As a new amputee I came across people who felt it was important that I know others with injuries like mine. We would have that in common, so we were destined to be friends. This amused me. Just because we were amputees didn’t mean we were immediately bound together, having long meaningful conversations over glasses of wine, forever friends. Sharing similar injuries doesn’t create chemistry. Yet, people asked if I knew Joe, an amputee living in a town not far from me, and if I didn’t know him, would I like to meet him?
However, there were two women in physiotherapy that I especially liked and admired. One of the women was a police officer, Laurie, that had been shot in the leg in the line of duty, resulting in an amputation below the knee. The other woman, Gail, lost her leg above the knee to cancer. We were in physiotherapy from Monday to Friday, so it was easy to get to know each other, a ripe climate of opportunity to be understood. We became quite friendly and every once in a while the three of us visited the resident social worker together. It was a time to talk, to be there for each other, and, sometimes, air grievances.
“Do you know what makes me crazy?”
“When people say everything happens for a reason.”
“Why do people say God won’t give you more than you can handle? This is way more than I can handle.”
“The other one I can’t take is when people say this will make you stronger. What does that mean?”
We were in agreement. What did that mean?
I said, “I really hate it when people keep asking me if I’ve tried aloe.” This is something that still makes me laugh, that with all the medical intervention and the best surgeons in BC working on me no one had thought to use aloe. Like it was some super cure. Good for small cuts and sunburns. Not for burns so deep multiple surgeries were required to save your life. My friend, Jenn, summed up my thoughts well when she said, “There isn’t a plant or bottle of lotion in the world big enough.”
“What about when people have foot pain and tell you they can relate?”
We laughed. Hard.
I shared a story where a girl I didn’t know well said she thought of me while shaving her legs. She told me how lucky I was I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. She smiled. She said it with absolute innocence. She said it in front of a large group of friends at a pub. There was an awkward silence until someone, bless them, changed the subject.
“People say the dumbest things.”
People meant well. The three of us acknowledged that. We’re at a loss for words, so we rely on cliches and old advice that was never wise advice to begin with. Everybody wants to help. We wondered why people couldn’t stick with “I’m sorry” or tell the truth, “This is terrible.” It was always a relief to me when it was called as it was. Even saying, “I don’t know what to say” was welcomed. Everyone has found themselves in a position where you’re stuck, where words aren’t enough.
We found things in common with each other that went beyond our amputations. Our willingness to face our fears, to get on with it, and the dumb things that people say were what brought us together. From Monday to Friday I could look around the room and take comfort that someone knew what it was like to be me.