Amputee Perspectives: Filling the Void

By Beth Hudson:

The winter blues, or worse S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) can be a real problem, especially for those of us who live in northern areas where weather can keep us from going out to do anything from the everyday to getting out there and enjoying what winter has to offer. If you’ve read my last post, it can lead to languishing, or ennui.

Especially folks who have had amputations during the pandemic, finding a way out can be difficult, but by no means, impossible. Anything worth having is worth working for, and that doesn’t only mean for material things or physical well being; it goes for emotional well being, too. So how do we get out of our own funk? How do we pivot? How do we find our jam again? How do we deal with the question, “What is my purpose?’

Our physical void of limb loss is obvious, but the emotional void can be deeper, especially if what you did before you became differently-abled is no longer an option; especially if what you did before was your passion, as was the case with me.

Since seventh grade, I wanted to teach; I had 36 excellent years teaching middle school and high school. My first school had 300 students K-12 – I was the only English teacher for both the middle school and high school. It was a great “first teacher” job! My last school had a population of 2,800 – a multi building campus that is larger than some colleges. There I tucked in for 32 years, then BAM! – my accident – I couldn’t go back, and I was left with that huge void. What was I going to do now? My first three years were literally filled with extensive PT/OT as well as a few more minor surgeries. Being on dialysis left little time for other pursuits. I was truly going through the motions. But, I knew that I had lived for a reason; when I really got down on myself and thought maybe they should have “pulled the plug,” many people in my inner circle encouraged me to keep looking. Lots and lots of soul searching (and a good cry now and then didn’t hurt either). Where could I best put my energy to good use with the skills I have?

Luckily, my dialysis was not a life-long diagnosis, and since I couldn’t work, I decided to volunteer. Time was something I DID have. After my accident, I blew through eight gallons of blood (thanks to all who donated!). Two of my friends organized a blood drive in my honor while I was in rehab; it was one of the most meaningful gifts ever! I contacted the Red Cross, did the training, and started volunteering at blood drives. It got me out of the house. More importantly, it allowed me to thank people who saved my life. I always wear a button with the # 64 on it (64 units = 8 gallons). If someone asks me about it, I give them my “elevator” story and thank them – it chokes me up every time.

Some of the phlebotomists who worked my friends’ blood drive knew my story, and suddenly the Red Cross was calling me for their PR ads. I was interviewed by a local radio host to boost donations and was even featured on TV a few times. I am NOT a person who basks in the spotlight, but blood donation has become my passion and has started to fill that void. Last year I organized my first blood drive – success! This year I hope to double the donations. The name of the drive is “64 Or More,” and the goal is to replace every drop of blood that went through my veins. I plan to do this every year in my honor, and I hope it will continue after I die, in my memory.

About a year after I got home, one thing was really eating me up inside. I desperately wanted to thank the emergency personnel who kept me alive until I touched down at Mass General. The liaison officer at my police station agreed to set it up, and a few months later, I was in a room with twenty EMT’s, paramedics, and the medical flight crew. I was beyond nervous, but meeting and thanking them filled that empty hole quickly. Due to HIPAA rules, many didn’t know I had survived. It was filled with joy. Joy for me because I was personally able to see all the people who helped (I was unconscious and had never really “met” any of them, if you know what I mean), and a joy for them because it validated what they did for a living.

Being a worker bee for Adaptively Abled Amputees (shameless plug!) has also helped fill my void and provided me with an incredible family of differently-abled folks from all over the country. Although I am lucky to have support from many able-bodied people, having support from other amputees is paramount to my overall well-being. I do “grunt work,” but I am happy to do it for a cause that is important to both myself and to other amputees.

Writing for The Liner Wand has been a wonderful experience as well! I’ve met so many cool people; it’s opened up opportunities that I didn’t know existed. I believe that inclusivity is important in all aspects of life, and literally getting the word out there is my way of contributing to the cause.

Lastly, I fill my void physically – although I don’t consider myself an athlete in the true meaning of the word, I am very active. Swimming, skiing, biking, and glamping top my list. I’ve said it before, but perhaps it bears repeating – set a long term goal and then break it down into manageable steps – day by day if necessary. That forward movement, no matter how incremental, will help you start to fill your void.

My point? Do some soul searching and find your new passion. If you don’t have a support system, build it, one person at a time. Do something good for someone else for no reason – it will make that person feel so good, which will, in turn, make you feel good. Bringing joy to others will ultimately bring joy to you. Helping others will give you a sense of purpose, no matter how much or how little you believe you actually have. That’s how you climb your way out. Start to fill that void, and in time, there will be none, and you can eliminate “languish” and “ennui” from your vocabulary. Take Marie Kondo’s approach to this – get rid of everything (and everybody) who does not bring you joy and go looking for it in yourself, others, and your community.

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