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You Speak My Language?

About a year or so after I moved to Nashville, I started looking for a clinic in the area where I could go to get leg work done. My previous prosthesis was now 10 years old, and it was time to look into getting a new one. Now, while it’s clearly a strange concept to the average person to essentially “shop for legs,” the process pushed me well outside of my comfort zone. Up until that point, I had had the same prosthetist since I first learned how to walk. He basically watched me grow up; he knew my personality, stubborn tendencies, and walking gait. He also seemed to know exactly how to navigate the world of insurance to make sure my parents weren’t breaking their bank every time I had a growth spurt (legs ain’t cheap, y’all). More than that, my parents were always present for appointments growing up. Knowing how tedious, uncomfortable, and sometimes exhausting certain appointments could be, my mom always made a point of making them as fun as possible. We would bring movies to watch while we waited for adjustments to be completed, and a lunch date would always follow suit.

Now, I was on my own. Granted, my parents always listened and advised as much as possible via phone, but the decision-making process was completely up to me for the first time in my life. After I researched and chose a prosthetic/orthotic clinic to go to, I had a consultation with the prosthetist and discussed several options for the process of building a new leg. While the process was intimidating, it was very exciting in that first stage, when all I did was dream of what new mobility the prosthesis could potentially provide, and how my life would change for the good. And you know what? It did change for the good. I chose a knee called the Plie 3, made by Freedom Innovations, and it opened up a whole new world for me. Overall my new leg fits me better, allows me to try a ton of new physical activities, and physical therapy sessions have helped me learn the best possible way to walk.

All of those things are great, but the whole process has also been one of the most difficult and painful experiences of my life. That’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just inevitable in any big life adjustment. It’s physically painful to try new materials and sockets, exhausting to essentially re-learn how to walk, and emotional to be forced to face a whole lot of insecurities and fears in a very short amount of time. I shed more tears over it than I’d like to admit. (Shoutout to my roommate Kristin who came home more than once to me sitting on my bed, crying over coffee and chocolate, saying how I didn’t think I could do this. She put up with more whining from me than any human should ever have to deal with, and she handled it like a champ, always patient and understanding, even in my worst moments).

Then the doctor that helped design and build my leg introduced me to Erin, a girl who works as a representative for the company who makes my prosthetic knee. Erin is only a few years older than me, and like me, was born with a limb deficiency, meaning she was also born without one of her legs. She was the first (and only) person I have ever met who wasn’t an amputee. She understood growing up without ever having two legs. We had used many of the same types of knees/feet growing up, and even saw the same doctor at one point. She’s young and active, and we also happen to have similar personalities.

Now, to many of you, that may not seem like a big deal. But for me, it was a game changer. I’ve grown up with people who know every facet of my personality; they can describe my persona in vivid detail, and they’ve got enough stories (mostly embarrassing) of me to last for days. As much as I love and appreciate all of them, no one really knows what it means to have one leg. Erin was the first person I ever talked to who could put exactly what I was thinking into words. If I had an issue walking, she wouldn’t just imagine how I felt walking and say something like “well, keep your heel down and eventually you will limp less.” She could say something along the lines of, “well, you know how when you shift your body to the right suddenly and you have the feeling that your leg is going to give out, so you overcompensate with your left side?” - and I would nod my head in disbelief that someone could actually describe my thought process when taking a step. She would then say, “Well, don’t do that; instead, do this.” My head pretty much exploded with the realization that other humans could speak my “leg” language.

Furthermore, she could speak directly into my insecurities. Up to this point, I had always had a foam cover fitted over my leg - it helped me blend in more in a crowd. When I had my current leg made, I learned that the knee is water resistant, meaning I can get it wet without completely panicking. I could better use the knee to its full potential if I didn’t use a foam cover. While the doctor and his assistants were excited about expressing these benefits (which I appreciated), Erin knew to check in with how I felt about it. She went through a similar process several years before, and knew the idea of walking around with a black metal pole as a leg probably freaked me out. The more I worked with her, the more comfortable I became. I started to ask her how she dealt with some of the emotional aspects, like how she handled relationships and men’s reactions to it. I trusted her opinion more than anyone else’s in my life, because she was speaking from personal experience. She wasn’t there to sugar coat anything or make me feel better about myself; she spoke from real life experience, and those basic conversations proved more freeing for me than hours of counseling with a two-legged person could ever have been.

Now, I’ve had my new prosthesis for a year a half. Adjustments still need to be made - a lot of trial and error along with many frustrations. But also, my life has changed so much for the better. Why do I say all this? Well, for one, maybe it gives you a little insight into the process of getting a new prosthesis - there’s a lot involved! Beyond that, it has been one of the biggest learning experiences of my life so far. My new prosthesis has not only given me new physical opportunities; it has unexpectedly increased my self confidence. It also brought me an incredible friend and source of wisdom. Erin and I stayed friends even past the “leg-fitting” process, and we even box together sometimes at Title Boxing Club (as shown in the picture to this blog entry).

So, to sum up, sometimes life's biggest challenges bring you the best rewards. Can't get much more cliche than that, but no other statement can better describe this process. I'm not here to claim to understand or make light of challenges you may be facing, but reality is, you gotta face them to some extent, regardless. You might as well see them as opportunities to grow and meet incredible people in the midst of it all.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Erin, my dad and I at Title Boxing Nashville this past weekend!