Monday, March 30, 2009

Pain and Deadly Weapons

Sorry, folks, but the interview is going to be postponed for a few days. Time differences (and busy lives) have made it difficult to schedule.

Hurting Yourself

Yep, hurting yourself. When you wear a prosthesis (an artificial body part), it happens. The worst one ever for me happened when I was 5 years old.

I'd asked my teacher repeatedly to let me go to the bathroom. She finally said yes, and I ran out of the room and down the hallway. I was running fast enough that I didn't see the sign:

Put running and wet, slippery tiles together, and you almost always get disaster. Add in a metal hook, and a trip to the ER is inevitable.

I slipped, skidding face first down the hall. Like most people, when I fall, I put my hands (or hand and hook as the case is for me) out to catch myself. Didn't work so well :)

Instead my face landed on the end of my hook with enough force to push it all the way into my jaw bone. No matter how hard I pulled, I couldn't get it out.

I sat there screaming (which is hard to do with a prosthesis stuck in your jaw!), hoping someone would come help me. It felt like hours before one of the teachers showed up. She tried pulling the hook out too, but it was seriously lodged into the bone.

A call to my mom and a fun ride in an ambulance, then I was sitting in the ER. The doctor was great! He thought the whole thing hysterical, the first time he'd ever seen something like that. He had me laughing despite how much it hurt.

It took a lot of novacaine and a lot more pain before my hook was extracted, but he got it out. Then 11 stitches to close it up.

I still have that scar on my chin reminding me to never run on wet floors.

Hurting Others

When a prosthesis becomes so much a part of you that you really think of it as your missing body part, you can do a ton of damage without even realizing it.

Like in second grade. I was standing on a stepstool at the blackboard doing some math problems. And when I work on something like that, I get totally engrossed. The world around me just fades into nothing.

So when my friend Joey called my named, I jumped and spun around on the stool.

I don't know about the rest of you, but when I spin around really fast, my arms swing out to the sides and spin with me. Really bad thing to happen.

Joey was standing right behind me, so when my prosthesis arm spun out and around, it clocked him right on the side of the head. Knocking him unconscious.

I was horrified! Here was my best friend, out cold on the floor because of me. Another ambulance arriving at school.

He woke up just as the ambulance got there (thank God!), but it taught me well. Very well. That is the very reason why I stopped wearing my prosthesis the day I found out I was pregnant.

Useful Tool Or Deadly Weapon?

I played soccer in high school (though not very well at all), and we were at Ethel Walker school for a game in my junior year. I was running behind and changed as quickly as I could into my uniform.

As I ran out to take my place on the field, the ref blew his whistle. We all stopped and stared at him. He wasn't supposed to do that until the game actually started.

The coaches and the ref huddled together for a few moments. The ref gestured wildly just like you see on tv sometimes.

I stood there bored and snickering at the sight of the weird ref doing whatever. Then my coach called me over.

"You have to leave the field," the ref told me.


I guess it showed on my face because he continued, "You can not play soccer while carrying a deadly weapon."

Double huh?

He pointed to my prosthesis which I had forgotten to take off. Mortification doesn't even begin to describe it.

I quickly took it off (takes talent to do that without removing your shirt :)) and threw it at his feet, then stomped back to my position. Never again did I forget to take it off before a game.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's All In The Attitude

Attitudes are contagious. Are yours worth catching? ~Dennis and Wendy Mannering

Oh, my friend, it's not what they take away from you that counts. It's what you do with what you have left. ~Hubert Humphrey

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. ~Winston Churchill

If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it. ~Mary Engelbreit

I don't usually start a post with quotes, but these seemed rather appropriate to the post I want to write. The title really says it all - It's all in the attitude.

Even commercials say it ("Never let them see you sweat" ring a bell?) and play on it, implying their product will infuse you with confidence. That's not exactly what I mean though.

And I'm not talking about a disabled person's attitude. But those of all the "normal" people around them. Those can make all the difference.

I'm a contrary person (if you haven't figured that out yet, go read the previous posts). All it takes to make me determined to do something is for someone to tell me I'm not capable of it. A lot of others don't have that, and that is where attitude comes in.

Everyone Can Make A Difference

It's true. Even I feel it. When somebody acts like my disability couldn't possibly put any limitations on me, it makes it easier for me to do the same.

