the amputee bill of rights

In our most recent podcast, Peggy and I share our thoughts about which amputee rights are so fundamental that they should be included in a new amp’d Amputee Bill of Rights. We talk about how this project started, the way in which we came up with the rights included in this document and gave listeners a glimpse into the reasoning behind our choices.

But what we have done so far is only version 1.0 of the Amputee Bill of Rights. In order to finalize it, we are seeking input from everyone in the limb loss / difference world. Our goal is to ultimately publish a document that has feedback from and the support of everyone with less than four complete limbs. So we are asking you – please review version 1.0 and share your thoughts with us.

How do you do that?

  1. Download the amp’d Podcast Summary (Episode 17) and review the amp’d Amputee Bill of Rights version 1.0.
  2. Let us know what you think. What did we miss? How can we improve what we’ve already got? You can reach out to us either by contacting us through our website, or by sending us an email at ampdpod@gmail.com. Either way, please include the words “Bill of Rights” in the subject line so that we can triage responses appropriately.

We look forward to your input. The deadline for submitting your comments is Friday, April 7th. We’ll publish the community-validated/created Bill of Rights the following week.

Thanks in advance for your help! We have already received lots of great comments and can’t wait to get more.

crutch hate

crutch hate 7.29.14

As part of the long-term project Be In Better Shape at 50 Than 40, I have committed to a workout regimen over the last four months that goes beyond anything I’ve done before. I lift weights three days a week. I’ve discovered the wonder of resistance bands, which provide a full-body workout that leaves me looking like I emerged from a swimming pool. And there’s always my old friend and nemesis, the treadmill.

Jumping atop the moving rubberized sidewalk to nowhere normally doesn’t damage me. And over close to two decades as an amputee, I’ve developed what I consider to be a highly sophisticated system of assessing and responding to socket discomfort that balances the benefits of being active against the risk of having to shut myself down for an extended period of time as result of injury. The operative words in that last sentence are, “I consider,” because they correctly imply that I’m exercising personal judgment. Unfortunately, as anyone knows who knows me can attest, the disconnect between my logic and actual logic is often vast. To wit: I found myself both surprised and chagrined a few weeks ago when my mind told me one thing and my body revealed another.

It was a long treadmill workout – 90 minutes. I pass the time watching old episodes of Louie on my Kindle Fire, a show I select because I think it reveals some sort of clever parallel between the futility of the main character’s existence and my unending walk to nowhere.

The first 45 minutes slid underneath me without incident. But as I closed in on an hour, I began feeling something that I generally classified as “not good”  at the end of my limb. I have felt this before. It is, in my view, the cost of being active when you encase part of your body in carbon fiber and plastic. I therefore usually try to push past the discomfort, secure in the knowledge that everything will be ok in the end based upon past experience. So, with close to 60 minutes already committed to this venture (and two episodes from Season 2 still queued up to see me through the end), I made the conscious decision to forge onward.

The discomfort increased to mild pain over the last half hour, but I forced myself through it, feeling that surge of satisfaction as I shut the treadmill down at the 90-minute mark. “Pain is all mental,” I reassured myself as I stepped off the treadmill to cool down. Except sometimes it isn’t. As I pushed my body back into motion to leave the gym, the sensation I felt at the end of my leg felt closer to “body part in open flame” than “mild bruise.”

I regularly have conversations with myself in my head when unexpected events occur. (I fear that as I get older, these talks will cross the threshold from silent to audible, at which point my children – seeing their dad muttering to himself all the time – will become well-acquainted with all the services that assisted living facilities in the greater New York area undoubtedly provide.)

Dave’s Brain: “Ow! Jesus. What is that?”

Dave’s Brain: [replying] “Whooooeeeee – not good. [Expletive deleted.] Maybe it’ll feel better with this next step – [sharp intake of breath] NOPE!

Dave’s Brain: “Maybe that decision to continue at the 55 minute mark wasn’t the smartest one I’ve made?”

Dave’s Brain: “I can’t have been wrong. I’ve done this before. It’ll all be fine when I get the socket off and re-don it.

I hobbled out to my car, into my house, up the stairs, and into my bathroom. Removal of the socket and liner confirmed – as usual – my stupidity. At the end of my leg I was now staring at a liquid-filled blister the size of two silver dollars.

