when I grow up

I strode with confidence toward my leg guy (prosthetist) and stopped in front of him to list my demands.

“I’d like a custom liner for my left leg to match the right one. Do you think I’d be eligible for new sockets because these sleeves keep sliding and the suction isn’t so great and I’d like to look into having fancy schmancy covers for my legs that have toes. Toes! My legs look like Grandma legs and I’m just over it. With the pantyhose and the lumpy ankles…”

I waved my hands around to make my point and I finished with a flourish, “Let’s look into this!” I offered a winning smile. The smile of my 8 year old that will get her way no matter what, this is not negotiable. And then I remembered I’m a grown-up. I pushed my shoulders back, “What do we need to do to make this happen?”

I didn’t plan on becoming an amputee. On my list of ‘things I want to be when I grow up’ under astronaut, nurse or teacher it didn’t say ‘person with missing limbs’. I remember being in awe of Terry Fox as a child. He was and is a national hero. In our schools, on TV, at home we honored this young man who ran across our country with his artificial leg to raise money for cancer research. He had guts, heart. As a seven year old I wondered if I could be like him – did I have guts like that?

Our schools do a Terry Fox run annually and last year I decided to join my daughter for the run, but we walked. As we did our laps around the field Annie informed her friend, who walked with us, “Do you know my mom’s an amputee? She has fake legs. Two of them!”

Her friend nodded and smiled.

Annie took a deep breath. I could see she was about to launch into how it all began. I whispered to her, “It’s okay. We don’t need to get into this now. Let’s keep walking.”

Do you know what’s weird about being an amputee? Almost everything. And, after a while, almost nothing.

Becoming an amputee was shocking, devastating. I woke up to a nightmare, to the message that my life would never be the same. “You’ve lost your right leg, Heidi. And it looks like you will lose your left leg, too.” Dreams of what I would be went up in smoke and I entered a new world of fittings, castings, new terminology and disability. I fought with my identity. Who am I haunted me with every careful step I took in my prosthetic legs.

And now, now I’ve been able to speak on behalf of the burn fund, on behalf of burn survivors to various groups and organizations, to stand in front of many people and say, you can do this. You can get to the other side. I get to share my story to further research and help raise money for people like me. Beyond that I get to live my life and it’s an ordinary one with extraordinary circumstances and moments. I could say to my seven year old self, “You have the guts.”

Thirty years later I walked around a field holding my daughter’s hand as we honored a national hero. And I’m grateful.

Swept up

In Midnight in Paris!

It’s about a youngish couple who travel to Paris for business and are forced to face the illusion that a life different from their own might be better. It’s a movie by Woody Allen starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams and it is a delight!

14 thoughts on “when I grow up

  1. Alexis

    “And then I remembered I’m a grown up” – I have moments like this ALL THE TIME too!

    I still need to see Midnight in Paris!!

    1. heidi

      You do need to see Midnight in Paris! I loved it. It was one of those ‘unexpected pleasant surprise’ kind of movies – where you’re all, hey, this is really, really good.

  2. Kate Coveny Hood

    It’s funny how many times we say “I could never do that” about something. We assume that we wouldn’t have the guts. We sell ourselves short. And the truth is that we can do anything. And if we have to – we just do.

  3. Alexandra

    I am so moved by you.

    Your survivor spirit, the warrior in you, the mission in your heart to help others to the other side.

    It leaves me with the biggest lump in my throat because I am beyond the word impressed, beyond the word awestruck.

    And I know you.

    I know you now.

    How did I ever get to be so lucky to know people like you.

  4. Steve

    Hi, your story is everyone’s nightmare and story of hope. I always find it amazing how people come through the other side of some awful situation talking about how it was the best thing that ever happened to them. I think it wakes them up. They see what’s important and what’s not important. My heart goes out to you.

    1. heidi

      Hi Steve
      When I was confronted with this – with all of this – I had choices to make. I had to choose how I was going to live my life after the crash. Eventually, that led me to this place of speaking and writing about it. But, that took years. I was a very reluctant story-teller for a long time, having no desire to rehash the past. Slowly, things changed and my very first speech happened because I did a good friend a favor. And, well, here I am. This crash wasn’t the best thing that happened to me, but I did the best I could with what happened to me. If that makes sense.:)
      Thank you so much for your kind words. I really appreciate it.

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