Back in February, one of the guys I train with mentioned that he saw a topic in one of the forums he frequents that was started by someone who had one of his legs amputated recently, and was seeing if anyone else out there was suffering from the same condition. I jumped in and made a few posts, but one of the guys on there jumped into the conversation as his daughter had her leg amputated below the knee a while ago and was curious how she’d fare when she got to school age and how other kids might react to her condition.
As someone who has had their leg amputated as a child (see the bio, as well as my posts on growing up as an amputee and my medical history), I figured I might be able to offer some advice on what to expect and I sent him a lengthy response over e-mail. I was thinking about this the other day, and thought it probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea to post an amended version up here.
In prep for writing my original response, I actually had a chat to Wifey since she’s my voice of reason, because I wanted to give an honest response on growing up as an amputee, but didn’t want to be melodramatic or anything. Hopefully, this will be a measured response 🙂
I think it’s worth prefacing that other amputees’ circumstances may be different to mine – even when looking at gender, there are differences in how girls and boys react to things by nature of the social norms obliged by gender/society, so keep in mind I’m a guy and grew up in that environment. There’s also the extent of the amputation – amputation at the ankle, below the knee or above the knee – my above-knee prosthesis slipped on my stump and then the prosthesis attached to my body with a big metal and leather waist band. Gotta love technology in the 80s, hopefully suction technology’s become the norm for kids these days, and things are better. There’s no comparison to the options available as a kid and the leg I have now, so keep that in mind too!
Anywho, about me growing up – got paid out and rubbished heaps because of my leg, both from kids in my class/year level, and from all the big kids as well at school. It’s hard and makes you angry as a kid (and frustrating as a parent watching on) – I had all sorts of aggression issues when I was a kid, and thinking back I’d say it was a combination of my cheeky personality (I blame it on being a middle child and a ranga!) and my issues with my leg and the baggage that comes with that. I wasn’t able to verbalise my issues and work through all those emotions because of how young I was, and it’s only been as I’ve gotten older that I can trace back to when I started to accept and work through my feelings and that this coincided with when I started getting in less trouble at school… so from the age of about 6 – 11 I was a bit of a handful (understatement), but I mellowed out from then onwards, and continue to be pretty chilled out these days.
It wasn’t all negative though – I always had a good group of friends who would stick up for me and didn’t care about the leg. In fact, over the years it came in handy and we’d take the piss about it, so it’s all good 🙂 Like when McAdam and I were a bit inebriated at a party and at one point in the evening my leg ended up on the clothesline and didn’t come down for the rest of the night 😀 Kids can be cruel, and if you stand out, it means you’re likely to get on the receiving end of stuff. A good group of friends will always make a world of difference though.
On the other side, having to plough through life on one leg and coming out of it well makes you stronger for the experience – I used to physically fall over all the time when I was a kid because of the leg, and what Mum and Dad had to do (and it broke their heart) was to learn to not fuss over it and let me get myself up and going again, and resist the urge to pick me up each time. One time they even got a mouthful from a mother who came and helped me up when I’d fallen over at a park and thought they were ignoring me! I became a very independent kid and remain a very independent adult, almost to a fault at times. But hey, life experience – that’s what it’s all about. I wouldn’t be as strong-willed today if it weren’t for their emphasis growing up that I had to learn to look after myself.
If you have a child who has had an amputation, the best thing you can do (if my memory holds up :P) is to just reinforce how much you love them, and prepare them by not whitewashing about stuff when they get a hard time from kids at school. Teach them to be strong-willed and independent, and keep up with all the extra-curricular stuff they might be interested in doing, like swimming (great life skill anyways, but for an amputee it helps bridge the gap and keep up with the rest of the kids if you’re a good swimmer!), dancing/martial arts (great for gait, fitness, weight [weight is extremely important as an amputee, as fluctuations affect how the socket fits the stump] and tempering the stump), basketball, etc. As a kid I was always doing something – swimming was awesome as loved being able to beat everyone in class once we got in the pool because nobody expected it (!), and I used to play hockey, basketball, footy (though I was a bit crap at footy, but still ran around anyways!), Taekwondo (to be honest this actually helped control some of my aggression and taught me to channel it in much more productive ways), tennis, even all the track stuff like hurdles and other athletics. Again, I was a bit rubbish at them, but I enjoyed giving them a go and was always active as a kid. Despite being a chubby ranga!
Things changed a lot in high school as the divide between the sporty kids and the not-so sporty kids inadvertently put you into cliques (there was no way I could keep up with everyone in high school so I stopped being active and focused more on studying instead, though looking back I wished I started doing karate when I was a teenager!)… though again, this might also be just what happens with guys, and given the quality of the prosthetics now, your child’s mileage may vary. With girls, since there can be some pretty full-on psychological bullying and bitchiness in high school, I’m not sure how that would come into it (and my solution for tormenting and bullying from another boy was hardly eloquent – I’d start a fight and try and kick them with my fake leg :P). As long as your child is strong-willed and has a solid emotional foundation, that’s probably all your can do.
The good news is that once school’s done, society’s a different beast and I’ve never been discriminated against in the workplace, and I’ve been consistently employed since I started with part-time work after school when I was 15. There may be a few things that might be out of her league (i.e. stuff that’s particularly physically demanding on their legs, but again, mileage will vary because of the child’s stump), but over time they will learn her limits and roll with it, just as I have.
There’s definitely plenty of other anecdotes I can talk about on the blog with regards to growing up as an amputee and some of the things you have to deal with, but I figure this is getting pretty lengthy already, so it’s probably best to leave it be. I’ll add more experiences ad-hoc, and remember that they’ll all be categorised under the “History” category for easy access in the future.