We’re not famous yet, but we draw lots of attention.
Heads turn when we enter Jimmy John’s sandwich shop in Orlando, Florida. We’re three attractive women with long hair in blonde and brunette. Clad in work-out clothes and brightly colored gym shoes, we’re laughing and chattering. So why do people stare?
Today, between us, we have three legs, two pairs of crutches, and one prosthesis.
As the clerk takes our orders, her eyes glance from our bodies to the cash register. We smile warmly. Make our way toward the pick-up counter. When our sandwiches are ready, I grab the bag. Then I open the door for Ali and Chris. By default, I’m the helper today — the only one with two working legs!
I met Ali and Chris while in Florida, and we became instantly inseparable. Ali is a “left AK” like me. Having lost her leg at 16, she is the most experienced amputee among us. Chris is a “right BK.” She’s the newbie; her amputation was just last January. With my three years as an amputee, I fall somewhere in the middle.
During our week together, we dine on Jimmy John’s, Starbucks, and Thai food. We meet each other’s families. We walk with various leg arrangements. At first, we exchange tips about socket fit. Ali has just had revision surgery. Chris has a neuroma she is trying to relieve. I am just plain tired of being uncomfortable.
Later, our conversation moves to hobbies and fitness, work and relationships, shoes and clothes. Ali is a nurse; Chris is a rock climber. Both are moms. I take lessons from each of them. I admire how they put their kids first despite ongoing leg issues. Chris, who’s traveled to Florida from chilly Wisconsin, makes sure her kids get time at the pool. Ali, who’s from Tennessee, tells me that once during a tornado, she had to crawl down the stairs carrying her two toddler daughters.
One afternoon, we’re standing around talking when Ali’s one-year-old daughter Bella pulls herself up on my Genium. Then her tiny face looks up at me with shock. I am not her mother!
We all laugh.
“Bella thinks I’m the only one with a leg like that!” Ali says, coming over to fetch her baby.
Toward mid-week, Chris, Ali, and I come up with a reality show idea. It will be Push Girls meets The Bionic Woman. Chris’s husband suggests the name Gimp Girls, but we prefer Gimpy Chicks! We’re sure it’ll be a hit because of its wide appeal: amputees, cancer survivors, trauma patients, medical staff, physical therapists, technology buffs, parents, and women in general. By raising awareness through the media, we might even drive new legislation and insurance coverage for amputees!
We come up with a subtitle for the show: Imperfection is the new perfection.
At the end of our stay, I say goodbye to my fellow Gimpy Chicks. We promise to stay in touch. I leave Florida feeling empowered by my new identity. I am not simply Rebecca, a lone amputee from Philly. I’m a Gimpy Chick!
In the Orlando Airport, the TSA agent flags my backpack. I expected it. I’m carrying Allen wrenches, silicone sleeves and patches, moleskin, alcohol spray, tape, and ointment in various quantities.
“Whose bag is this?” he says, holding it up. I raise my hand confidently.
He takes me over to the counter and pulls out my metal vacuum pump. With its red plastic handles, round dial, and clear tubing, I guess it looks dangerous. “What’s this for?” he asks.
“It’s a pump to get the air out of my leg,” I answer, gesturing proudly toward my prosthesis.
“Never heard that one before!” he says. He places it back in the bag and hands me my belongings.
Good thing, because when we reach the gate, my socket is acting up again. I’m so uncomfortable that I dismantle my entire leg. I use an Allen wrench to unscrew the Genium from the base of my socket. Then I remove the socket from my leg, and strip off the silicone liner. Prosthetic parts litter the floor around my feet. My mom looks on nervously. Before this trip, I never would have attempted such a feat. I reattach my Genium to a different socket and put the whole thing back on my leg. My mom breathes a sigh of relief.
I head off to Starbucks, texting Chris and Ali as I go. They will understand.
Gimpy Chick power! If only the cameras were rolling!
Follow my journey at www.my-1000-miles.blogspot.com.