fluent in amputee

To have another language is to possess a second soul.

– Charlemagne

Many people who speak a second language point to the time that they begin to dream in that language as proof of fluency. While I have never dreamt in French – the language that I inexplicably chose to try to learn from 5th grade all the way into college, driven by a fatally flawed immigration analysis that predicted a future in which millions of French-Canadians would flood across sparsely-protected US borders to find a better life driving zambonis more effectively than their American counterparts – I do periodically dream about life with limb loss. That gives rise to the question, can someone with limb loss/disability become “fluent” in prosthetic wearing?

Though I never recorded my thoughts on paper after my accident, I don’t have any specific memories of dreaming that I only had one leg between the time I found myself in the hospital and the day I got my prosthesis. I was still a two-legged person while asleep, even though I lived for approximately 45 days as a one-legged, crutch-using human. (I can’t remember even one dream in which I used crutches.)

Similarly, I don’t recall any dreams in which I re-learned how to walk during the period after I got my prosthesis and was trying to figure out how to use it correctly. In retrospect, that’s remarkable to me. I spent a solid three-plus months of my life focused entirely on mastering the art of walking and running with a prosthesis. I obsessed over this activity with an intensity that bordered on the psychotic. Yet,  I can’t recall even one example of a dream where I walked between parallel bars, on a treadmill, or with a physical therapist monitoring my gait.

In fact, as I think back on it, I don’t remember having any dreams about wearing a prosthesis until several years after my accident. And those invariably center on doing things that I can’t actually do in real life. Strangely, many of these reveries involve racing down stairs at breathtaking speeds and with a rhythmic ease that only serves to remind me how mechanical the process actually is, even with the sophisticated prosthetic devices available today. I always marvel, as I gracefully and fluidly move from dream upstairs to dream downstairs, just how well I can cover this ground.

From this, I hypothesize that going down stairs is subconsciously a really big deal for me. Then again, according to Freud, it might be a really big deal for everyone. According to him, “steep inclines, ladders and stairs, and going up or down them, are symbolic representations of the sexual act.” (I wonder, did Freud live in a ranch?)

On the other hand, this may only suggest that Freud’s own obsession with the topic manifested itself in his masterpiece. A quick search of The Interpretation of Dreams reveals that the world “sexual” appears 86 times and the word “sex,” 12. In other words, Freud was writing about sex once every 3.89 pages, which is pretty remarkable given that the text (a) was first published before 1900, and (b) predates online porn by more than a century. (Freud, I suspect, would have loved the internet and seen it as the ultimate validation of his theories.)

In an effort to pin down the significance of dreaming about wearing a prosthesis, I turned to the most reliable information source available: Google. [Uproarious laughter.] Google “prosthesis” and “dream interpretation” and you wind up at dreammoods.com, which apparently is so popular that its website proclaims, “Due to the extremely high volume of requests for dream interpretations, we are no longer able to interpret dreams via email.” (Good to know that people are comfortable emailing their dreams for interpretation by a faceless website containing not one iota of documentation demonstrating that it’s anything more than a bunch of college students who stay up late at night “interpreting” dreams with the help of a keg and Red Bull.

Student 1: “New dream came in. [Gulps Red Bull.] Woman says she was kissing a wombat.”

Student 2: [Filling red plastic cup with beer from keg.] “A wombat? What’s a wombat?”

Student 1: “Marsupial. Australian.”

Student 3: [Pausing from drinking beer directly from keg, no cup necessary.] “Doesn’t it . . . [burps loudly] seem like Australia is overrepresented in the marsupial category?”

Student 1: [Giggling] “‘Marsupial’ is a funny word.”

Student 2: “Woman gives marsupial tongue. So we’re going with a sexually-based response, yes?”

Student 1: “Too clichéd? Kissing a large rodent -”

Student 3: “- marsupial -”

Student 1: “- right, marsupial could be just plain creepy. Maybe we should go with the ‘imminent loss’ template.”

