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.

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8 Responses to Kids

  1. Bill and Patti Bradley says:

    Good posting, Rob. Patti gets many of the same reactions (or “non-reactions”), but the kids are the best. “Hi” would be great, from everyone.
    But it’s the adults that are awkward. Sometimes she has people who apparently think she may be mentally “slow” (because she’s in a wheelchair??). But when she/he begin to speak talk down to her, she will respond with higher vocabulary, then watches her/his reactions.
    Hang in there, and keep posting!
    Blessings on you.

  2. Zona Trahan says:

    What a great story Rob. My oldest nephew Marty, (who is now 32) won a contest when he was in 5th grade. It was a contest put on by the local news paper and his teacher had all the students enter. They had to write a paper on prejudice. Most of the kids wrote the obvious, but Marty wrote a great story on how people in wheel chairs scared him until his Mom (my Sister) made him speak to someone in a wheelchair. I still have the story in my “special stuff” folder. I’m certain he does not remember writing it nor does he know I still have it, but it was one of the most beautiful stories of a small child learning a wonderful lesson about – as you so nicely put it – saying hello rather than not staring!

  3. Peggy Guthrie says:

    So glad you wrote this. I was wondering about that effect. My son Mark had knee surgery and thumb surgery (from a football injury) and he looked like he had fallen off a mountain. People stared as he rolled around, all bandaged up, in a wheelchair. He was amazed at the looks he got. He found a new empathy for the handicapped.

  4. Bob and Paula Parris says:

    Rob, if you ever get tired of your current line of work, you’d make a great teacher! God bless you for your attitude with them and helping them to understand the world around them. Hope you get back to Atlanta soon!

  5. Joan Gregory says:

    Many years ago, at the beginning of my rheumatoid, our cousin Mark asked me if kids in school made fun of my feet. At that point, my arthritis had made my toes turn up. I explained that my toes didn’t look like that when I was in school. I am sure he was amazed at them but didn’t mind asking. The funniest reaction I had to my feet was when Helen thought the heat of the deck was making my toes curl up.

    I hope we get to be together by next week!


  6. Gwen says:

    Hi Rob! I was referred to your website because I was looking for some great places to eat while in NYC next week. However, I found myself reading the blogs instead of scanning them as I had originally planned. I did find one, Lombardi’s pizza. I do plan to go there. However, reading several of your blogs I realized I was more interested in you and your journey you are on right now. Your writings show such inner strength. I especially found the blog on the little kid and his nanny interesting. I am guilty of saying to my son, “Don’t stare!” I think now will be a bit different as I will help guide him through his curiosity to find answers he is looking for. You are an inspiration.

    My prayers are with you.

  7. April says:

    Rob! I so agree with your post!!! When I am at the beach/pool, I have people (particularly women) stare at my deformed leg all the time! I have had very few people ask me about it when I would rather them just ask. I have no problem explaining how good God is and how he healed me from cancer, or even making up an awesome shark attack story. Staring is not cool, but if you are going to stare then ask!

    I hope you get to share your story to many people, even if they don’t ask.

  8. Neal Seigfried says:

    I like explaining the leg to kids. I once took it mine off to show them how it attached and this little boy was amazed that I wasn’t bleeding all over the place. Most kids under the age of 8 don’t know what a prosthesis is. They just realize that it is different from what they’re equipped with. I would gladly explain the leg to adults if they bothered to ask. I have an american flag motive on my below knee socket. It can/does elicit many comments from many people.

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