A New “Hat”

Written by Beth Hudson, LBKA

I am “up north” as New Hampshire-ites say, skiing in the beautiful mountains that, as of this writing, are getting their first substantial snowfall of the season. Light, fluffy heaven! As I was unpacking my ski bag, I was gobsmacked to pull out seven hats. I know you counted eight - let me explain.

The yellow hat is 40 years old and dates back to my college and early marriage years. I was a student and a new wife. The red one is 30 years old - the pom-pom lost years ago. My children were just learning to ski while I wore this one. The paw print was a gift. I don’t wear it much and have no recollection of who gave it to me. I’m skipping the light blue one and will circle back around. The black one has horses on it - a gift from my oldest daughter during her teenage years. I sported the solid blue, which says New England Disabled Sports, four years ago when I took my very first sit-ski lesson. My youngest daughter gave me the rust colored one with the pom-pom as a gift when she saw how ratty the red one was (it’s still one of my favs!). The green hat, the eighth one, also with the NEDS logo, was a surprise gift from BH (Better Half) this year. 

But my all time favorite hat is in the middle - part of my recovery was eighteen months of dialysis, three times a week, with each session lasting four hours. The machine scrubs the blood, but it doesn’t warm it back up before returning it back to the body. I was always freezing. No amount of heated blankets helped. A wonderful friend of mine gave me this hat to help me keep warm. It represents the beach. The top is blue sky with white puffy clouds, then melds into ocean waves, and finally, sand. The pin on the hat is a baby seal. It is so unique, and every time I wear it, I think of that time. As a matter of fact, every time I wear any of these hats, it brings me back to a different time in my life where, metaphorically speaking, I was wearing a different hat. It has been 42 years of married life since I wore that first yellow hat. I have changed.

You know that we all wear different “hats” with different people and in different circumstances. It’s part of life. I’d like you to think about all the different hats you wear now, the ones you wore throughout your life, the ones you kept, the ones you replaced, the ones you left behind, and the ones you may wear in your future.

Wearing the “amputee” hat has changed our journeys. The limb(s) is not going to grow back, and we have no choice but to wear this hat. To further the metaphor, what would your hat look like? Knit, cowboy, slouch, sunhat, ball cap, floppy, garden? Do you wear it cock-eyed, backwards, down low? My guess is that through your journey, the shape, style, and color have changed, and will continue to do so. I would say my first amputee hat was a knit hat that I pulled over my eyes. My Certified Peer Visitor helped me to push it back onto my head, to be sure.

I have acquired a few hats since my amputation. I became a Certified Peer Visitor with the Amputation Coalition, a mentor for new ostomy patients, a volunteer for Red Cross blood drives, and, as you see here, a writer. As I wear each hat, my demeanor and my behavior changes to accommodate the environment - something we learn to do very early. But learning to navigate the trials and pitfalls, as well as the accomplishments and triumphs, require hats that are secure. Ones that won’t easily slip off, or if they do, are easily put back on or changed to a more appropriate one. As we continue on our journey, we can add or get rid of ones as we choose.

I challenge you to examine your hats - the roles you play in your different circumstances. Clean out your closet and throw away those hats that no longer fit, for whatever reason. Think about adding a hat that follows your passion or gives you great joy. Share a hat with someone with the same inclination as you. Help someone throw away a hat that is hindering them. Which hat is your favorite and why? Do you want to wear it more, and what do you need to do to keep it on your head longer?

Whatever you do, don’t go around “hat-less.” If you find all your hats blowing away in the wind, find someone to help you get the ones back that you really want, and let the others go. I’m sure you understand the metaphor.

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