new and improved

 

ampd

As many of my readers know, I have been recording podcasts for the limb loss community for years with my peer and friend, Peggy Chenoweth (the Amputee Mommy). Since my last post in November, she and I have been working hard to expand the resources available to individuals with limb loss and their family members in connection with that podcast (amp’d). This is the primary reason why less is more has gone silent over the last 60 days.

I am extremely proud to announce that the amp’d podcast now has a new online home – www.ampdpod.com. Peggy and I developed the website ourselves and all of the content it houses. Here are the key benefits ampdpod.com offers:

  1. If you subscribe to the site, you will get email alerts every time we post a new amp’d podcast.
  2. It links you directly to the iTunes podcast store if you’d like to subscribe to our podcasts directly through iTunes. (Yes – Peggy figured out how to make us a truly professional podcasting outfit – at least insofar as you can now get our podcasts in the same place that you can also subscribe to the TED Radio Hour, This American Life and Serial.)
  3. Not only can you access the audio of our podcasts on the site, now you can review our written podcast summaries, which are extremely helpful when we are discussing actionable items (like today’s podcast – more on that below). Also useful if you are hearing impaired or hate the sound of my and Peggy’s voices.
  4. Many of our podcasts discuss topics that inherently benefit from the inclusion of related tools that individuals with limb loss can use. So we have created a “Tools” section that includes downloadable resources to help you in selecting a prosthetist, coordinating prosthetic care with your physician, and drafting appeals. We have many other tools in the pipeline that we’ll be podcasting about in the near future.
  5. As of today, there is also an “Amputee Activism” section of the website. This will highlight calls to action for amputees regarding both state and federal issues. Today, January 9th, we have our first call to action on an issue of critical importance to all individuals with limb loss/difference: health care reform. This section of our website also includes numerous downloadable resources that every amputee should familiarize themselves with.

I implore less is more readers to check out today’s podcast, the related podcast summary, and all of the materials in the Amputee Activism section of ampdpod.com. As Congress initiates substantive discussions about repealing the current health care law, there are two issues of particular importance to people with limb loss – essential health benefits and pre-existing condition exclusions – that could have a direct negative impact on all of us if certain aspects of the current health care law are repealed. (As Peggy and I make clear at the beginning of this podcast, we are not pro-Obama or pro-Trump in our discussion of these issues – rather, we are pro-amputee. We will always support any policy/legislation that helps amputees and oppose that which doesn’t, regardless of which party/politician raises it.)

We need the limb loss community to make their voices heard regarding these important issues. Today’s podcast explains them in detail and directs you to resources on the ampdpod.com website that make engaging with your legislators quick and easy. Please join the #DontExcludeAmputees movement today!

Finally, I have to address the future of less is more. I love writing and sharing my thoughts with all of my readers. However, there are certain realities I have to acknowledge: (1) I can record 3-4 podcasts with Peggy on important and interesting topics in the same amount of time it takes me to write a single post; (2) I need to maintain and update the ampdpod.com website on a regular basis in order to ensure that the information there remains timely and useful; and (3) I need to fit everything amp’d-related around my full-time job, which I love. Accordingly, while I will continue writing the occasional less is more post that does a deep dive on an issue that hopefully interests you, the majority of posts you read here in the future will serve to highlight the work Peggy and I are doing with amp’d, as that is where I think I can have the biggest impact in the limited time that’s available to me.

Please visit www.ampdpod.com immediately so that you can take action today! While we don’t know what the future of healthcare will hold over the next four years, the potential ramifications on people with limb loss are (a) far-reaching and (b) could be immediate. So speak up now and use the tools on the amp’d website to help you do it.

Thanks to everyone. Happy New Year, and I look forward to talking with all of you both through the comments here and, increasingly, on www.ampdpod.com – the podcast (and now website) for people with limb loss.

Come Together

Next month I will reach the 20th anniversary of the day I walked into the middle of a busy road to assist a stranded motorist. Crushed between two cars – and without any memory of the accident itself – I awoke in ICU without my left leg. This defining event in my life is something I have come to embrace as an undesired but nevertheless important gift.

And today, just hours after the Bataan Death March of election cycles has come to a close, I believe more than ever before that these experiences offer an opportunity to try to pull together what sometimes feel like the irreparably tearing seams of U.S. society.

Life with one limb has taught me that overcoming adversity is never truly a solo act. For all of my belief – especially at 27 – that I and I alone controlled my own destiny, limb loss showed me how much more I could accomplish when supported by others. Family, health care providers, other amputees – all helped me reclaim both physical and mental pieces of myself. Literally and figuratively, they reconstructed me.

For this to happen, we needed to understand – really understand – each other. We accomplished this by focusing on our common areas of understanding. We built on them, despite the fact that we often had little to nothing in common politically or philosophically. And it didn’t matter. We looked for shared values and reveled in them: helping other people; the importance of family; or even something as benign as a shared love of football (American and European).

