Questioning an Amputee? When is it OK?
I am often asked two questions: What happened to your leg? Or Army/Motorbike?
Generally these questions are asked at a moment when I have a brief interaction with someone, such as at a checkout or while waiting in a queue. It often makes me feel very awkward since the story of my amputation is not just as simple as shark bite or some type of other gory story that would actually be interesting to the person asking. Very occasionally, when in a new area, I do tell people this just for a bit of variety!
I suppose this questioning brings up the identity of the person being questioned. As an elective amputee that begged the NHS to amputate their leg for many years, I am very happy to be seen as an amputee as it portrays the perseverance and challenges that I faced to be the happy individual I am today. Despite that, I really do not like being asked by members of the public as I feel as though it is the only part of my person they pick up on. I would feel comfortable if somebody pointed out my Blade XT and commented on how cool it looked though (because let’s be honest, it’s incredible). Generally, if it is an elderly person, I will tell them a very simple story which is quite short.
If somebody is a recent non-elective amputee, they may not feel comfortable disclosing why or how they lost their limb. I think it’s a shame that the individuals questioning the amputee think that they have the right to know their personal stories. On the other hand, they may be completely comfortable but it is down to an individual whether they feel comfortable. Amputation stories can be very upsetting to recall and can actually become physically painful if people suffer with phantom pain.
Despite my approach to the general public, I find that I am very open to talking about my amputation with children. Kids are naturally very inquisitive and I think it’s vital that they are open to exploring different people and abilities. Young people will often point to me as I walk down the street and will often say ‘Mummy/Daddy, what happened to that man’s leg?’ Although I really do not like being pointed at, I appreciate that children do not quite have that filter. As I am normally in a rush, I don’t know what they tell their children however I would love to be a fly on the wall for that occasion and find out. I did have one occasion whereby a young child (approximately 4 years old) just pointed to my leg and was in fits of laughter just saying ‘haha, look at that man’s leg,’ while the parent just stood there. Although this was not nice to be on the receiving end of this, it does not happen very often.
On the occasion where children approach me and ask what happened to my leg, I generally tell them that I have lost it. I ask if they would like to help me find it and enjoy watching them search the area for the rest of my leg – a great game to play if you’re having to look after a child for the day.
I feel as though the general public only have two reasons for a young man to lose his leg – either through the Army or a motorbike accident. I often feel obliged to tell them that I had a chronic pain condition and often recite the same spiel, by which point the person listening usually accepts and carries on waiting in line or getting on with their day. I wonder what knowledge that individual gained through my story. Had I stated something extraordinary, would they have gone back to their home and told their family of this new creature they had met? Perhaps not..so why do they feel that information is vital to know?
I think that it’s important to note that if you are an amputee reading this, you don’t not have a requirement to inform and educate the public. They are able to use google and generally, when I do tell people, they often had a *insert family member/neighbour here* who had an amputation. They inform me that the advancements of prosthetics are looking really good now and I should be alright *insert patronising head/shoulder pat here.*
Now with people that I actually know but I have a distant relationship with, such as my hairdresser and the cleaner at work, it gets a bit more difficult. You can tell that they would like to ask you but don’t know how or when to. I suppose the advice I would give for someone that would like to ask why someone is missing a limb is to wait until that person has bought it up and then approach it then. As an amputee, you get very used to people asking you however it does not get easier with time. Generally speaking, if someone is speaking openly about their prosthetic or amputation, they are probably open to questions and a discussion.
For my future, I think it will be interesting to see how I identify as an amputee. Will I forever be happy showing off my amazing Blade XT or will I want to be seen as able-bodied to avoid the questions, judgement and just to be seen as able bodied?…I guess only time will tell!
This topic may be very different to my general blog updates however it seems very prevalent at the moment as I recover from my recent revision surgery. I have been using my wheelchair full-time until I am fitted with a new prosthetic leg. In my lunch break (30 minutes), as I zoomed around the shop in my wheelchair, I had 4 people approach me to ask what happened to my leg – a pretty normal number on an average lunch break for me.
Recovery-wise, I am actually doing very well. Stumpy is looking amazing and I am so excited for my first NHS appointment on the 20th of October to hopefully have a cast made for my prosthetic leg, which I should be able to start using on the 3rd of November.
Anyway! In summary, the short answer is that it’s never polite to ask someone with a limb difference their story unless they bring it up.
Have a great rest of the week!