As we chug inexorably towards Christmas Day, I post yet another interview. I threatened to do this last week, and nothing convinced me over the course of the last seven days that I had anything more productive or interesting to write about. So this week, I turned less is more over to my wife so that she could interrogate me.
As the interview was going on, I was complimenting myself (silently) on how excellent my answers were. I knew that this would be a fascinating, eye-opening post when completed.
Then I transcribed everything. And I learned that I suck.
The reason I suck, however, is truly depressing: I’m incapable of answering questions honestly.
I don’t mean to suggest that I lie. What I mean is that I’m projecting a version of myself that accords with how I think I should be. Every answer I give turns into an excuse to reinforce my carefully-constructed, delusional worldview. For example, let me give you the complete transcript of one section of the interview that’s quoted in redacted form in the body of this post:
Cara: Let me ask you – how are you impacted by limb loss?
Dave: Well, I guess I’m impacted by limb loss in that there are certain activities that I can’t do as easily as I used to or at all. [note: not an awful start; I acknowledge that limb loss does affect me. Almost any other answer would reveal me to be a lunatic. But then …]
Dave: Like – man, you’re being very, very persistent. This is a dogged reporter. [note: Cara’s 1-word question – “Like?” – occurs only 4.5 minutes into her interview. She is not being particularly persistent. She is not being dogged. She is simply asking me to be slightly more specific than, “Limb loss has an effect on certain aspects of my life.” My refusal to just answer the question, my insistence on engaging in misdirection by turning my attention to the [not] invasive follow-up by Cara is a cheap stunt to buy me time so that I can provide the following non-answer.] Like soccer. Like baseball. I mean, can I play those sports? Yes, I can play those sports. Can I play them in a way that looks like or at a level that remotely approaches what I used to do? No. I’ll never forget a patient I once spoke to. [Uh oh. Time to talk about someone else. Insert lengthy story to create illusion I’m revealing something about myself when I’m really not. I’m just telling someone else’s story.] He was a bilateral amputee who loved hockey. I asked him if he ever tried to play after his accident. He said, “no”. I asked ,”Why?” He said, “Because it wouldn’t be the same.” And that is exactly how I – I’ll monkey around with the kids [Observe that the moment I use the word “I”, I can’t finish the sentence. If I had, I would have said, “That’s exactly how I feel.” Even that would have been dishonest, though, since I require someone else’s story to illustrate my own emotions, which is pathetic. Now watch me launch into an exposition on the difference between engaging in low-level v. high-level versions of the activity. I feel ill even as I re-read it now.], shoot a basketball with them, throw a football, throw a baseball, because I can do those activities. But in terms of actually going out and playing the sports at a reasonably high level, you just – without a knee joint that fully functions in the way that a normal knee joint does, it’s very difficult to do those. [This is great. The question of what limitations I have is now turning into an analysis of the biomechanics of the anatomical v. prosthetic knee. If any of my readers are in the Huntington Starbucks this morning between 9 and 11 AM, come in and just punch me in the face. I deserve it.] ” Since I know how I used to do it and the level at which I could do it, it’s somewhat maddening to me to not be able to do it as well, so I choose not to do it. But in terms of my everyday life, there are very few restrictions because in your everyday life you’re not playing soccer.” [Translated answer to Cara’s question: Yes, there are restrictions on what I choose to do as a result of my amputation. I no longer play the sports that I grew up loving and investing significant time and energy in for the first 27 years of my life. I cope with this by now pretending that they weren’t all that important to me and that my time to continue playing them had nearly run out anyway.”]
In short, if you read this interview from a starting point that assumes I’m completely full of [expletive deleted], it should be quite enjoyable. Let Cara’s grilling of me begin.
Cara: You went around the last few weeks interviewing all of us. I thought I’d try and interview you.
Dave: Is there a question coming?
Cara: I actually chose to read those blogs –
Dave: – Thank you! It’s nice to know that my wife is reading the stuff that I write.
Cara: Yeah, not a problem. I know that you also showed a bit of resistance to being interviewed, using the excuse that you basically interview yourself on a weekly basis. But when I read the interviews with our family, I felt that at least in my case, I didn’t have a whole lot to say in terms of how your limb loss impacted me. I thought that maybe there would’ve been an expectation of there being real negatives to being with someone who’s an amputee. I don’t know if you would agree, but interviewing people who love you and who were part of it from the start – you didn’t get any of that feedback.
