A negative Top 5

A negative Top 5 11.21.14

less is more contains more than its share of positive stories and thoughts. That’s because I am, when it comes right down to it, an optimist. However, the last few weeks I’ve been thinking darker thoughts for three reasons.

It started with a post on my inevitable physical decline as I age. Next came nearly two weeks of illness, which culminated last Wednesday in my participating in a conference call while lying on the bathroom floor of my home hoping that no one asked me a question as I calculated the odds of getting through the meeting without throwing up. (After 3 hours, this thought experiment happily ended with me not expunging the contents of my stomach. However, the misery I went through during that time period actually made me wonder whether it might have been better to do so.) Lastly, Cara’s grandfather died earlier this week, leading to yet more thoughts of mortality and the meaning of life.

While I’m still generally optimistic and happy, visiting other emotions proves interesting from time to time. And with that, let me give you a different kind of “Top 5” list: the Top 5 Things About Being an Amputee that Stink. Enjoy.

#5: Ice

In order not to die when walking on ice with a prosthesis, I walk like a man on a tightrope: tiny steps and arms out to my sides for balance. As I’ve documented countless times before, I take great pride in walking like a normal person. But now when confronted with ice (or anything that could even remotely be ice), I switch out of human walking mode into a form of ambulation that makes me look more like an airplane than anything else. And anything that makes me walk like an airplane is hate-worthy.

#4: Bar stools

I’m fairly certain the companies that manufacture bar stools have a replica of my prosthesis in their factories. I further believe that they use it to confirm that their placement of the cross-piece of wood on which my prosthetic foot should rest stays tantalizingly out of reach by between .25 and .79 inches.

I should’ve prefaced this item by noting that I don’t generally frequent bars. However, when traveling through the nation’s airports, I often prefer the bar to a restaurant because I think it looks less pathetic to be at a bar alone. And every damn time I end up in one, my prosthetic foot dangles uselessly just above the cross-piece where everyone’s foot should rest.

I end up sitting all the way at the end of the bar stool so that the toe of the prosthetic foot just scrapes against the cross-piece, making the way my leg rests look somewhat normal. The downside of this approach is my upper body perches almost atop the bar, giving me the appearance of a patron always on the verge of leaping across the bar to attack the bartender.

#3: Beaches

Sand finds its way into every crevice of the shoe and foot shell of my prosthetic foot as I walk on the beach. If you want to create waterfront property, send 100 amputees out and make them walk on a beach for 15 minutes. The house that stood 50 yards offshore at the beginning of that exercise will requires stilts by the time we’re done.

Week before last, I packed a pair of shoes that I brought with me to Aruba last summer. I’ve worn them countless times since then. When I arrived at my destination, I found my suitcase encased in a layer of sand. This raises the question, does sand procreate? If I go by the data from my suitcase, the answer is a clear, “yes.”

#2: Shopping for new pants

Cara insisted that I get new blue jeans a little over a week ago. With her expert guidance, I walked into the dressing room with 8 (?!?) pairs of jeans.

To try on even a single pair, here’s what I have to do: (1) remove shoe from prosthesis; (2) pull my pants off prosthesis; (3) slide pants off good leg; (4) pull pants onto good leg; (5) pull pants onto prosthetic leg; (6) put shoe back on prosthesis; (7) stand up and zipper/button pants; (8) look at self in mirror with equal parts horror and self-loathing. Total elapsed time: 1 minute 45 seconds. To try on every pair of pants that came into the dressing room with me (including taking on and off the original pants I walked in with), I’m staring down the barrel of 15-20 minutes of pants-related activity.

I couldn’t deal with it. I tried on two pairs, walked out, lied to Cara about some sort of instantaneous “sight test” that knocked out the other 6, and fled the store.

#1: “You inspire me!” (aka, “You’re a hero!”)

Participate in a road race as an amputee and you’ll hear this at least once. I’m fairly certain I could club a baby seal while running a 5K and receive this praise while doing it.

How do you even respond when someone says this to you? I feel like a human totem that people rub for good luck when I hear it, like an object instead of a person. I’m that thing that magically inspires normal people. (My typical response, by the way, is a quick nod while trying not to throw up in my mouth, which results from a combination of fatigue and sudden onset nausea.)

I inspire you? For all you know, I deal crystal meth, strangle kittens and walk through playgrounds terrorizing young children … all at the same time. But because I strap on a running leg, I’m a source of inspiration? Let’s keep things in perspective, folks. The words of Martin Luther King are inspiring. Ghandi’s refusal to deviate from his principles of nonviolent resistance is inspiring. The fact that I’m one of the relatively small number of amputees  who (a) has access to a running prosthesis, and (b) has at one time or another actually run races with it hardly qualifies as a wellspring of human inspiration.

You know what inspires me? People treating other people with dignity, compassion, and fairness. I propose we all strive for more of that in 2014. But that’s just me.

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