if I break the 3,000 mark. Welcome to one of the perils of modernity: activity tracking 24-7.
6. A haiku to my least favorite U.S. Airports:
Phoenix, Dulles, Atlanta
Time to start over.
5. If you’re looking for a life-defining, soul-wrenching journey of discovery, lose a limb. You’ll compress 50 years of life experience into 12 months. At least that’s how I’ve rationalized it for close to two decades now.
4. To the girl whose car I was trying to push to the side of the road: did you or anyone in your family ever ask the attorney representing you if pretending you’d never seen or spoken to me before the moment of impact was the best strategy? If the jury were to believe your testimony, I magically materialized out of the blacktop behind your vehicle. I never quite understood that. I’m not angry about it, truly. Just mystified.
3. If I hadn’t lost my leg, I think my kids would’ve been the victims of me trying to live vicariously through them when they played sports. Sports dads are bad. Thanks to my accident, I instead try to live vicariously through them as they play in bands and act in plays. So much healthier to be a stage father.
2. Never let go of the people who stand by you in your hour of need and beyond, even when you’re a jackass. Thanks, Cara, Erin and Dad! (Who have seen me at the several zeniths of my jackassery multiple times since December 7, 1996.
1. To the guy who hit me: I told you the one time we spoke that you hadn’t ruined my life. That it was just different, but not worse. Update: thank you! I’m a better, happier person because of what I went through. I mean that, from the depths of my heart. I know you would take back that moment in time if you could, but please don’t spend another moment of your life (if you’re still alive) worrying that you need to. I’m enormously lucky to have the life you unintentionally gave me.