Dave: Well I think there’s no question that if I had interviewed a random 6-year-old, a random 13-year-old, and a random person of your … vintage, that I would have gotten very different answers, particularly if they hadn’t lived with limb loss at all. And obviously, depending on the person who has limb loss and the impact it has on their life, if you talk to somebody who’s much less able to live a full and unrestricted life, I think the answers you’d get from the family members would be very different. So I think that you’re right that at one level, it’s limiting to go and talk with family about it, because obviously their experiences are intertwined with mine.
Cara: Let me ask you – how are you impacted by limb loss?
Dave: Well, I guess I’m impacted by limb loss in that there are certain activities that I can’t do as easily as I used to or at all.
Dave: Like soccer. Like baseball. I mean, can I play those sports? Yes, I can play those sports. Can I play them in a way that looks like or at a level that remotely approaches what I used to do? No. Since I know how I used to do it and the level at which I could do it, it’s somewhat maddening to me to not be able to do it as well, so I choose not to do it. But in terms of my everyday life, there are very few restrictions because in your everyday life you’re not playing soccer.
Cara: One of the things I remember when you woke up from your accident, though I praised you for it – I think you evade the question at times – you woke up and you were a 27-year-old disabled person. I want to ask you the question again: what do you experience in terms of limitations as a result of you losing your leg?
Dave: The short answer is I don’t think it profoundly impacted me at the end of the day. The reason for that is I was just getting to an age really where you sort of settle into your professional routine. And since my professional routine was never dominated by physical activity but was always dominated by sitting behind a desk, I was fortunate enough that what I did everyday really wasn’t significantly impacted by the fact that I no longer had my left leg. Now, that’s not to say that when the prosthesis didn’t fit and I had breakdown and I needed to spend a day at my prosthetist’s office, that I wasn’t frustrated and that it didn’t impact my level of happiness or focus in some way. But the flip side of that is if you look at what I was doing before the accident and what I was doing after the accident, I don’t think they were all that different. The only difference was in those high-end activities.
Cara: Ok, which you just chose not to do. Would you say that you just made concessions? Do you miss the fact that you’re not playing team sports?
Dave: Absolutely. I mean, I block it out of my head but –
Dave: – do I miss it? Absolutely.
Cara: How does that make you feel?
Dave: It doesn’t make me feel anything because I’m very good at compartmentalizing things that would otherwise affect me emotionally. That’s probably a strength professionally. It’s something that has been the topic of much discussion between you and me over the last 20 years.
Cara: Are you disabled?
Dave: I think the words you used when I interviewed you were actually perfect. I think the exact phrase was that I considered myself an “able-bodied disabled person.” And I think that’s actually 100% right. I consider myself disabled as a matter of classification, but in terms of how it impacts me day-to-day, I don’t really believe I have any limitations.
Cara: Well that goes back to the emotional distance and heady intellectualizing that you do. But you would say that you are, in fact, classified disabled – technically. Are you a disabled person?
Dave: I think as a matter of classification, yes, I’m disabled. But to me, that’s effectively a technical distinction. I know plenty of able-bodied people who I think are more disabled than I am.
Cara: Absolutely. You seem uncomfortable – there seems to be a connotation to you with the word, “disability.”
Dave: I think any person who has been able-bodied before, I think you resist the label, “disabled.” Does that mean that you’re not disabled? No. But there’s different ways – maybe I’m playing semantic games here – but I think legally, through a technical definition of disability, and most definitions of disability include permanent loss or use of a limb, I think I’m disabled. But in terms of functional capacity, I don’t think I’m in any way disabled.
Cara: I always sort of wondered, really, how does it feel to be someone who takes a leg off at night?
Dave: I don’t think about it. It’s just something I do every night. Take off my pants. Take off my shirt. Take off my leg at night. It’s just another thing I have to do.
Cara: I would like to get some blunt, knee-jerk reactions from you.
Cara: Yeah, I’ve been trying this, by the way, for 15 years and 2 weeks. You had someone come visit you very shortly after your accident and it was someone who was an amputee.
Dave: I have no memory of that.
