Ever since my amputation I have found it very interesting to see the reactions that it elicits from others. As we all know, when you see someone missing a limb or wearing a prosthesis, your immediate reaction is to stare. We are innately curious about what could have caused this situation, but we have all been taught that it is impolite to stare at someone in a wheelchair or with a missing a limb, etc. I find it interesting to see who comes out and asks what happened and who just quietly cuts their eyes over when they don’t think you will notice. I honestly don’t care if people look (I mean, I still do it too!) but I am sure everyone has different feelings about that.
My favorite reactions are those of kids. They are so innocently curious, and when they see that my leg is missing each of them handles it a little bit differently. Some of them slowly examine the rest of me to see if everything else appears to be normal. Others just stare at where my leg should be like they are expecting it to reappear at any moment! Sometimes kids will be walking, holding hands with their nanny and will literally turn around and walk backwards because they just can’t look long enough! It is actually really cute.
The other day my mom and I were leaving my outpatient rehab and walking over to Ryan’s office for another fitting of the new socket we are making. We stopped at the light where a little boy was standing, holding hands with his nanny. When he saw my C-Leg he did the full body check and then just fixated on the leg. His nanny looked to see what he was so fascinated with and then whispered to him, “Don’t stare!” I laughed and said “It’s ok if he looks, he’s just checking out my new robot leg!” The light changed and she laughed as we all began crossing the street.
He couldn’t see enough and kept changing speeds to see around his nanny as we walked. When we got to the other side of the street I asked him if he wanted to see how it worked. He looked up at his nanny and then back at me and nodded. I explained how we use a computer to change the settings of the leg and showed how you can get the knee to bend by putting pressure on the toe, etc. After the demonstration his nanny asked him if he thought that was cool and with wide eyes he looked up at her and nodded and said “Yeah!!!”
I thought that it was interesting that this whole situation began with his nanny telling him not to stare though. I think that we teach our kids that it is impolite to look at people who are different and as a result end up creating a stigma around them. I think that as long as the “Don’t stare!” idea is hammered into kids when they are young, then they will be the ones who would never break the ice and ask what happened, but rather just silently cut their eyes when they don’t think you are looking.
Obviously we’ll all cut our eyes and look when we are passing someone who is missing a limb, and it doesn’t always make sense to ask what happened, but even if we are just standing at a stop light and someone asks, I am never offended by the question. I think that instead of telling kids not to stare, we should teach them to say “Hi.” I think that it would eliminate the stigma that sticks with them throughout their lives and would teach them to be more open to asking questions when they are older.