Cursing myself, I grimly showered and gingerly put my prosthesis back on. I spent the rest of the day trying not to walk and, when I had to, tentatively loading my prosthetic side for a millisecond at a time. I went to sleep hoping that the next morning would reveal that I had Wolverine-like healing powers.

I do not.

*   *   *

While I’m quite adept at using crutches, it’s a skill I’d rather not have (or need). Over the course of the next day as a crutch person, I realized how differently I see myself when I’m not wearing my prosthesis.

When presented with opportunities to go out in public to run errands that I’m responsible for every day, I rejected them, choosing to stay in my house. When Cara offered to do them for me, I turned her down.

Dave’s Brain: “Just because you’re not wearing your prosthesis doesn’t mean you need other people to do everything for you. Suck it up.”

Dave’s Brain: “Flawless analysis. I’ll prove the point by sitting here like a block of cement.”

Even when I did have to go out – the boys needed me to run them to various activities late in the day – everything felt complicated and laborious. Getting into the car now required me to crutch past the front door, open the rear passenger door, toss my crutches in the back, close the rear door, hop back to the front door, open the front door, and slide into the seat. (In retrospect, I probably could’ve just gone in the front door and thrown my crutches into the back seat from there, but I’m not a crutch person, so nothing is intuitive. Also, I’m generally much smarter after the fact than I am in the moment.) As I climbed out of the car when returning home and a neighbor drove by, I asked myself (as if I were a brand-new amputee), “Did they see me with only one leg? What are they thinking if they did?”

One might think that after 17-plus years of life as an amputee, I would have gotten past these kinds of issues. Clearly, I haven’t. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I do find it fascinating, however, that so many years later, a blister at the end of my leg can immediately jolt me back into the “new amputee” mindset.

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.

———————–

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.”

Monotasking

04.29.14 Monotasking

Before this week’s post, I just want to send congratulations and best wishes to my Amp’d co-host and fellow blogger Peggy Chenoweth (aka The Amputee Mommy) who, true to her blogging handle, has become a new mom for the second time. Peggy and I will continue to record Amp’d, though the early arrival of Timothy may delay future podcasts a bit. But never fear – having a second child should provide ample fodder for fascinating future discussions and Amputee Mommy blog posts (which, after all, was (I’m sure) the reason Peggy and Scott decided to have another kid in the first place.) Congratulations, Peggy and Scott!

*   *   *

My kids think that they can multitask. So do many of my friends and professional peers. Unfortunately (for them), they’re all wrong. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that driving while texting is 6 times more dangerous than driving drunk. Apparently, I could more safely hop on the PCH in a borrowed Porsche with a bottle of Grey Goose intravenously dripping into my femoral artery than if I tried to text Cara, “This car is wicked fast,” while shooting up the California coast.

I love my iPhone, use both an iPad and a Kindle Fire, have an Apple laptop for personal use and a work-issued PC: I’m a “tech guy.” But I don’t have any illusions about my ability to multitask.

I was in the midst of a lengthy phone call yesterday with a peer from work. Jackson entered the room and signaled that he wanted to ask me something. I held up one finger to stop him. His eyes grew wider, his eyebrows lifted up, and he gestured excitedly with his hands. He knows not to interrupt my work phone calls unless it’s important, so his insistence led me to conclude that something momentous had occurred. Had he accidentally discovered a portal to a new dimension while playing Titanfall? Had Max suddenly (and silently) been eaten by a pack of rabid raccoons while lying in his bed?

I turned my attention to him, breathless with anticipation. Jackson proceeded to mime the act of buying a gyro and eating it. From this, I learned two important things: (1) my definition of important (wormholes into other dimensions; death of a child) and Jackson’s (“I’m hungry”) are not the same; and (2) I heard nothing my friend on the other end of the line was saying as soon as I started watching Jackson’s silent one-man show.

Research suggests that my experience is the rule, not the exception. Most disturbing, it suggests that people who believe they multitask the best are actually the worst at it. While I have a demonstrated (and near-pathological) need to be right and admit no weakness, I’ve never seriously contended that I could do more than one thing at a time. While I can’t definitively demonstrate that where this singular area of honesty about my limitations came from, I have a hypothesis: I believe it’s because I walk with a prosthesis.

*   *   *

When I owned a prosthetic facility, I constantly saw myself walking. We had mirrors everywhere so that patients could get immediate feedback about what they looked like. In this small world of reflections, the act of evaluating my gait to the exclusion of everything else became easy. If I saw something amiss – vaulting up on my sound foot, dropping my shoulder down and back at heel strike – I could immediately self-correct.