Think about it. Which would you rather hear throughout the day?

(Said by an extremely old woman in the checkout line at the grocery store) "You poor dear. If I'd known you were crippled, I would have let you go first."

Or . . .

"I figured if you needed help you'd ask."

Personally, I'll take the second any minute of any day. It shows that they respect me - my abilties, my honesty, my courage.

I'm a big country music fan, and this song shows what I mean about attitude very well.

It's by Rascall Flatts, called Skin. It still makes me cry and smile every time I hear it.

So I applaud all of you who have the attitude necessary to keep people like me going!! Keep it up!

My next post will be an interview with a friend of mine who has a degenerative disease.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Butterflies and M*A*S*H

I swam the butterfly in high school. It's not an easy stroke to do under normal circumstances, and on the first day of practice, my coach told me not to bother trying to learn it because it would be too hard with only one hand.

That infuriates me. People making assumptions based solely on differnces. So I did what I always did whenever someone assumed things about me - I set out to prove him wrong.

Our first swim meet was 2 weeks away. I looked him right in the eye and told him that if I could learn the stroke well enough by then, he had to let me race it. Idiot that he was, he agreed. That's how sure he was that I couldn't learn it.

So I went to Nancy, a friend and our lead butterflier, for help. We worked together for one week, whenever both of us were free. And I haunted the pool. Early morning before school. Late at night after everyone was asleep (it was a boarding school). Completely ignored all homework and tests.

One week to the day after my coach and I had made the agreement, I told him to meet me at the pool. I didn't even speak to him, just dove in and started swimming. The look on his face as I finished the hundred meter butterfly made it all worthwhile.

He was floored as he stuttered, "Well, I guess we now have a second butterflier."

Nothing else was said, but he entered me in every swim meet as our second for the butterfly. When I graduated, he came to me and told me that he'd never met anyone as stubborn as me in all his years of teaching.

Being the rude, sarcastic girl I was, I replied, "And you never will again."

Diseases Can Be Overcome As Well

Shelly Mann, 1956 gold medal winner at the Olympics for the 100 meter butterfly, overcame the terrible paralysis of polio to become a world class swimmer. She contracted polio as a child and was left with weakness and semi-paralysis of all her limbs. At 10, her doctor recommended swimming as therapy.

Not only did it work, but she excelled at it, winning medal after medal and breaking records. At age 17, after only swimming for 7 years, she went to Melbourne and won the gold medal for butterfly - the most difficult stroke to swim.

In 1984, she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame for her accomplishments.

She should be an inspiration to all of us.

Just Because You Can't See It, Doesn't Mean It's Not There

How many of you grew up watching M*A*S*H? I absolutely loved that show. Cried when it went off the air.

One day in math class in 7th grade, some kids had been picking on me really bad. My teacher told us that he had known Gary Burghoff (Radar O'Reilly) when he was in school.

What would Radar have to do with me getting picked on? Well, he too has differences in his left hand. I could never get my teacher to tell us exactly what those differences are, and all I can find online is that his left hand is "deformed" (I hate that word!), so I really don't know.

What I do know is that he and the shows producers and directors went to a great deal of trouble to hide it on the show. They did very well at it too. I've watched every episode numerous times and never seen it.

I have to say it makes me kind of sad. Gary Burghoff was a wonderful actor and that should have been the criteria by which he was judged. He shouldn't have had to work to appear "normal".

Yes, those were different times. I realize that. People with disabilities were avoided or people would just ignore the disability itself. Some were even placed in institutions back then. Considering all that, I'm amazed he got the part of Radar at all. But it still makes me furious when people are forced to hide their disability because it might make someone else uncomfortable.

Hats off to you, Gary, for making it during a time when it wasn't easy!

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I was 12 the first time it happened. Just sitting on the beach, minding my own business, reading Gone With the Wind. I only had a few chapters left to read, and I remember being so excited because I was going to win the bet with my Grammie. She hadn't thought I could read the entire book in one day. Yet, here it was only 6 hours after I'd started and I was almost done.

A shadow fell over me, blocking out the light.

"What the hell do you want?" I asked, looking up.