Many people I have known for years voted for a different candidate than I did. They feel differently about the United States in 2016 than I do. And yet, I have sat down at a table for a drink with them and had adult discussions about the topic. We have agreed to disagree about certain issues, shaking our heads at each other with a smile as we unsuccessfully tried to push each other towards an alternative viewpoint. And always, we came back to our shared experiences, the things we had in common that transcended whether our view of the world was “red” or “blue”.

I recently had a fascinating political discussion with a close friend who gathers his news from media outlets quite different from the ones I rely on. It eventually became clear that the gulf separating us as we talked about the election arose from the fact that we didn’t even have a common set of facts we could agree upon as a starting point. But the conversation never devolved into shouting or finger-pointing. There were no awkward silences or moments of unspoken reproach – just mutual bemusement at the “same planet/different worlds” nature of this specific aspect of our relationship. We remain good friends today, and there are few people I trust and respect more, our political differences notwithstanding.

Unfortunately, that phenomenon seems to be largely absent from most public political discourse. It feels like we utterly lost key core principles – civility, respect for opposing points of view – during this election cycle.

While returning from a business trip to Holland last month, I got pulled aside (surprise) for a special security screening thanks to my prosthesis. The security official spoke excellent English and asked me my opinion of the pending election. I gave him my answer and he shook his head gravely: “We don’t understand why the candidates have to get so nasty. Disagree, yes. But do it respectfully.”

I have sat in a hospital bed staring at the space where my leg used to be, uncomprehending. I have felt the void of panic and fear that comes from being utterly alone in that moment, not a soul in my world with an ounce of shared experience to offer me. But what my amputation gave me was the opportunity to meet, work with, and achieve things with a range of people I never would have even met if I had two legs.

Before my discharge I asked my health care providers, “What do I need to do?” I wanted to reclaim the entirety of my pre-accident life. Everything. They told me.

With a team around me, I did it. Four months after becoming an above-knee amputee, I was able to complete a 10K road race, wearing a prosthesis custom-fabricated for my needs by a skilled professional, my physical therapist at my side every step of the way, my wife cheering me to the finish line.

If you came away from this election as many Americans did, feeling disgust about the process, the candidates, about the people on the “other side” of the political spectrum, I encourage you to take a breath and stop for a moment. Ask yourself, “What do I need to do?” And do it.

Find someone – better yet, a group of people – to join with as you walk on a path of conscious kindness towards others. Let’s find it in our hearts to be a little nicer, a little softer, a little more respectful of everyone we interact with – especially those who may themselves have low reserves of this skill – as we move into an uncertain future. That’s how you can contribute. That’s what you have to offer. That’s what life with a disability has taught me.

Come together.

 

What Limb Loss Can Teach My Son About College

08.08.11 door opener

On September 1st, my oldest son, Max, heads off to college at Hofstra University. Given my Scotch-Irish-Welsh-English heritage, I shy away from discussions with him that my wife’s Italian upbringing encourages; talks about things like … feelings.

So rather than sit down with Max one-on-one to share these thoughts with him like a normal person, it instead strikes me as infinitely more logical to post my parental advice online for the entire world to see. Max – do with these what you will …

10. Don’t Stand in the Street

I failed to follow this basic principle 6 years after graduating college and 1 month after graduating law school. Education alone doesn’t make one smart. Enough said.

9. Ask Questions

College professors know a lot. And it is your job to pay attention to what they know. But more important, you have the opportunity to question them, to challenge them (politely).

If something doesn’t make sense, ask a question. If something strikes you as wrong, ask a question. If you think you have a new or better way of thinking about something, ask a question.

I emphasize this because when, at 27, I became an amputee, I knew nothing about living life with a “disability.” And that forced me to ask lots of questions in order to understand how I could get navigate – physically and mentally – my new reality.

But here’s the cool thing: when I asked these questions – even ones that I objectively classified as dumb – I learned something new. Over time, I was able to develop my own opinions and viewpoints about whether what I had been told was objectively correct, or whether it represented one person’s opinion or simply a long-held collective assumption. And that, my friend, is called “learning.”

8. Make Friends

It became obvious to me after my accident that we rarely accomplish anything of value all alone. I succeeded in my rehabilitation only because of everyone around me. A large team of people – your mother, our family and extended family, friends, prosthetists, physical therapists and physicians – made it possible for me to achieve my goals.

So remember that you’re not alone. Go to school and give as much of yourself as you can to other people. Be loyal. Be supportive. Be a great friend. You’ll get at least as much out of doing that as you’ll get back from them when you face challenges of your own.

7. Take Care of Yourself Physically

Pulling all-nighters, eating pizza at 2 AM and sleeping in … I did all of these things in college. Don’t repeat my mistakes.

Trust me – I’ve tried over the last 20 years to “gain” extra time during the day by sacrificing my physical well-being. It’s not worth it. And I think the effect of inactivity manifests itself much more quickly since I lost my leg than it did before. When I’ve lapsed into a sedentary lifestyle, I feel it almost immediately (especially in my lower back). Conversely, the hour I spend walking a few miles, lifting weights or swimming in the pool make a huge difference, both in terms of how much I accomplish the rest of the day, and how I feel, both physically and about myself.