This kind of physical self-monitoring soon extended beyond the walls of my office. When walking down the street I’d pay close attention to the angle of my knee at heel strike – was it slightly bent or fully extended? – or the length of my stride on my prosthesis compared to my sound leg. Was I rigidly holding my shoulders in place or relaxing them? What was precisely the right moment to let my prosthetic heel hit the ground?

The act of walking, something I had taken for granted the first 27 years of my life, now required attention. My focus on the tiniest details of gait biomechanics left no room for other activities. I became a serial monotasker, at least when putting one front in front of the other.

When I moved to my current job and found myself in a largely mirrorless world, I found (and still find) myself slipping into multitask mode. Usually, my walking suffers at the expense of the other activity. In perhaps the best illustration of my stunning inability to do two things simultaneously, I face planted on Capitol Hill a few weeks ago while walking and trying to enter information to download a new app for my phone. Nothing reminds you that you can’t multitask like visiting congressional staffers with ripped pants and blood pouring out of your hand.

While I find myself slipping into multitasking mode occasionally, for the most part I resist its pull. I’ve made all kinds of decisions to remind myself that “the other thing” I could be doing should wait. I have no audible alerts on my computer or phone to notify me when a new email gets pushed to my Inbox. I’ve disabled all pop-up notifications on every device I own. On my phone, I’ve eliminated push capability entirely so that I don’t see the red number of unopened emails climb the longer I fail to visit Outlook. In meetings, I usually put my phone in airplane mode and close my laptop. And most recently, I’ve started to limit my email consumption to only two daily visits: once in the late morning and once in the late afternoon.

I’ll admit that these monotasking safeguards sometimes cause me to panic. What if Medicare publishes a new policy that adversely impacts my company? What if someone sends me an emergency email and I need to get working on it right away? I’ve learned that these “what ifs” are largely hypothetical scenarios. Out of the millions of pieces of information competing for my attention every year, fewer than 5 (maximum) ever fall into these buckets. My professional life doesn’t go sideways when I climb on a coast-to-coast flight without wifi access, despite the fact that I’m not responding to anyone (or anything) during that 6-hour period. You don’t get fired for being unreachable while in an all-day offsite business meeting. What we think will happen if we don’t multitask doesn’t happen.

Mindful of this reality, and remembering that I only walk well when I focus on the act of walking, I will continue to monotask while the world around me checks its email for the 99th time before noon. I’ll take my chances.

 

 

running return?

running return 04.08.14

Since December I’ve presided over the gradual decay of my body with mindful indifference. My slide actually began last July, when I tweaked my achilles tendon while running. After trying (unsuccessfully) to “push through the pain,” I ended up shelving running altogether, becoming a slave to the semi-circular, gerbil-on-a-treadmill monotony of the elliptical machine.

I diligently stuck with this for far longer than I humanly though possible. I plumbed depths of boredom I didn’t know existed. I listened to and then abandoned music. I listened to and then abandoned podcasts. I watched and then abandoned SportsCenter. Nothing – absolutely nothing – made or can make ellipticaling remotely interesting.

As 2013 wound down, my tangles with the elliptical machine became less frequent. I’m pretty sure by the end I viewed this piece of machinery with about as much enthusiasm as it viewed me. I started justifying my lack of activity by arguing to myself that my professional workload had escalated exponentially. December bled into January. January into February. My pants (and socket) got progressively tighter. Food that dropped off the end of my fork no longer made it to the napkin on my lap, but instead got swallowed up by the mound that passes for my midsection.

I hit the breaking point just over two weeks go when I saw myself in the mirror. The person staring back at me looked like an older, fatter, and more slovenly version of me. (When you’re starting from a best-case scenario as a short, bald, one-legged, pasty-white middle-aged male, seeing something  that looks markedly worse than that qualifies as nothing less than an outright horror show.)

I promptly did the one thing I never thought I’d do. I signed up for a gym.

*   *   *

I have always seen myself as fundamentally different from people who have gym memberships. Gym people willingly insert their bodies into contraptions that look like small prototypes for Pacific Rim. Gym people believe spandex makes them look good. Gym people stare at their reflections in mirrors as if the secrets to the universe lie within. I am not a gym person.

Except today I am.