A man in a ratty blue suit (looked like it was a left over from the 70s) stood over me holding a bible in his hand. "Do you know why you only have one hand, young lady?"


"It's because you are a sinner. You hold evil inside you and that is your punishment from God."

I frantically looked up and down the beach, hoping that someone from my family would show up and get rid of this guy because he scared the living daylights out of me. But there was no one in sight, not even my 6 year old sister.

"Don't you know that if you love God deeply enough and believe in Him strongly enough and pray hard enough that God will let your other hand grow?" He dropped to his knees on the blanket next to me.

I scooted as far away from him as I could while still remaining on the blanket where I had promised my parents I'd stay.

"Obviously you don’t believe. And don’t pray. Let’s kneel and pray together and ask God to give you your other hand. My faith and love are strong and pure. He will listen to me, forgive you all your evil and let your hand grow."

Screaming at him to stay away from me, I ran down the beach until I found my mom and sister collecting shells. I stayed with them for the rest of the day, and did not return to the beach for the remainder of our vacation.

That incident has always stayed with me for a few reasons. I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life. It made me leery of organized religion. And it made me question why I had only one hand.

But I was willing to believe that this man was an anomaly, that he didn't represent the thinking of an entire religious group. I put it to the back of my mind. Until it happened again.

My ex-husband took me to visit his extended family the Easter weekend before we got married. I was so excited. My family had never been close and his was, so I wanted desperately to be accepted. Everything was going fine until we got to his cousin Maria's house.

Her husband, Bill, bible in hand, cornered me in the kitchen and repeated almost word for word what the man at the beach had said to me.

Luckily, I wasn't a scared kid anymore. "I agree that God made my arm like this purposely. But it’s not a punishment. It’s a way to teach people that it’s okay to be different. A tool to educate the scared and ignorant like you." I smirked at him. "You do realize that people hate most in others what they hate in themselves? So what are you lacking?"

Then I turned and walked out. I never went back to their house, and didn't speak to them at the wedding.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Kudos Earned

Today's post is dedicated to two completely amazing organizations - The Possible Dream Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project (both links are on the side bar).

The Possible Dream Foundation

Run by Camille Geraldi, a pediatric nurse, and her husband Mike, a pediatrician, this isn't an institution by any stretch of the imagination. They have made a home for children that no one else could or would take care of.

Years ago when I worked for them, it was called The Up With Down Syndrome Foundation because when they started, all of the children they took had Down Syndrome. As they grew and expanded, taking in more and more children, the name no longer fit. So it changed as they had.

Working there was the most influential time period of my adult life. For the first time, I spent significant portions of each day with people who had much more severe problems than I did. Working with them, helping to teach them the most basic things in life, made me realize for the first time in my life, exactly how lucky I was that my disability was such a minor one. More than anyone else, those children taught what courage in the face of adversity really means.

Camille is who I want to be when I grow up :) She has the biggest, most giving heart of anyone I've ever met. Love for these children that society terms as "lesser" because of their extensive problems (many of which even make them look abnormal to outsiders) pours out of her.

I don't know how she does it. From the day I first set foot in their homes (Just about a month after Hurricane Andrew), she has been an inspiration to me. She taught me to keep a leash on my terrible temper when faced with verbal and physical prejudice. After all, as "Mom" to that many special needs kids, she knew first hand how it felt.

Check out their website if you have a chance.

The Wounded Warrior Project

I have to confess that I don't know a ton about this group, but what I do know is amazing.

I first heard about them from Celebrity Apprentice when Piers Morgan chose them as his charity that he earned money for. It is a group that:

To raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of severely injured
service men and women,
To help severely injured service members aid and assist each other, and
To provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of severely injured service members.

Considering how long our country has been involved in one violent conflict or another, and how often our service men and women are injured, it is a wonderful and needed group.

When working at The O'Callaghan Hotel in Annapolis, MD, I was lucky enough to be the night supervisor when a bunch of them came to town and stayed at our hotel. We stayed up late (well, they did, but my job was to stay up all night) talking about our disabilities. Most of them were missing a leg. They said that was much more common than a missing arm in the service sincemost loss-of-limb injuries were caused by mines.

I was amazed at how well-adjusted these men (because all the ones I met were men) were. None of the terror and lost feeling that used to show in this guy I knew in high school. He lost his arm in a drunk driving accident and ended up killing himself because he couldn't adjust.

