My LBKA happened when I was 58 years old. I’m at an age where I shoot straight from the hip and appreciate and encourage a healthy discussion if there are other opinions. So here’s my take on whether or not you should show off your hardware.

I remember day one of my very first Amputee Coalition Conference. All the lower limb newbies were looking down at everyone else’s protheses. It was like going to a parking lot and not seeing any two cars alike. Every single person had different hardware; and as Spock would say, it was “Fascinating.” Many had sockets that were custom laminated or had custom covers -incredible and mind-blowing. And there were those whose prostheses I never saw. So how did I ultimately choose to “show and tell?”

First, it’s obvious from afar that I am differently abled. Due to other injuries, I walk with cuff crutches. In other words, I am showing already. So people give me space, which I appreciate because let’s face it, falling sucks. After receiving my first prosthesis (her name is RHO), I chose not to tell because I had so much going on – you know – getting used to that new normal is a process with lots of changes at first. Due to other injuries, I had a corset attached to RHO that totally encased my thigh. I was very self-conscious at the time because people stared at my walking aids. I didn’t want them staring at my “contraption” too, so I ignored them…same with RHO2. When I received her, I still had the corset, but instead of lamination, I had a gorgeous cover – silver with a soaring bird etched into it. That bird was a symbol of where I was in my journey – ready to leave the nest, so to speak. The more comfortable I became with my new normal, the more I wanted to look at her. She was beautiful, and she was a part of me. Unless the weather was nasty, I wore shorts and showed her off. And of course, that’s when even more people began to stare – crutches and a prosthesis! At that point, I was ready to show, but still not ready to tell.

One event was pivotal in changing my mind about telling. I was walking down the hallway of a hospital (shorts and crutches) as a family was walking towards me – mom, dad, baby in a stroller, and a five-year-old named Hank. He stopped and said, “Mommy, what happened to that lady’s leg?” Mom was horrified, but I looked at her and said, “I will happily answer any of your son’s questions in a way that he will understand, if that’s ok with you.” She nodded. Five minutes later, he was still peppering me with all sorts of questions. And the parents started to ask questions as well. It was awesome! Why? The questions were asked of genuine curiosity. No malice intended. That’s when I realized I could use my prosthesis to educate. Epiphany! I saw the family a bit later as I was leaving the hospital – more questions! I told the mom that she had a budding prosthetist on her hands!

My encounter with Hank made me realize I needed an “ice-breaker” the next time I met a gawker, and it has yet to fail me. I point to my prosthesis and say, “Isn’t she beautiful? I got her because of a motorcycle accident. It gave me my life back. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.” This short statement puts gawkers at ease, and I’ve opened the door for them to ask questions out of curiosity. I’ve also given them permission to look at RHO3 (I’m on my third leg in three years, and she’s a keeper!) with a totally different perspective. Still a teacher at heart, I’ve helped to educate them about amputees and prosthetics.

After three years of being an amputee (and I’m still green; the shade is just getting paler), I am happy with my new normal; RHO3 is part of me, and the lamination on her is beautiful! Even better, RHO3 does not have the corset (lots and lots of PT, and a suction system instead of a pin-lock). But pants were still a problem. Now all of my leggings and pants are hemmed above the pylon and its colorful “disco ball” socket. (Thanks Mom for teaching me how to sew.) I now change ply socks in public without having to find a restroom. Off and back on in seconds! Just being so much easier is a game-changer for me. Thank you RHO3 for making showing as practical as it is educational. More importantly, I no longer ignore the gawkers; I also now welcome the opportunity to tell.

This change did not happen overnight; it was, like most things, a process. We are in our own place in our journey, no matter how long we have been in the club. The choice is yours. I appreciate the chance to educate and perhaps change people’s minds about the stereotypes that surround amputees. But that is solely my decision, and I respect other peoples’ decisions about whether or not to “show and tell.”

Thanks for letting me share! (I wonder if my teacher will give me a good grade… may I go back to my desk now?)

And remember: you never know how much strength you have until you are called upon to use it.