not my smartest idea


not my smartest idea 07.08.14

First, a quick apology. I failed to publish a post last week because of work commitments, an outcome I usually avoid by planning my writing schedule a bit better.

Second, I’ll be going on vacation the next two weeks, so less is more will also go on a brief hiatus during that time. I’ll be back with new ravings on Tuesday, July 29th.

With those formalities out of the way, please enjoy this week’s post.

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A few months ago I walked into town with both Max and Jackson. Unwilling to tackle the 8/10ths of a mile via normal locomotion, they opted instead for skateboards. To an overhead observer, I would have looked like an overmatched hunter pursuing two much faster targets who regularly shot ahead of me a safe distance, then allowed me to close the gap till I was tantalizingly close only to repeat the pattern again and again.

After grabbing lunch with them, I had either an incredibly brilliant or galactically stupid thought as we performed this chase and flee routine back to my house: why shouldn’t I try to skateboard? I’m a 44 year-old above-knee amputee: what could possibly go wrong trying to balance atop an unstable, constantly moving object? Swept up in the moment and reminding myself that many of my most memorable post-accident accomplishments initially struck me as stupid, I pulled Max aside and asked him to instruct me. Remarkably, he didn’t try to talk me out of it, which means I’ve done a good job of teaching him that (a) amputees can do virtually anything someone with two legs can, and/or (b) you should respect your elders, even when they try to do something that could result in their imminent hospitalization. (There may also be an option (c), which is that Max – being a normal teenager – just wanted to see what kind of hell would break loose if his father tried something moronic.)

My son started my tutelage, rather logically, with how to step onto the longboard. I watched him demonstrate the skill two or three times and then quickly shooed him away. This was a mere formality that stood between me and street surfing heaven. I put my right foot on the platform and lifted my prosthesis off the ground.

Now is a good time to emphasize that I am not now nor have I ever been an adrenaline junky. The thought of skydiving, going underwater in a shark cage, or attending a Jets game wearing a Patriots jersey doesn’t send shivers of excitement through my body. I’m not a fan of big surprises, particularly when we’re talking about physical activity.

So as I stepped atop the skateboard with my prosthesis, I experienced the shock of my brain going to Defcon 5 in the space of 17 milliseconds due to three separate but simultaneous realizations. First, as soon as my prosthesis left the ground, the board started to move forward. This registered as a distinctly “bad” thing. Second, the board flexed dramatically over the wheels, adding inversion and eversion to its already-alarming tendency to move in a linear fashion. Mild panic crept into my consciousness. Third, getting my prosthetic foot atop the platform and solidly in place wasn’t happening quickly enough to blunt the effects of the first two dynamics. The progression to full-blown terror complete, I jumped off and caught myself as the longboard flew down the street, seemingly ignoring the forces of gravity and friction as Max chased it down at a dead run, corralling it nearly 40 yards away.

He jogged back, took one look at my face, which must have faded to a color more commonly associated with slate than flesh, and suggested putting his sneaker in front of the wheels for my next few attempts. I silently took him up on his offer without argument. Over the course of the next 10 minutes, I learned that if you eliminate the concept of motion from a skateboard, the whole enterprise becomes much simpler. Unfortunately, it also changes the activity from “getting onto a skateboard” to “getting onto a step,” which isn’t nearly as sexy as what I had originally planned.

I eventually told Max to step away to let me try again without his intervention. After another 10 minutes of abject terror, I had progressed to where I could successfully get myself atop the platform about half the time. At this point, Max correctly pointed out that the actual goal of skateboarding involves forward movement. I therefore came to the uncomfortable conclusion that I had to figure out how to remove my prosthesis from the skateboard – repeatedly! – to propel me forward.

I started by using the prosthesis to push forward, leaving only on my good leg on the platform. When not pushing off the ground, I kept my titanium and carbon-graphite limb hanging over the pavement in the event that I needed to quickly eject and find two-legged stability. This happily led to forward movement, an overt sign of progress. However, with my right foot pointed straight forward on the platform and my prosthesis dangling in space, the longboard tended to yaw dramatically towards the left – I couldn’t steer effectively with only one leg.

This led to the realization that I needed to get both lower limbs on the skateboard simultaneously while already moving. My first few attempts resulted in quick jumps off the board. As I got braver, the prosthesis made it onto the platform for more than a split second and visions of cruising into town in less than 5 minutes lay tantalizingly before me. Then it happened.

As I stood atop the skateboard, both feet on the platform, I lost my balance and it shot out from under me. My upper body was suddenly behind my legs, and I could feel this nightmare sequence ending with my entire body parallel to the ground and landing with a horrifying “thud” against the pavement, bones (and skull?) fracturing under the impact. Somehow as the board exploded forward, I managed to get my sound leg onto the ground, barely catching myself and avoiding the ER-inducing smack of body against blacktop.

I stood there for a moment, amazed that I wasn’t lying in a heap on the ground. And then the adrenaline and fear broke through while the following question occurred to me: “What. The. F@#$. Are. You. Doing?” And thus ended my skateboarding career.

Perhaps I should’ve tried to tough it out, “get back on the horse.” No doubt, that’s what I would’ve told one of my kids if they had narrowly averted disaster. But I’m not a kid, and the consequences of wiping out on pavement today are markedly different from what they were when I was 12.

One of the great joys of my post-amputation life has been the discovery of all the things I can do with a prosthesis. But if I live to be 90, it’ll be because another part of me steps in and reminds me that “can do” isn’t necessarily the same as “should do.”

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