It started when my wife, Cara, followed a dance instructor there. She came back with amazing stories of acres of high-quality equipment, friendly staff, and a location less than 15 minutes from our house. I weighed my “I am not a gym person” persona against the fat man looking back at me from the mirror. The fat man lost.

I now have a gym membership. I have an ID number. I have a webcam picture of myself that I’ve never seen but that impossibly young, beautiful people behind the counter view without visibly cringing whenever I come in. I pull small forests of hand wipes out of canisters 3 feet high and wipe down the equipment I sweat on. I lift medicine balls and throw them into a container while doing sit ups. And for the first time since last summer, I now run.

*   *   *

As I have chronicled many times in the past, I don’t like running. But not liking running isn’t the same as not wanting to run. Running was the first real “sport” I relearned after losing my leg. It made me feel like the athlete I always thought I was (but probably wasn’t) – a hugely important psychological step in my rehabilitation. So my post-accident life has been defined by the following dissonance: I need to do something I actively dislike in order to feel whole.

As I put on my running leg for the first time in nearly 8 months it was like stepping back into a better version of myself. There’s nothing that makes me feel stronger than stepping into that socket with that foot. When I wear it, I’m 10 pounds lighter and 2 inches taller. I can get away with wearing neon green shorts. I’m Tony Stark without the girls, the brains or the money (which actually makes me the Tony Stark fanboy working the TV van in Ironman 3).

So I walked into the gym yesterday for the first time in the two weeks that I’ve been a member there wearing my running prosthesis. I stretched out my achilles tendon hoping not to have a repeat performance of the last time I ran – less than 25 minutes and lots of pain – and then climbed onto the treadmill. I set the speed at a languid 3.5 MPH and began jogging slowly.

Running with an artificial limb is like riding a bike. You don’t ever forget how to do it, but if you try it after a long layoff, everything’s a bit wobbly. After 5 minutes of getting reacquainted with this activity, I took it up to 4 MPH,  a still-not-very-fast-but-not-completely-embarassing 15-minute mile pace. At 10 minutes I raised the speed to 4.5 MPH, monitoring how everything felt with every step. Around minute 12 I felt some discomfort in the back of my leg and adjusted my stride length. By 15 minutes I was pain-free and settling into a comfortable groove.

At 20 minutes a woman who understood a little about prosthetics (her mother is an above-knee amputee) and less about gym etiquette while someone’s working out came over and, after telling me that she didn’t want to disturb me, proceeded to disturb me until minute 25, peppering me with questions about my running prosthesis. I would’ve been angry, but she also complimented me about how good I looked running. Even though I’m pretty sure she’s totally unqualified to render judgment on such things, this statement immediately made her the smartest woman in the gym.

At 27 minutes I cranked it up to 5 MPH – 12-minute mile pace – and held it there for the final 5 minutes. I finished with more than 2.25 miles behind (under?) me, sweating heavily, and out of breath enough to remind me I’d had a real workout but not so much that I would classify myself as desperately out of shape.

It has been a long time since I felt that good. I hate running. And I can’t wait to do it again later this week.

not as smart as I thought I was

not as smart as I thought 01.07.14

I’ve always been lucky when it comes to my health. I rarely missed school because of illness when growing up. Even as I’ve aged and let my body slide into its current state of decay, I almost never reach the point where I can’t function due to whatever malady afflicts me.

But on those rare occasions where I do get laid up – as happened this past weekend – I find myself asking questions about how it portends my eventual journey to the Great Beyond. As I lay awake in bed on Saturday night, shivering uncontrollably under my comforter as my fever spiked, things ran through my head that in retrospect strike me as slightly alarmist. For example, as I felt my heart knocking against my chest in an unfamiliar fashion, I thought, “Huh, that’s different; will it stop beating before I wake up?”

This internal commentary strikes me as significant less for its potential accuracy and more for what it says about where I am in the arc that is my life. Unless scientists discover a way to slow the aging process, I’m now (at best) teeing off on the 10th, moving inexorably towards the great clubhouse in the sky. I find it startling that my mind has seamlessly (and insidiously) made this transition. Even after my near-death experience, I never monitored minor bodily discomfort and concluded that a possible outcome might be The End. Feeling mortal has just … happened.

On the bright side, I did wake up Sunday morning, which allowed me to laugh off my fleeting emotional dance with death. But it allowed me to take stock of my overall physical well-being, and I’ve now realized that I do have real issues to contend with.