Anyway, two admirable groups that should get more notice and acclaim than they do. (Sorry but no pics this time.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Before There Was Jewel, There Was Jewell

How many of you watched The Facts of Life? One of my favorite characters (not a regular, but a repeat guest) was Blair's cousin Geri, played by Geri Jewell who has cerebral palsy.

Geri was the first ever disabled person to have a regular spot on a primetime show. And that's one of the main reasons I remember her. I would watch her on TFoL, struggling to enunciate her lines and handle the physical demands acting makes on the body.

Watching her really made me realize I could do anything I wanted to do. Here was a woman who's body would not always listen to her commands, and she was doing something as strenuous as I know acting to be. How could I, who had complete control of my body, ever complain that I couldn't do something?

She was an inspiration to me, filling me with a "never quit" attitude and the courage to follow it up. It was because of Geri Jewell that I ended up swimming the 100 meter butterfly during high school. Even though my coach told me not to bother trying to learn it since it takes two full arms.

I could list a hundred other incidents like that, in which the memory of this woman's strength and courage helped get me through, but you'd probably get a bit bored :) But she is a testament to what a person can do if they want it badly enough, no matter what limitations they may have.

For those who do not know what cerebral palsy is, here is the definition: Cerebral palsy is a term used to describe a group of chronic conditions affecting body movements and muscle coordination. It is caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain, usually occurring during fetal development or infancy. It also can occur before, during or shortly following birth.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Teasing Sucks!

Names Can Hurt

Everyone (or at least everyone I know) has had to deal with teasing in their life. It's part of being a kid. But when you are really different and that difference is obvious, the teasing starts early.

Great movie.

The movie Peter Pan came out when I was 4 years old. At that time (and for most of my life), I wore a prosthesis in the shape of a hook. A whole bunch of us went to see the movie for this one boy's 5th birthday (Great party by the way!) and the second we walked out of the theater, it started.

This is just like the hook I wear.

The kids began talking about how they had their very own Captain Hook. They asked me why I never told them I was in a movie. And of course, every time we played Peter Pan, I automatically got the part of Hook.

That was just the beginning. Every time a movie/tv show came out about something with robotic parts, I got a new nickname - Transformer, RoboGirl, Bionic Woman. The worst ever though came in 7th grade (12 years old for those of you who don't do school grades like the US). That was the first year we had sex ed in school. The boy I was hopelessly crushing on decided that a great new nickname for me was Hooker.

So how did I deal with all this teasing? I can tell you it wasn't easy at all. My mom was a big help (though I didn't really think so at the time). The "ignore them" advice, well let's just say it didn't work too well. I don't have that kind of personality. But she also said that if I couldn't ignore them, I should turn the tables on them.

And Captain Hook became my identity. For 7 years I dressed as him for every Halloween and costume party. I would sign notes as Captain Hook. When I got my first email ID, it was capthook :)

Once I did that, it became easier to deal with. Though it took a lot longer for it to stop hurting.

More Problems

This will be me one day.

For almost 2 decades, I have been going steadily blind. My doctor has predicted that if some muracle surgery (LASIC won't fix it) doesn't come to light in the next 15 or so years, I will no longer be able to see at all when I'm in my 50s. My birth mother was blind by age 20, so at least it's going slower for me.

So what am I doing about it? I'm preparing. A couple of years ago I started teaching myself how to read Braille. I've looked into the cost and training of a seeing-eye dog (my mom used to raise and train them). I am basically doing everything I can to make it as easy a thing possible. Not an easy task.

The Braille alphabet.

What about you? If you had to chose to have one major difference,
what would it be? Would you want the time to prepare for it? How
would you prepare?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How often do you think about . . .

