It’s been 10 years since I’ve been arm-less.
I know what you’re thinking – wasn’t I born without my right arm?
Yes, you’re right. And, I’m definitely not 10-years-old. So, what happened?
I started wearing prosthetics at the age of 18-months-old. At five, I was among the youngest recipients to wear the myoelectric prosthetic arm. I actually went to physical therapy to learn how to work the muscles in my right short arm with the intention of opening and closing the electric hand through impulses that ran from my muscles to my brain.
Growing up, I always had two arms. One for every day and one for dancing. The dancing arm was called a body-powered prosthetic – meaning it was much lighter than the electric and was attached by a series of straps that crossed my back and connected to the arm. As a competition dancer and show choir member, this dancing arm was fantastic.
I looked just like everyone else.
Over time, I didn’t need the dancing arm anymore and I was just using the myoelectric for my every day routine. But here’s the thing about the myoelectric – it’s heavy.
I should re-phrase. It was heavy for me. My little arm – about two inches below the elbow – had to carry the weight of a prosthetic arm, complete with electric components and a small motor.
It was starting to hurt. I worked with my prosthetist to try and make things more comfortable. He would work the inner socket – the part that the end of my small arm fit into, very much like a cast – to try to elevate the pain in my elbow and medial elbow. But, nothing was working.
I started to notice my skin where there was the most contact was starting to become leathery and calloused. My medial elbow was starting to become worn down. The actual bone.
So, I made a decision.
About 10-years-ago I decided to go arm-less. Cold turkey.
I just stopped wearing the prosthesis. I already needed to take it off to do my hair and it was actually a bit difficult to drive with it – so I was already noticing that it made sense to re-think my strategy. That, coupled with the ever growing pain, actually made the situation pretty easy to embrace.
But, the one thing I noticed almost immediately – it’s really hard to hide.
I mean, when I was wearing the prosthesis it was hard to tell right away that it was just a prosthesis. And, when I was wearing sleeves it was almost impossible to tell.
I blended right in.
Sure, once you tried to shake my hand or you started really looking up close, then you could tell that my silicone skin and plastic nails were bionic – but I really had you fooled for a while there.
Going cold turkey meant that I was also undeniably different. Pretty hard to skirt around the fact that my right arm just wasn’t there.
So, I learned a lot 10-years ago. I learned to be comfortable in my own skin. To be ok with looking so visibly off-center. It wasn’t easy at first. But it was necessary.
Almost a week after being arm-free the pain started to diminish and about a month later, my skin started to heal.
And, in a way, I felt like I had done some personal healing as well. Utilizing the amazing blessing of prosthetics without using them as a camouflage. Needing them to function but not needing them to fulfill.
I’m so grateful for all the prosthetic arms I’ve had over the years. From my baby crawler, to my 18-month-old alligator arm to the dancing body-powered arm and the sophisticated myoelectric. And, I’m thankful for all the hours of physical and occupational therapy, and the therapists, doctors and prosthetists who helped me become self-sufficient.
And, I’m also grateful that after that journey came to a close, I could start a new one with the confidence that I could make it. I could be ok.
With more or less.