Cara: You don’t remember this man coming in and saying he wanted to talk to you about what it was like to be an amputee?
Dave: [laughing] No.
Cara: You were very angry. You refused to talk to him. You wouldn’t let me let him in. It was very out of character – able-bodied or disabled – for Dave McGill. You were as irrational and emotional as I’d ever seen you.
Dave: I don’t remember it. If that person happens to read my blog, sorry. At one level, it doesn’t surprise me I reacted that way. If I had to go back and try and reconstruct what I was thinking at the time, my guess would be that I didn’t want someone coming in and telling me what my life was going to be like. I probably had in my own head already at that point – because I was pretty maniacal about it – a set of goals and a set of expectations. And I wanted to do it on my terms, not on anyone else’s.
Cara: You, you knucklehead, you have said at times that you would do it again, you wouldn’t change a thing. God’s honest truth, for real?
Dave: God’s honest truth, for real. This was the first time [in my life] that I faced a real significant adverse event. And … you know, you always wonder how you’d respond to that. And I never would have guessed that I would have responded the way I did. But I came out of it feeling – it was one of the few things in my life that I can say unequivocally I was really proud of.
Cara: I don’t know what your deal is really. But I’m really glad that –
Dave: That my psychosis appears to be permanent?
Cara: No. I don’t know. Any loss experience has been shown to require a stage-by-stage grief process.
Dave: Ok, Ms. Kubler-Ross.
Cara: You bypassed it.
Dave: Maybe I went through it at blinding speed. [laughs]
Cara: You bypassed it. But I also think that, in conclusion, the reason that you are the way you are is totally because of me.
Dave: I have no doubt, Cara, that you are the Rosetta Stone of my post-amputation existence. And that everything I have become and will ever become is driven by your wonderfulness, and beauty, and sheer radiance.
Cara: Yeah, it’s true actually. I didn’t really want you to go to a depressing place.
Dave: Do you think it would be good for my readers? Maybe I should do a series of posts after I check myself into an inpatient facility. That would be fascinating, wouldn’t it?
Cara: I don’t think you can. You’re either that disconnected or you really are that at peace. [Changing subjects], I also do know that you’re very physically conscious. And that’s a consistent theme for you, from the moment when you came home. You were very, very critical of your gait, how your pants looked, how your shoes looked. I think you focused a tremendous amount of energy on the appearance of it all.
Cara: And is that related to your discomfort with or denial of being disabled?
Dave: No question.
Cara: So, are you really at peace with this?
Dave: My motivation from day one was about masking it. And I don’t mean masking it in that I didn’t want anybody to know that I was disabled. I mean masking it in that I didn’t want them to think of me as disabled.
Cara: I think you view disability, or the term, or the classification as negative.
Dave: I think you’re right.
Cara: I think it’s a big issue for you.
Dave: You’re right. My expectation is to not be considered disabled. That’s why I said your description of me as an “able-bodied disabled person” I think hits my conception of myself right on the head.
Cara: If and when there comes a time that you’re not able to pull that [self-conception] off, we’re going to have to do a new interview. I’m just saying I think there’s something sketchy about [your thought process].
Dave: Well, I’m glad to know that there’s an element of danger around my response to limb loss –
Cara: This isn’t danger or intrigue, this is sketchy.
Dave: Well. Call it what you will. It will make a fascinating series of posts if that day ever comes. And God knows, I’m always looking for ideas, so a good psychic break in the future might be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Cara: It might be. I can keep questioning you and make a psychotic break occur if your readers would be interested in that.
Dave: My readers would be fascinated by that. I suggest that we plumb the depths of that immediately. We should have started there.
Cara: [in hushed tone] Because I can break you.
Dave: Perhaps. If anyone can you can.
Cara: Did you ever find your shoehorn? Because I think the most displaced you have felt [since losing your leg] was since that big metal honker has been missing.
Dave: I’m happy to report that when I was visiting our headquarters [last week], I was provided with a new shoehorn. Many thanks to Coryn.
Cara: Thanks Coryn. Appreciate it. It was like he had lost a child in a mall.
Dave: It was extremely traumatic.
Cara: Thanks for letting me interview you, Dave.
Dave: It was my pleasure. Thanks for being such an insightful questioner.
Cara: Well, the insight has to come from somewhere.