*   *   *

Despite the warnings from people more experienced and smarter than I, I spent my late 20’s and much of my 30’s hopping around my house, my backyard – anywhere I happened to be when not wearing my prosthesis. I jogged with my running prosthesis, even as my family and friends asked, “What are the long-term effects of putting that much stress on your good leg?” “I’ll deal with the fallout when I have to deal with the fallout” was the stock response I delivered when taken to task for what I thought of as feats of amazing strength and balance.

Now, less than a year from turning 45, my body whispers to me, “Jackass, maybe they were right.”

This past summer, I tweaked my achilles tendon while running. Stretching and time off the asphalt left me feeling rejuvenated. Until I ran again. Even after shutting down my running for close to two months, it took less than 30 minutes and 3 miles to feel no better after that extended vacation from impact exercise than I had before.

Because I’m an idiot and generally refuse to seek medical attention unless I have symptoms that are overtly life threatening, I did what all idiots who hate doctors do: I turned to the internet. Relying on websites with names that I’d actually heard of, I concluded that I had achilles tendonitis, and made the decision to shut down all impact exercises indefinitely, relegating myself to the gerbil-in-a-wheel world of the elliptical machine. I’ve been doing that for 6 months now and have managed to stay fit. I have taken this as proof that I’m a medical savant and have congratulated myself repeatedly on implementing a successful treatment plan without those annoying medical professionals getting in my way.

Then, in late November, as documented in these e-pages, I attended a Weezer concert at a local venue. Happily, my son and I arrived early enough to score spots just offstage in the General Admission area. Less happily, in order to get that close to the stage I had to stand in place for over three hours, leaving my right foot aching – even though I actively tried to overload my prosthetic side to spare my good foot – with an urgency that left me a bit unnerved. I told myself afterwards that the pain would subside after a few days. A few days later, I revised the timeline to a few weeks. Now, more than a month after the event, I climbed out of my car last evening to the realization that, “son of a … my foot still hurts!”

Turning back to my favorite diagnostic tool – if it’s on the internet, it must be true – I’ve concluded that I’m now suffering from plantar fasciitis, which (not surprisingly), often presents in partnership with achilles tendonitis. While I feel empowered by the fact that I’ve (a) diagnosed myself (b) probably accurately with (c) two entirely non-life-threatening ailments while (d) avoiding the cost and inconvenience of a trip to the doctor, that psychological benefit doesn’t outweigh the gnawing sense that my body, after 17+ years of well-intended abuse, may be on the brink of betraying me. I’m still closer to 40 than 50, but the machismo of the last 17 years has given way to the unsettling possibility that critical components of my right leg might be wearing out faster than those of my titanium and carbon graphite left one.

I don’t have a neat solution to this quandary. I’m generally too clever by half when it comes to problem solving, especially  when fixing my own issues. (See: solving health problems via internet, above.) And so, my plan is no plan at all. I’ll just keep on doing what I’ve been doing, hope the discomfort dissipates, and monitor for signs of further physical erosion.

But I’ve realized something important – and it didn’t occur to me until I’d finished writing everything preceding this sentence. After you’ve lived with limb loss for a year or two, you think you’ve got everything figured out. But the problems you have as an amputee at age 44 aren’t the same as those you had at 27. The issues I’ll face at 65 won’t be the same as those I’ll deal with at 50.

I don’t know why I thought dealing with limb loss should be different from dealing with any other aspect of life: the more you think you know, the less you actually do. I’m just not sure why remembering that fundamental truth is so damn hard. On the bright side, my body will, I suspect, continue to remind me about it (increasingly) in the coming years.

Say It Ain’t So

Weezer 11.24.13

I’ve never attended a rock show holding a ticket with the magical words, “General Admission” on it. This means that for the last 44 years I’ve either missed a fundamental element of the modern concert experience, or I’ve smartly found the perfect balance between “being there” while maximizing personal comfort.

Since becoming a prosthetic-wearing biped, I’ve opted out of the GA experience. I find the thought of standing for long periods of time in a stormy sea of humanity with a prosthetic leg slightly unnerving. Also, securing a prime GA spot is the modern equivalent of the late 1880’s Western land rushes. People gather far too early to anxiously await the “opening” of a physical space and then fight each other for what they eventually claim.

This past Sunday, I became one of those people.

