6 ways being an amputee prepared me for the pandemic!

Written by Liv Leigh

Colorado-based, Capetownian Amputee and Bombing Survivor, Graphic Artist, Industrial Designer, and BioCAD 3D printing engineer.

Featured in Read Stuff

Hey there! I'm Liv and I've been an amputee for over 20 years. As time has passed during this pandemic, I realized that there were a couple things about this experience that felt familiar and, as I thought about it more, a couple ways I had been prepared for this. That's not to say I'm not having a hard time, because I truly am, but there are some similarities, and I wanted to share them with you!

Being an amputee isn’t just, I lost my leg and now I’m all healed up and recovered.  I have to say that because someone said that to me one time.  Literally.

It’s a constant balance of trying to be functional, visiting my prosthetist for adjustment, making changes on my own, and sometimes, unfortunately, having to be in a wheelchair to heal an injury.  Many amputees can use crutches but my other leg is too damaged, so it’s a wheelchair for me.

I had been battling an injury for months that just wasn’t healing so I requested accommodation at work and was given special permission to work remotely for 2 weeks to heal, since neither my home nor my work place are particularly wheelchair accessible. 

This was march 11th, 2020.  2 days later, COVID hit Colorado in full force and my company went 100% remote.  And that was when I realized that being an amputee had prepared me in a couple important ways.

Sudden Loss of Independence

I was a super independent teenager.  It was at my first job that the terrorist bomb was detonated that took my leg.  Suddenly I went from starting to spread my wings, to being bed bound for almost a year.  I had to watch everything progressing around me.  My friends go to parties, to work, even to school, and I couldn’t do any of it.  I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself.  It was an incredible shock to lose so much of my independence and freedom.  So, when I heard some people talking about that in regards to the pandemic, I realized why the feeling was so familiar.  I’ve experienced this before.  I’ve prepared for this.  It’s horrible but it’s not unfamiliar and I know that if we just stick with it, take the best care of ourselves that we can, we’re going to be ok.  Accept it for now and know that it will change.  With time, we’re going to get better, we’re going to get stronger, and we’re going to get through this.

Adjusting to New Limitations

Becoming an amputee is a huge challenge, not just regarding the loss of limb, but also in the fact that you have to relearn everything you took for granted.  In my case, so much of my body was shattered, burnt, and beaten, that there wasn’t really an unbroken part of me that I could rely on.  Everything was healing, everything was recovering, and I had to learn a completely new normal.  Things as simple as standing up, walking, balancing, climbing, even stepping off a curb could be incredibly challenging and could sometimes take some preparation and forethought. This was another thing that felt incredibly familiar to me and I was prepared to address it.  Adjusting to new limitations is about acknowledging the things you can’t change…I can’t grow my leg back….and working within the things you can.  I can learn to balance better, I can make sure to use the hand rail when going down stairs, even when people look at me funny.  Trust me, it happens.  Acknowledging the virus and working within the limitations it requires in order to be safe and healthy feels very similar.   

Derailed Timeline

Growing up, my expected timeline stretched out before me in a vaguely defined way.  Finish high school, go to Europe for a year or two, go to college (maybe)…and beyond.  The impact of the bomb completely shattered that timeline.  Suddenly I spent my 16th and 17th years relearning how to walk and function again.  I failed high school because I missed an entire year and had a head injury. So my only option was to retake the entire year or move to where my sister lived in America, take my GED and start college, which is what I did.  For years I’ve struggled with how the bombing, my injuries, and my subsequent immigration have impacted my timeline.  I’ve compared my line to other people’s and felt bad for not being where I thought I should be.  It took me a long time to recognize that the idea of a linear life timeline is a fantasy.  It’s imagined, unrealistic, and most people probably don’t have it.  I certainly didn’t.  And it’s ok.  I see this truth echoed in every kid struggling with school during the pandemic, every person whose career is suffering or whose livelihood is completely destroyed by this.  I remind myself that none of our timelines are linear.  It’s ok to be at a point you didn’t expect, at a time you didn’t expect.  This is reality.  It’s that predictable timeline that’s a fantasy.

