For the last year, I have been dating a bilateral above the knee amputee. This comes with its own lessons and trials. Here are some of the lessons learned over the last year.
It takes longer to get ready to go somewhere. Putting the chair in the car, putting legs on, accessible parking, ramps, taking the chair out. It all takes a little extra time. You can’t be in a hurry going places and you have to give yourselves that extra time. A lot of extra time if she decides to wear different shoes on her prosthetics.
2. Doctors Appointments
There are a lot more doctor appointments when it comes to amputation. Prosthetics, physical therapy, psychologists, general doctors. You name it, we go to an appointment there. Life is scheduled around appointments because it is all part of the journey to her walking again. I have become pretty close with my girlfriend’s prosthetic doctor and physical therapist because I go to most of her appointments and sometimes I see them more than my own family.
3. The world is not wheelchair accessible.
Before we go on a date, I’m always checking online as to whether or not the restaurant is wheelchair accessible. Walking down the sidewalk I’m always looking out for bumps, cracks and rocks that might trip her up. We are always looking for the handicap parking or the handicap bathroom stall. And there are always the people who do not need those amenities that use them. Then we have to wait or go out of our way for her to use something that she has no choice to use.
4. People stare.
Children stare. Adults stare. It is something out of the ordinary to see someone coming through the street with no legs. Or robot legs. There are people who will come up to us on the street and say things like, “God bless you,” or anything along those lines. We know they mean well, but all it does is draw more attention to the disability. Some people ask questions nicely and out of pure curiosity. Some people point and stare and laugh. It’s a chair, amputations are not contagious and just because someone is different does not make them bad or less. Everybody is a little different, but some differences are clearly more prominent than others.
5. They block the hallways.
Every time. Especially when you really have to go to the bathroom, there the chair is. The chair blocks pretty much everything.
6. You will get your feet run over.
Another major disadvantage to the chair is the amount of times she does not know where her chair is because normally it winds up on top of my foot. And it hurts. Sometimes her footplate rams into me, sometimes that is on purpose. I am pretty sure my little toe is losing feeling from the amount of times it has been run over.
7. They can do more than you give them credit for.
Most people look at someone in a wheelchair as completely incapable. My girlfriend is on the wheelchair basketball team at our school, so my experience with people in chairs is not just limited to her. The people on the team can drive, they have their own homes, they clean, they play sports. Everything is normal -- it is just adapted. Which means sometimes, my girlfriend asks me to do things I know she is completely capable of doing and plays the disabled card. And most of the time it means I will still do things I know she is completely capable of doing because I love her.
8. Relearning how to walk.
This is possibly the most frustrating thing about dating an amputee. For her, I know it is the most frustrating part. With no knees, walking again is a process. A long process. Everything is new as walking is no longer an instinct movement with the knee and the knee of her prosthetic is moved by the muscles in the glutes and hamstrings. This relearning means multiple physical therapy appointments per month. It means tears, falling, walkers, crutches, canes and parallel bars. And that is just the physical side. The prosthetics come with their own appointments and adjustments. And of course, the amputee is constantly frustrated. The way she describes it is “being a baby all over again, but worse.”
9. Phantom pains.
Limbs are amputated to prevent further damage to the body. That does not mean the pain goes away after the amputation. The nerves are severed, but the brain still sends signals to those nerves. Nerves send pain signals when something is wrong, so the nerves are almost always sending pain signals to the amputee’s brain. My girlfriend describes her’s as a burning sensation in her feet or spasms. The worst part is knowing there is nothing I can do to help her other than try to put warm compresses on it. Nobody knows how long phantom pains will last, but I do know they get worse when it rains. Meaning every time the sky turns gray, I ask her how she is feeling. It takes a long time to understand the phantom pains and even longer to find out how to help when they happen.
10. Hand holding.
Hand holding is a little different for us. It is basically just me pulling her around. It is one part romance and one part laziness. But I am always smiling when I’m pulling her because honestly, it can be fun. Some days, I whip her around a corner. Sometimes she holds on to the grocery cart. No matter what it is, I would pull her across the country if I had to.