I received an e-mail yesterday. It was one of those e-mails that you don’t even want to open. You know the kind, the ones with the cute cartoon pictures that have cute sayings or words of “inspiration” attached. Cliché ad nauseum! But I was suckered in by some clever reference made by the sender, and opened it. After scrolling and reading I sent the thing on to everyone in my address book. The e-mail had a simple, but powerful message, “be grateful for what you have.” I want to emphasize here, that I rarely forward e-mail. Of course everyone I know “rarely” sends forwards. So how do I end up with a plethora of e-mail forwards? It’s a rhetorical question. Please do not e-mail me your answer.
After pondering over that e-mail, I was reminded of a copy of a poem my mom had on her refrigerator, for years. I must have read it a hundred times, but the only line I remember goes something like, “…I was complaining about not having shoes to wear until I met a man with no feet...” And even though I can’t remember the rest of the poem, the meaning, “If you think you’ve got it bad, just check out the next guy…he’s got it worse.” rang loud and clear. In recent years, I’ve heard that message over and over again from friends, and acquaintances alike. My friends and family tend to use me as the “next guy” a lot.
They even call me to tell me about it. It comes in the form of someone feeling down, or hurting their back, foot, hand, or some other body part, then followed by, “but when I thought of you, I realized I had nothing to complain about!” I’m the comparison poster child, the one who possibly couldn’t have it worse than anyone else. I try to explain that I’m not the person who should be the bench mark for misery. Frankly I’m not in misery, I don’t feel down often, or have aches and pains out of the norm, for someone my age. I’m pretty upbeat and pain free most of the time. I tell them that their pain and anguish is something they need to feel and not feel guilty about, simply because it couldn’t possibly be as bad as anything I’ve gone through. I often find myself saying “It’s not a comparison.”
The other day, however, I found myself with the proverbial shoe on the other (fake) foot. I had a call from my Rehab doctor asking me to meet with one of his new patients, a woman who had had both of her hands and feet amputated. Often times I get calls from doctors, or other medical professionals asking me to meet with their patients who are having amputations, or who are recovering from having just had an amputation. I do peer support visits with these people. I am a sounding board for emotional unrest, a resource they can use. I am there to answer questions about limb loss, prostheses, or try to address any other issue that can arise from losing a limb.
Being a triple amputee, I understand the world of limb loss! I feel strongly about lending my support and helping new amputees adjust to their situation. I want them to know that there is someone who intimately knows the challenges, the heartache, and the fear that accompanies losing a limb or limbs. When I was new to the world of amputation, I had no amputee who came to do a peer visit with me. There was no one I could ask if something was normal, or why I was feeling certain things from a limb that no longer existed. I had no information regarding resources or support. Doing peer support visits is extremely important to me, for those very reasons. I was happy to meet with her.
She was teary eyed and anguished through some of our visit, but she was also brave, and self-assured. She spoke about her family, her three children, and her husband. She wondered out-loud if they would be better off without her. I asked her if her family members were telling her that they would be better off without her. She said “no” that they were glad she was alive, that she had survived. I told her she needed to believe them! After visiting for a little over an hour, I left. I asked her to get in touch with me if she needed anything, or wanted more information. As I was walking out of the hospital, and then getting into my car, I was wondering how she would manage to do the things that I do with relative ease, like driving for instance. I thought, “Wow, I’m so blessed that I still have one remaining limb, and don’t have to deal with having no limbs, like this poor woman.” As soon as that thought materialized I stopped! Was I now joining in as a new participant of that comparison game? Was I doing the very same thing to her, as my friends and family do to me?
I know that this woman will adapt, and get on with her life, as I have. She will find her new normal, and after awhile, the thought of whether or not she should have “made it” will become less and less frequent. In time, that thought will be replaced with a feeling of being blessed that she did make it as much for her own sake, as for her family’s.
As I rallied around my confidence in her abilities to rebuild her life, my thoughts and feelings directed me to a different perspective. A new realization dawned on me. I began to understand that my friends and family aren’t really playing the comparison game at all. They are giving testimony to my courage, my determination to never give up regardless of my circumstances, just as I have given to this woman. I have come to understand the poem on my mom’s fridge a little better too. And like the e-mail I forwarded on, the meaning is now crystal clear. “Regardless of what you don’t have, be grateful for what you do have.”
The next time I get the call from someone who shouldn’t feel bad about an ache or pain because, after all, look what I have been through, I will thank them for their testimony. I will thank them for thinking that I am brave and determined. And after I hang up the phone, I’ll get on with my new normal believing that all is right with the world, and be darned grateful for another day!