When it came time to see the prosthetist and get casted for my first leg, I wanted to give her a name; after all, you must have a sense of humor. I was so busy getting used to my new normal, that my creative juices were just tapped, so I went to Facebook for help. And that’s how the “name Beth’s leg” competition came about.

I had many, many entries. Some were very serious, some were super silly, and some were ridiculously funny. After reading all the entries, I decided to combine three of them into her name. Those three words were Riva, Hero, and One, or RHO, for short.

Let me explain. I am a huge Star Trek fan – grew up with it, and have watched all of the manifestations of the brand, including The Next Generation. One of the episodes had a character named Riva (Howie Seago) as a deaf intermediary that the Enterprise had to transport to a planet with two warring factions. It was Riva’s job to mediate a truce. But Riva was deaf and communicated through three muses who could read his mind and speak for him. A saboteur kills his muses, leaving him only with sign language for a way of communicating. Since I am a life-long learner of ASL, I loved having “Riva” as part of my leg’s name.

“One” was easy, since she was my first leg, but the “Hero” part, suggested by one of my dearest and closest friends, gave me pause. I do not, and never will, think of myself as a hero. I am not alone in this, as it has come up several times in the support groups I attend – lots of chatter for both pros and cons. So let’s look at a few definitions of that tricky word.

Researchers Franco, Blau, and Zimbardo suggest that heroism is characterized by:

    • Acting voluntarily for the service of others who are in need, whether it is for an individual, a group, or a community
    • Performing actions without any expectation of reward or external gain
    • Recognition and acceptance of the potential risk or sacrifice made by taking heroic actions

I was in a motorcycle accident – no voluntary service for others there, and because of that, the second part is not applicable, nor is the third.

One study published in 2015 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that heroes have 12 central traits which are: bravery, conviction, courage, determination, helpfulness, honesty, inspiration, moral integrity, protectiveness, and self-sacrifice.

Of course, you have your own definition as well, and parts of these definitions don’t fly with me. The only one I think applies to me (as far as heroism is concerned – yes, I am honest, helpful, and I hope my moral compass is pointing in the correct direction) is “inspirational,” as I have used my amputeeism as a platform to change attitudes and people’s behavior towards both amputees and people with limb difference. I’ll accept that one, but the rest, not from my point of view.

My friend believes I’m a hero because I lived to tell the tale, but to that, I say, “nay nay!” What did I do? I survived, and now I thrive. Being a Certified Peer Visitor through the Amputation Coalition allows me to pass on my experiences to those who are not as far along in the journey as I am, but that doesn’t make me a hero. It makes me an empathetic human being who wants to pay it forward – just as my CPV helped me when I had no idea what was going to happen next. I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel when someone was already further along. My Adaptively Abled Tribe (AdaptivelyAbled.org) has given me a platform to be supportive to differently abled people from all over the country and to get help when I need it. That doesn’t make me a hero either.

My friends, and the others in my inner circle, still insist though, and I don’t think I will ever shake the label, even though I correct them every time they bring it up. I decided to make it part of my leg’s name to honor them; they stood beside me when I couldn’t stand for myself; they deserve the credit. In my mind, they are the heroes. Who else would drive through Boston traffic once a month to hold our book club in a rehab hospital when I wasn’t even able to read yet? For seven months, no less! That kind of selflessness checks off many of those boxes.

Other real heroes are the long list of people who physically held me together and those who surgically put me back together. They check off every box too. You know who they are – the first responders (including a neighbor who is an EMT, heard it on the scanner, and jumped in his car, even though he was off duty) who kept me alive and got me to a nearby parking lot, the med-flight crew – ditto for keeping me alive to get down to a major Boston hospital, the trauma team who spend the first 11 hours playing whack-a-mole on my body, and the myriad of doctors, nurses, techs, and workers who got me out of the woods. They fit the bill. How they approached their work checks off every box except “expectation of reward or external gain,” as of course, they were paid for their expertise. With only two exceptions, every person who cared for me went into their respective profession because they felt a need to help others. They are the true heroes of this story, and I am beyond grateful for their respective abilities to help others.

This survivor and thriver humbly thanks the heroes who allowed her to write this blog, to help others in their journeys, and to keep my sense of humor with all the medical issues I address every day (just as you do).
One of the things I did to help my recovery was to gather all the first responders and personally thank them. So cathartic for everyone. My heroes. I also visit the ICU yearly, with homemade goodies in hand, to visit, catch up, and say thank you – every year. More heroes.

The last group of heroes is my family. I wouldn’t be where I am physically, emotionally, or mentally without their heroism. They certainly sacrificed a great deal, and their continued support, especially when I have a bad day, is truly an act of heroism.

So I challenge you to think about this word. Roll it around in your head a bit and decide for yourself. Do the definitions above fit your idea of heroism? Would you add or subtract anything? Philosophically speaking, only you can decide if the word fits into your sense of self. It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: if you became an amputee saving another without any regard to yourself, then you are truly a hero, and I thank you.

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