by Debi Davis
When I became a double amputee at the age of 29, I was forced to shed many misconceptions I had unknowingly embraced regarding the importance of physical perfection. In the space of one hour I changed from an acceptably attractive female to an object of pity and fear.
I was not aware of this at first. I was too busy dealing with the physical pain and new limitations in mobility I now faced. Yet I was determined to succeed and proud of my progress on a daily basis. My contact with physicians, rehabilitation specialists, close friends and family only enhanced my perceptions of myself as a "winner."
My new status in society, however, was brought to my attention on my first excursion outside the hospital walls. Jubilant to be free of confinement, I rolled through the shopping mall in my wheelchair with the inimitable confidence of a proud survivor, a war hero anticipating a ticker-tape reception. As I glanced around, I sensed that all eyes were upon me, yet no one dared to make eye contact. Their downcast glances made me realize that they did not see the triumph in my eyes, only my missing limbs.
I noticed that shoppers gave me a wide berth, walking far around me as if I were contagious. Mothers held their children closer as I passed, and elderly women patted me on the head saying, "Bless you!" Men, who might normally wink and smile now looked away. Like bruised fruit on a produce stand, I existed, but was bypassed for a healthier looking specimen.
Children, in contrast, found my appearance clearly fascinating. One small girl came up to me and stared with unabashed curiosity at my empty pant legs. She knelt down and put her arm up one pant leg as far as she could reach, and finding nothing there, looked up at me in bewilderment. "Lady, where did your legs go?" she innocently inquired. I explained to her that my legs had been very sick, that they hadn't been strong and healthy like hers, and that my doctor removed my legs so that I could be healthy again. Tilting her head up she chirped, "But lady, did they go to 'Leg Heaven'?"
That incident made me think about how differently children and adults react to the unknown. To a child, an odd appearance is an interesting curiosity and a learning experience while adults often view the unusual with fear and repulsion. I began to realize that prior to my disability I had been guilty of the same inappropriate reactions.
From observing children, I learned to reach out and reassure adults of my humanness and to reaffirm the genuine worth of all human beings. To accentuate the wholeness of my mind and spirit, I smile warmly, coerce eye contact, and speak in a confident manner. By using a positive approach, I attempt to enlighten society that having a perfect body is not synonymous with quality of life.
Other stories by Debi Davis for WOW Tapestry:
That Afternoon in August
Love is Up
Music Speaks Louder Than Words
Debi Davis is a freelance calligrapher, writer, jewelry designer, and folk musician living in Tucson Arizona with her husband and critters. She is active in disability rights issues and speaks on disability issues with civic organizations and schools. Debi highly recommends New Mobility magazine. In her free time, Debi enjoys making "pet therapy" visits to nursing homes with her Papillon dog, whom she is training to be a certified "Service Dog."
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