Fortunately for Max and me, the 20-degree weather plus a stiff wind discouraged early arrivers. This allowed us to secure space for ourselves less than 10 feet from the stage without difficulty.  That was the good news. A quick consultation with my phone’s clock revealed the bad: we had 45 minutes to wait before the opening act came on, and another hour after that before the headliner, Weezer, would appear.

Herein lies the central problem with GA – once you secure “your” space, you have to defend it. Since concert venues generally discourage you from bringing knives and guns into the show, your only weapons are nasty glares and under-the-breath comments. Since I’m not a true alpha male, this puts me squarely in my element.

So, close to 2 hours before the main show, Max and I stood there staring at each other like the couple at the end of The Graduate: “Now what?” I told Max to go collect his obligatory concert tee-shirt while I held his spot. That killed 8 minutes. The next 37 consisted of (a) repeatedly checking football game scores and the news on my phone as if the act of hitting “refresh” in my browser would spontaneously create a fascinating event that would make time move more quickly, and (b) watching 10 promotional slides for the concert venue loop on a giant screen, including a reminder to see Jessie’s Girl, an 8-person 80’s cover act. This had the scientifically-verifiable effect of actually slowing time down.

As I waited, my right foot began to ache. I can usually remedy this problem by either finding a chair or walking. The former is an obvious solution: when your body hurts from standing, stop standing. The latter is less intuitively apparent, but walking distributes pressure across the entire surface of my foot and usually helps minimize the pain caused by standing for too long. Unfortunately, I couldn’t exercise either of these options.

The whole point of General Admission is to cram lots of people into a space devoid of chairs. Sitting’s not an option. And when a popular band – i.e., Weezer – plays, more people get crammed into that fixed space than when a band whose fan base consists only of its parents performs. In other words, even though we were still 15 minutes from the opening act, the crowd had thickened to a point where I couldn’t escape the gravity of this tiny human planetoid and find space to walk.

Stuck, I crossed my arms and tried to think of something original to tweet. (I failed.) By the time the opening set ended, I had been on my feet and stationary for an hour and 15 minutes. Max and I compared notes about the undercard. He was kinder than I to Elliot and the Ghost. (I thought the most entertaining part of their act was when the bassist’s patch cord failed, forcing the band to perform as a 2 guitar and drums act for 30 seconds while the bassist quickly (and successfully) troubleshot a solution.) By the time Weezer came out shortly after 9:00, I had been standing still for close to 2 hours.

I wouldn’t have thought of a Weezer crowd as particularly rambunctious. I based this assumption on the fact that Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer, wears cardigan sweaters and graduated from Harvard with a B.A. in English.

I was wrong.

By the third song the first of the body surfers had made his way atop the GA crowd just to our left. By the fifth, a vortex of happy, sweating people swirled circularly into each other, my first direct experience with a mosh pit. It was akin to watching nature programs on television all your life and suddenly finding yourself standing 10 feet away from a rhino in the wild.

Happily, all of this action distracted me from the increasing pain in my good foot and, increasingly, my sound knee as it stiffened up while I tried to absorb the decaying forces emanating from the eye of this human cyclone. However, as the collisions and body surfers veered more closely to me and Max, the thoughts of a one-legged 44-year-old man clawed through my smile-plastered face, something along the lines of: “Is this a smart thing for me to be doing?”

In the end, we avoided both getting sucked into the mosh vortex and having to pass any human beings above our heads forward. As Rivers Cuomo and his bandmates left the stage, Max looked at me, grinning, and said, “Now we’ve got to get out of here.” While the crowd slowly dispersed – and I particularly noted the 6-foot tall guy wearing a Pikachu sleeper with his arm around his girlfriend, which struck me as fundamentally oxymoronic – I leaned over to Max and shouted, “I’m having trouble walking!” He looked at me quizzically. I realized in that moment that, for the most part, Max probably doesn’t think of me as an amputee.

Most people assume that walking with a prosthesis is hard. And it is. But fewer understand that just standing still when you have only one foot comes with its own drawbacks. Because my daily life almost never requires me to stand dead still for 3-plus hours, I had forgotten that fact myself. Feeling the throbbing in my foot and a distinct lack of smoothness in my good knee, I suddenly remembered.

But despite the side effects, I irrationally feel a bit proud about the fact that I was there “in the action” on Sunday. Getting buffeted, screaming with the crowd, losing myself in the moment … it was worth the discomfort.