. . . clipping your nails?
Most people don't think about it, even when they're doing it. Unfortunately, it's something I have to think about on a regular basis. Like whenever my nails start to grow.
Toenails are no problem. I can deal with those easily enough. My fingernails on the other hand (yes, pun intended), not so easy. I basically have 3 choices when it comes to them:
1) Have surgery to make my toes more flexible so they can work the clippers or scissors.
2) Ask someone to cut them for me.
3) Bite them off whenever they start to grow.
Since I don't have the money for number one and refuse to let anyone other than a relative do number two, I am a nail biter. I can't even begin to tell you how many people have determined that my nail biting is a nervous habit (including an FBI profiler that stayed at the hotel I used to work at). It's quite amusing really.
What brought this post idea on? One of the comments in the previous post (by Lady Glamis) mentioned forgetting I only had one arm when she met me and it brought a very vivid memory to mind.
Every few weeks when I was little, my mom would sit us down and cut our fingernails. After she finished with my right hand, she would reach for my other hand and laugh and blush when there wasn't a hand there to take.
To me, there is no higher praise than someone forgetting about my missing hand. I don't ever want that to be my one defining characteristic. Although, I don't think my friends who set me up on blind dates will ever stop telling the guys to look for Captain Hook's great-granddaughter. It's tradition by now :D

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Got a Spare?

To the right is a picture of Def Leppard drummer, Rick Allen. He was in an accident in December 1984. I was 12 years old at the time, and he became my hero.
He lost his arm (unlike me who was born this way) and refused to let it destroy his life. Instead he relearned things - like playing the drums professionally with only one hand.
Rick Allen always brings to mind something my mom and Grammie said to me repeatedly growing up. Whenever I would have a little pity party and say I couldn't do something because I only had one hand, they would tell me that the only reason I didn't have two is that I was "good enough that [I] didn't need the spare like everyone else did."
That saying has stayed with me my entire life. A motto of sorts for never letting myself become handicapped. I was as well equipped as any two-handed person.
A recent talk with friend, fellow blogger and fellow CCer, Inkblot, brought this to the forefront of my mind tonight (hence the post :)). Here is a little snippet from our conversation:
Inkblot: i can arrange for someone to stomp on your toes if you like
amputate a limb
or something
me: if you amputate a limb, would you mind
making it a leg. i have a spare of those
Inkblot: rofl!
how about an ear,
or something more expendable?
me: that could work
Inkblot: sweet. an ear
it is. and a couple of toenails %-)
I love that my friends and I can joke about my missing limb and they don't worry it will upset me. To me, that says a lot about how I see myself and how I project myself to others. (Yes, that last sentence can be taken in an egotistical way, but that's not how it was meant.) It shows that none of us see me as handicapped and that is really important to me.
I'm even two-handed in my dreams :D That's how I see myself.
Unfortunately, I've seen a lot of people who don't see themselves as whole due to some physical condition. I've seen people in wheelchairs who expect to be waited on hand and foot because they "can't do it themselves." I've seen people so ill at ease with their own problems that when someone (frequently an innocent and curious child) asks about it, they tell that person to shut up.
I've even seen parents tell their children to shut up when the child asked a question. And that infuriates me more than anything.
How else are these children supposed to learn how to treat people with difficulties if they aren't allowed to question and learn? That attitude of secrecy and shame promotes prejudice and the teasing most of us have had to deal with our entire lives.
I find nothing wrong with a child asking how I can tie a shoe with one hand (or an adult, though they tend to be much more reticent in asking). The look of amazement on their faces when I bend down and tie their shoe is worth it. And in the end they've learned that even someone who is missing a limb can function at the same level as everyone else.
I know there are many difficulties out there that are much worse than mine, but I can't write about them because I haven't experienced them. And I know there are some difficulties that do prevent a person from doing some things. That still doesn't make them handicapped if they are always trying and never giving up.

What Is Handicapped?

What exactly qualifies someone as handicapped? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it is having a physical or mental disability ; also : of or reserved for handicapped persons.

As someone who has been described as handicapped my entire life, I disagree. Having only one hand does not make me handicapped. Like I say in my blog's name, I firmly believe that handicapped is all in the mind. It's a way of thinking pessimistically that prevents a person from reaching their full potential.

I grew up hearing that the only reason my birth mother tried so hard to keep me is because she feared no one would adopt a handicapped baby. My adoptive parents met me when my mom became my occupational therapist to teach me how to use a prosthesis. In first grade, the school system put me in the remedial classes because "anyone with a physical handicap usually has a mental one too."

This blog is not going to be an authority on anything, just a way for me to share some of my experiences growing up in a society that tried to make me believe there was something wrong with me. That I was handicapped.