Self care Preprep

This one is huge.  Selfcare prep is well you taking care of sick you.  I think most people do this to some degree.  Meal prep on a Sunday.  Laying out your clothes for the morning.  Doing laundry ahead of a busy week.  As an amputee, I do this ALL the time. I often get a bit of a heads up that my leg isn’t doing well, so I can start some self care prep while I can stand, knowing that I’ll be in the wheelchair soon.  I know that certain things are going to be more difficult and I’m going to be more sensitive to certain things when I’m in the wheelchair or just struggling to walk.  I make sure to have food, toiletries, laundry done.  I make sure to clean extra since I know that’s going to be harder.  I also make sure to have things accessible that will make me happy.  Like craft projects to work on.  And I make sure that they’re accessible and I have everything I need.  I don’t have to go digging.  When the virus hit Colorado, I’d already done my self-care prep for my off leg time.  I had food, extra toilet paper, entertainment and projects.  And beyond that, it felt natural to look into how to prep regarding the pandemic.  I gathered all the medicines in my house that would be appropriate and placed them in a “grab and go Covid bag”. And my husband and I discussed that if one of us gets sick, we grab the bag and hole up in the bedroom.  The healthy person can sleep on the couch.  Granted that’s counting on just one of us getting sick.  But regardless.  Self care prep makes me feel good.  It makes me feel loved in those times when I need it because I’ve taken care of myself and it makes me feel independent too…which ties into the next point.

Attitude Adjustments

This is basically self care, but present tense.  It’s working out what makes you feel bad, and doing what you can to adjust it, in the moment. When I first became an amputee, this manifested most noticeably in a feeling of dependence and helplessness.  I dealt with this by being adamantly independent.  I wanted to do everything myself that I possibly could.  And I still feel this today.  When I’m upright on two legs, people don’t seem to notice my challenges as much but when I’m in a wheelchair with one leg dangling, they can get really awkward.  They open doors for me, offer to hold things.  It’s very kind and it also makes me feel disabled, which in turn makes me absolutely furious.  So, when I’m in a wheelchair I pride myself on being very fast, very capable, opening doors, making food, getting coffee, whatever it is.  I wear kneepads so I can crawl on my knees and move the wheel chair around myself, in and out of cars etc.   At the start of this pandemic, I was already ready to deal with my attitude adjustment in regards to off-leg/wheelchair time, so it’s just extended further.  I was already going to stay home more, because my house isn’t particularly accessible and neither are a lot of places I go to.  I was already planning to work out at home a bit more, since going to the gym in the wheelchair can be an extra hassle at times.  Now my attitude adjustment has just extended into other realms of my life.  I find that being clean, perfumed, and putting on makeup really helps my mood.  Even if I’m not going anywhere.  Being outdoors is important to me, so I cleaned my little cement block of a back yard and I take my lunch breaks outside when I can.  Being playful and trying new things helps my mood, so I’ve taken up hula hooping as a pandemic skill.  I can struggle with feeling trapped or loss of freedom, and I address that by going for a walk, taking my hula hoop to the park, or meeting people for a social distanced picnic.  A big part of attitude adjustment is getting some endorphins flowing, which brings me to my final point.

Keeping fit with adaptations

Becoming an amputee, you have to relearn everything.  But learning to adapt isn’t a one and done thing.  It’s constant. I do Crossfit type classes 4 days a week normally and if I’m having a bad leg day I often have to adjust things on the fly.  I know what exercises to default to if I can’t use my leg as much and I even know how to have a great workout without a leg at all.  In all honesty, 90% of the time I’m probably making some sort of adaptation for an injury or even just a preference.  When I’m injured and trying to keep fit, one of the most important things I do is to isolate what I have no excuses for.  If my leg is hurt, I’m going to feel really frustrated trying to do a leg exercise.  So I’ll go heavy on the arms and I have no excuse not to do that.  So when the pandemic hit, it seemed automatic to start looking for adaptations.  I started out with water jugs to use for deadlift and dog food for sandbags, and now I’ve graduated brand new gear like torpedoes and kettlebells.  The first thing I purchased the moment the virus hit was a stair stepper since I knw as a higher risk individual Id want to work on my lung health and keep that cardio up even if we were stuck at home.  I feel fitter now than I ever have before in some ways and I’m working out 6 days a week.

If you’d like, you can watch my video on this too.

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