Student 3: “Why so obsessed with imminent loss? You’re worried about clichés and you fall back on imminent loss? Let’s go outside the box. How about . . . [long pause while taking a large hit of beer directly from keg] no hidden meaning at all? Let’s tell her that her dream about kissing a wombat means that she will actually be kissing a wombat.”

Student 1: [Pouring Red Bull into plastic cup half-filled with beer.] “Too cute. Not kissing the wombat. I mean, too cute making the dream a flat projection of future truth.”

Student 3: “Perchance you’re right. But I’d like to see the look on her face when she opens her email. I guarantee you she never goes to Australia or even a zoo after reading it.”

etc. etc.)

Anyway, the kind folk(s) at dreammoods.com have a pretty comprehensive list of terms and their related interpretations. For “prosthesis,” the dream entrails reveal

that you are exploring a new perspective in life. You are reaching out in a different and profound way. Consider also where on the body the prosthesis is fitted as that body part may offer additional significance. If you have a prosthetic arm, then it means that you are exploring a completely new way of doing something. If you have a prosthetic leg, then it means that you are headed toward a new journey.

Most leg amputees, I believe, would reject this interpretation because “heading towards a new journey” implies lots of walking. And people with LL/D associate lots of walking with blisters, breakdown, and other complications. Also, while I can’t dispute that dreaming about an arm prosthesis might represent a completely new way of doing something, (a) that would seemingly be true of any type of prosthesis, and (b) the interpretation reeks of astrological vagueness – make a broad enough statement and you can find some fact that will prove it.

(For what it’s worth, “prosthesis” on the dreammoods.com webpage falls directly between “persecution” and “prostitute.” I’m sure there’s a brilliant joke somewhere in there, but I’m not smart enough to piece it together.)

As unhelpful as dreamwoods.com is, it looks positively scientific compared to dreamforth.com, which, when you search for “prosthesis,” returns “dentures” as a hit, with the following description:

To dream of dentures in your mouth suggests a family reunion that may hold unexpected news. It may feel as though it is your responsibility to provide for your family at all times but a dream of dentures is a message to take a break as it is acceptable to allow your loved ones to fend for themselves.

Good God. These aren’t college kids getting hammered and having fun; the dreamforth.com team is apparently comprised of serious, self-important individuals who are halfway towards opening up a fortune-telling shop in an upscale suburban town.

In any event, the “self” that inhabited my post-amputation subconscious transitioned seamlessly from an able-bodied, two-legged construct to an able-bodied, prosthetic-wearing one. My prosthetic-donning dream-self plays soccer (not sexual – 0 references to “football” (aka “soccer” in the US) in The Interpretation of Dreams), runs leg over leg (10 references, none linked to sex), and races down stairs (sex!sex!sex!sex!).

Dream Dave is generally aware of the fact that he wears a prosthesis. He continually thinks to himself how remarkable it is that he’s able to do all of these activities while wearing a prosthetic device. This registers as both surprise and pride, as he also knows that this level of expertise has previously eluded him. He doesn’t get hung up in the mechanics of how what he’s wearing actually works. There are no adjustments to be made, no technology to learn – only the uninterrupted, smooth flow of doing what he wants without any aspect of the activity feeling (or being) mechanical. Put simply, the prosthesis and he are fully integrated. One.

Interestingly, there are times in my prosthetic-wearing life that I’ve been in better shape, stronger, and more capable of controlling my prosthesis than I am today. And yet, due to improvements in my socket and prosthetic components, the older, weaker, and flabbier me functions at a higher level than at any time in the last 14+ years. In other words, I’ve never been closer to Dream Dave than I am right now.

I feel the need to attach some kind of significance to Dream Dave (leaving the Freudian implications aside). The fact that his prosthesis appears to be hard-wired to do exactly what his brain tells it to, that he is in no way different from the waking version of pre-amputation Dave aside from the fact that he sports carbon-graphite and titanium on his left leg, and that the gap between Dream Dave and his waking counterpart has never been smaller suggest to me that, finally, I’ve become fluent in Amputee. That immersion program really paid off.

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