You’re going to spend plenty of time sitting around doing homework, practicing your music and hanging out with your friends. But please, for the love of all that’s holy, carve out 60-90 minutes every day to do something active. (See # 3, below, for a related piece of guidance.) So make yourself an hour-long playlist of the songs you love the most, haul yourself out of bed to the fitness center and allow the music to wash over you as you work out. It’s a pretty cool feeling to look at your watch at 8:30 am, fired up by the Foo Fighters, Green Day, Biffy Clyro, and – in my case – Cheap Shots (available on iTunes and Spotify for your listening pleasure), and know that you’ve already completed the task of taking care of your body for the day.

6. Touch Base With Your Family Once a Day

McGill Family Group Text: trust me – it’ll save you the annoying, “we haven’t heard from you” phone calls. Enough said. (No – this has nothing to do with anything I learned from losing my leg. Consider it a bonus item.)

5. Find a Mentor

Following my accident, I connected with lots of different people who had survived limb loss. Their experience and insight dramatically influenced me and led me to re-evaluate what I wanted to do and ultimately did with my life. Some of those people I now only speak to once or twice a year, but those discussions still have a profound and important impact on me.

Find a professor who you like and actively work to establish a relationship that goes beyond any single class you may have with him or her. Talk about your goals, your fears and listen to what they have to offer you. The future you’re planning for yourself today  – particularly a performance-based one – is challenging. But you don’t have to face it alone: a professor who has walked that path him or herself will likely have unique perspectives that could make an enormous difference in your life.

4. Treat Everyone You Meet With Respect

Before I lost my leg, I was the smart-ass, judgmental, knows-everything college graduate who was quick to judge and dismiss others. Afterwards, I met people who shared nothing in common with me other than the fact that they too were missing a body part. And I found that they were almost all unique, interesting, helpful people who treated me with an understanding and respect that humbled me.

In college, you’ll get to meet people from all over the United States who don’t share your opinions, experiences or perhaps even your values. Treat them all with respect. We have enough divisiveness and polarization in the world today already. The only way that will ever change is one person at a time. You can (and will) make a difference.

3. Respect Your Time

Following my accident, the rehabilitation process forced me into a defined routine. I had blocks of time spent at physical therapy, blocks of time at the prosthetist’s office and blocks of time at home. I only had “x” amount of time to get things done within each of those slots, so I tended to work intensely for short bursts of time. In that way, my day became a series of short (60 minutes) but hard sprints, followed by quick breaks (10 mins).

If you’re studying 18 hours a day or 2 hours a day while at school, you’re doing something wrong. College isn’t just about studying, nor is it just about hanging out and fitting in some classes between marathon ping-pong tournaments.

To find the right balance, you have to relentlessly schedule your days and always respect that schedule. There are only so many hours in a week. People who are successful figure out how to manage those hours more effectively than those who are not.

2. Take Risks

Over the last decade, there are three things I’ve done that really stand out. The first was when I hiked up and down a small mountain in Arizona. The second was last year, when an organization I volunteer for committed to getting 100,000 signatures on a petition to protect amputees’ access to prosthetics. The third was a few weeks ago, when I spent a few hours navigating an up-and-down trail in Alberta, Canada.

All of these activities took me way outside my comfort zone. In each instance, willfully navigating into into a zone of personal discomfort and working through it made them memorable, positive experiences.

Over the next 4 years, you can sit comfortably in the areas you excel at and rarely move outside them. Or you can take a poetry class, join that club you’re interested in, or start something new on campus that doesn’t exist today. I promise you, it’s the risks you take that you’ll remember and look back on with pride.

Oh – and the bonus?

The risks of “failing” at these things while in college are almost nonexistent. College is the one place you can fail at this without the consequences having a profound impact on your life. So take advantage of the opportunity.

1. Live With a Sense of Urgency

The biggest gift I got from my accident was the stark reminder that the line separating the here and now from oblivion is much thinner than you think. One minute I was safely in a car with your mother; the next I was lying in the middle of a road, my body ripped apart with EMT’s triaging me as beyond the point of no return.

While that sounds grim, it actually freed me. Instead of staying at a job that seemed like “the right thing” to do and flipping my “life and career” switch onto autopilot, I became focused on finding opportunities and experiences that would make a difference, both to me and other people.

In some ways, you’re already way ahead of where I was at your age. You know what you want to do and you love doing it. You can spend the next four years working towards a very specific goal that you’ve already identified before you’ve hit 20. And you have a gift for connecting with other people that will serve you well on that journey.

But never take anything for granted. Treat every opportunity like it could be the big break you need. Treat every show you play like it’s the one where a single video of you and/or your band could go viral. Stay in the moment.

Don’t spend your life worrying about all the things you can’t control and that could happen to you. Aim for the target and launch yourself forward without hesitation or reservation. We only get to go on this ride one time. Make. It Count.

And have fun.

I couldn’t be prouder of you. Now, as a former boss once told me, “Go out there and kill it.”