Knee Deep

When I was in 8th grade, a double amputee came to my middle school to show us how he was able to run and be active. I remember looking at him and getting this sickening feeling in my stomach as I placed myself in his shoes because I could never imagine what it would be like to have to re-learn how to walk. At the time, I was a mile runner who greatly depended on both of my legs to place in track meets, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that one day, I might end up wearing a prosthetic. I don’t know why I felt that, but intuition is a scary thing.

What I distinctly remember is the reaction that some of my peers had when he took his legs off and revealed what was left of his actual leg and a handful of people exclaimed, “ew.” It made me realize how much stigma still exists in our world towards disabled people and specifically towards people who have lost their limbs. One thing our world does not do a good job of teaching is that people who have lost their limbs are still people.

A few months later I was diagnosed with cancer and a month later I lost my left leg and my entire life shifted.

Every once in a while, you’ll meet a kid who doesn’t look at your leg or doesn’t ask. Or you’ll meet people who don’t even notice that you lost your limb but for the majority of people, looks are an important deal and the absence of a limb does not get past them.

After 5 years of dealing with the effects of limb loss in public, I’ve compiled a list of observations and tips in honor of limb loss awareness month because being educated on limb loss is something that most people lack.

  1. If you’re curious about someone’s leg, go up to them and ask: Instead of asking around or giving them stares (trust me I can tell when you’re looking at my legs because my eyes are up here), go up to them and ask them what happened. I think I speak for other amputees when I say that we’d prefer if you went up to us and directly asked instead of eyed us like we are an exhibit at a museum. If you feel too guilty to ask, it may be because your intention is not out of the goodness of wanting to know what happened to them but rather treating their limb loss as some sort of gossip (and in that case, yikes).
  2. Don’t assume that someone is unable to do something physically because of limb loss: Some people straight up assume that getting into a chair is the most difficult thing and that I am going to tumble and fall because of how “weak” my leg is, but actually I do high-intensity workouts to kill my legs so yes I may lack a limb, but that does not mean I lack the ability to do things physically. Also, it’s unfair to judge someone on physical ability based off of their legs (or lack thereof) because there are people with two legs who can’t do some of the things that I am able to do such as the splits or kicking up to my face.  And no, I don’t have trouble walking around a college campus.                                                                          IMG_6371
  3. We don’t need your sympathy: I don’t need you to feel sorry for me because I don’t feel sorry for myself. I had to choose between life or death when it came to losing my leg so obviously, I’m going to choose the rest of my life instead of a leg that will cause me to die ya know? I cried a lot of tears about this back then, but it’s 2019 now and I’ve been this way throughout my teenage years. If I can make it through the most shallow, externally focused years of life with a different leg than everybody else’s, I don’t need you to feel sorry for myself because I’m proud of what I’ve overcome to get to where I am.
  4. Until you experience it, you won’t know the feeling: This applies to most difficult situations, but especially concerning limb loss…to this day, my parents still admit that they don’t know how I did it. They emphasize that they don’t know what they would do if this happened to them. I guess this is why most people choose not to ask me about it or ask how I got through it because it’s a difficult topic to understand and no matter how good of an explanation you give to other people, they won’t be able to get it unless they experienced it themselves.                                                             IMG_6586
  5. Flaunt it if you’ve got it: I think a handful of people assume that I’m ashamed that I don’t have half of my left leg anymore, but that’s not true. This is the plan that God had for me and it is what shaped me into who I am today so why would I be upset about that? I used to think that I’d be too ashamed to wear shorts, skirts, dresses or anything that exposed my limb and that I wouldn’t want to swim in public because that meant taking my leg off in public and people would have to see what my leg actually looked like, but honestly if people want to look they can. After all, they don’t know how much effort it took to get to where I am now so it’s their loss that they see me as nothing more than a leg. And yes, I spend more time wearing skirts and dresses than I do wearing long pants. I’d also like to point out that I became more confident after I lost my leg (kinda weird I know), but it just goes to show that losing a limb is not the end of the world. It’s what you make of the situation you are put in.                                                                                                                                               IMG_6584
  6. I’m more than my leg: It’s easy to get wrapped up in my leg because it’s such an integral part of what shaped me, but I think focusing on it too much and letting it define me as a person is dumb because I am so much more than a body part. I think anyone who has lost a limb can agree with me when I say that we’re still human, just like everybody else. It’s nice to be called an inspiration and to be someone’s role model but at the end of the day, there are other aspects about me that make me who I am and that is not solely limited to the fact that I lost my left limb at 14. Furthermore, it is the most annoying thing when someone brings up my leg as if it’s some quirk I have when in reality that situation caused me a lot of pain. So in conclusion: be more sensitive than you think you should be.                                                                                                                                               IMG_6583
  7. Limb loss is a good way to judge someone’s character: I’m sure there are simpler ways to figure out who the crappy people in your life are, but one way I can gauge if someone is even worth getting to know is where they look the moment they meet me. Trust me when I say that if even if you stare for a split second or you don’t think I’m looking, I know that you’re looking at my leg. I’ve also had the privilege of meeting people who never once brought it up or treated me differently or made me feel any less because of it and for those who have never made me feel as if I am an anomaly, I love you endlessly.
  8. There are still days that I miss my left leg: I had two legs for as long as I could remember and I grew up “normal” so I think that’s why sometimes I still identify as someone who is two-legged because that’s who I’ve been for the majority of my life. I don’t think about my left leg every day, but of course there is still a part of me that wonders how different my life would have been, had I kept that left leg.                       IMG_6593

To my left leg, I thank you for the 14 years that you were with me and for making me an amazing mile runner back in the 8th grade. I never would’ve gotten to that level of confidence in my athletic ability without your help. Although the only thing I have left of you is pictures, I know that everything truly does happen for a reason. I always like to say that I may have lost a leg, but what I gained after losing my left leg is more than I could ever ask for. I’ve missed you since November 8th, 2013 but it’s crazy to believe that the best years of my life happened without you.

Lastly, here’s to all the people who live without a limb or without both limbs and still manage to kill it every single day of their lives.

Love,

Patricia Valderrama

 

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