Living With Handicaps
by Melba Washington

Living with a handicap can make everyday life inconvenient when just the little things that most of us take for granted are considered.

And what are these little things?

First of all, if one is handicapped he’s different, and many people have a tendency to stare or feel awkward, not knowing what to say. If the handicap is the loss of a leg, as with my husband Ralph, there’s usually a prosthesis involved. Children are especially frightened if they see a prosthesis or see the person without the prosthesis. Loss of a leg means the person can't stoop or squat, so he either finds an alternative or he doesn’t do things that require stooping or squatting. He also doesn’t do much walking as in shopping, taking children to zoos or amusement parks, or following behind push-mowers. When he over-does by attempting one of those activities, he pays the consequences with ulcers on the stump. He doesn’t get up in the night without crutches or without going to all the trouble of strapping on an artificial leg. This is not temporary like a broken leg-- it’s for a lifetime and it's every day. In fact, for Ralph and me it’s been over 30 years so far.

Little things? Not so little when you add them all up.

Another problem is "phantom" pain. Nobody prepared us for this, and the first time it happened we both thought we were losing our minds. There was not a foot there, yet Ralph could feel pain in his foot. Or his toes were itching, but there were no toes there!

And what about when the leg gets old and worn out or doesn't fit correctly any more? Well, he’ll get a new one--it only costs $10,000! (The first one cost around $3,000.)

But how one lives with a handicap has a lot to do with attitude.

I remember Ralph was determined from the beginning not to let the loss of his leg defeat him or even slow him down much. First of all, he amazed the man who made his first prosthesis by getting up and walking the first time he strapped the leg on. (The man said he had never had that happen before.)

Ralph started driving and went back to work about a month after he got out of the hospital and before he got his prosthesis. He was manager of a radio station, and one of the first things he did was climb with one leg about 75 or more feet up on a radio tower to install an antenna. He was brave and determined. I was on the ground, scared to death.

But then, there are some advantages as Ralph pointed out the first time he was up in a wheelchair after the accident that took his leg. He put friends and family at ease and had them in stitches talking about "only one foot to wash and half as many toe nails to cut from now on!"

Compared to losing an arm, a leg loss is an advantage because with a prosthesis covered by slacks, no one even notices the difference. Ralph attended a Sunday School class for over a year, and the people in the class had no idea he was handicapped until something about the trauma and his adjustments came up in discussion. They were shocked!

And then there are humorous things that happen because of his lost leg. Once he went to the mailbox with his prosthesis on but not properly fastened in place. Just as he got to the mailbox the children across the street kicked a football into our yard. Without thinking, he kicked the ball back to them, but they got a football AND a leg. Oh, the look on those children's faces!

Just recently a friend called and asked Ralph if he had a wood lathe. This was a funny conversation because he misunderstood and thought she was asking if he had a "wood leg.” So he answered that it used to be wood, but now was some kind of plastic. The friend finally realized they weren't talking about the same thing and started the conversation over. Well, maybe the story loses something in my telling, but it was very funny to the friend who couldn't figure out how a wood lathe could be made out of plastic.

So, perhaps the moral of this story is that life's circumstances (handicaps) don't have to defeat us. Our attitude is more important than the circumstances.


Melba writes: “I grew up in the red clay hills of Mississippi, but I've lived in the Mississippi Delta for over 30 years. I'm married and have two grown sons. I'm a United Methodist who attempts to live my faith daily. I taught school, worked at the welfare department, and now I'm a nurse. I love God, love life, love people, and I love to write."


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