Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Helping - How?

A true story (but not a short one - my apologies!):

A few years after my accident in SF, the one where I "lost" my leg (still hoping it might turn up...) I heard about a kid that lost his leg in a boating accident.  Then, not long after that, I heard about an RCMP officer that lost hers while on duty due to a shotgun wound.

Both of those times (and several others) I went down to Vancouver General Hospital and dropped off a note to be given to the patient.  They weren't taking visitors.  In the note I would usually include a picture (they were paper in those days...) I remember the one I gave to the RCMP officer was of me hiking in the Grand Canyon.  I'd labour over just the right encouraging words, and I'd include my phone number/email address.

I really wanted to help.  It didn't work though....  Talk about an awkward situation I put them in - calling some guy out of the blue to talk about this terrible chapter in your life.  Not surprisingly neither one called.  It definitely wasn't effective.  I sort of knew it was the wrong approach but I had no better ideas.

I knew it wouldn't really work because a guy had done the exact same thing with me in San Francisco.  He spoke to my parents, they decided to let him come in and talk to me.  I HATED IT.  I didn't want him welcoming me to some lame club I wasn't ready to join.  I didn't want to see his leg, hear him talk, or anything....  but I was in no mood to disagree with anyone (and was as high as a kite on morphine) so in he came.  I don't remember a word he said but I do recall he walked quite well.  That was encouraging even if I didn't mention it to anyone at the time.

Fast forward more than a decade......  Helping people is still one of the major goals in my life - but it isn't always easy to figure out how.  I've tried a lot of things but nothing has been as successful as simply talking about life in my blog.

One example:  I ran the Haney to Harrison Race in November with the IF team.  At the finish line an older gentleman came up to me and told me about his son who was about to have an elective amputation.  He was about my age, living in Australia.  We chatted and I gave him my website url:

A few months later his son sent me an e-mail - he and his wife had been reading my blog and enjoying it.  We have been communicating regularly ever since.  I have been downloading a lot of information to him about his new scenario.  It feels GREAT to help someone navigate uncharted waters...  save them some time, some confusion, some pain, some irritation - whatever.  

It's not a one-way street though - before long Mike will be doing all kinds of crazy things and sharing his knowledge with me too...  Many of my readers are just like Mike and I...  many are not, but they know people who are.  Word gets out and it is GREAT!  

Mike recently e-mailed me some questions about swimming - I gave him a few tips - he posted the text of our exchange.  It was rewarding for both of us, but now it exists for others to read and learn from - so they know that their concerns are normal and know how to overcome problems in the water.  That is valuable.  I wish that had existed when I was a new amputee.

Maybe there is an opportunity for you?  (...who me?...) Yes, you.  I know you may not be missing a leg, and you probably don't think your life is 'blogworthy' - I didn't either.  

You probably have one of the following (all of which you could blog about and make a difference):  
a serious interest
a hobby
an addiction
a dysfunctional family
a great skill
no skill
difficult children
no children
a history of violence in the family
a history of peace in the family
an important cause
a lack of an important cause
a disease
perfect health
a creative mind
no creativity at all
a great job
no job
a terrible job
a great sense of humour
a very technical mind
an eye for fashion
no eye for fashion
....  and a zillion other things.

I only write that because I know that most people WANT to make a difference - but wanting to and knowing how are not the same.  I stumbled onto this - maybe it could work for you too...  

P.S.  Even if your efforts only make a positive "difference" for one person (yourself) they will likely be worth the effort you put into your actions.

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Linda Pendleton said...

This shows just how unique we all are in dealing with life events and grief. Following my amputation in Dec. 2007, my prosthetist asked if I would like to talk with someone who had a fairly recent amputation, someone about my age. I decided it would be a help and a man who had lost his leg a year before came to see me at the Skilled Nursing Hospital. That helped, showed me what could be in a short time, and in year’s time. I was at the Skilled Nursing Hospital for 99 days, and one day a nurse asked if I would talk with a patient who was facing an amputation the next day. I was happy to do so. Apparently it helped her a great deal. She wanted to talk to me twice that day. Soon word got around to all the nurses and back to me, that she called me an “angel.” LOL. I saw her about three months later and she thanked me again. Made me feel very good! Then while going back to the hospital for physical therapy after my release I was asked to speak to a class of nurses aids CNAs, in training. I loved doing it. I was able to show them my leg, how it all worked, and to share and give suggestions on what they might do for an amputee patient based on my early hospitalization experiences. My prosthetist also had me talk with one of his elderly patients, which I was pleased to do several times. The hospital knows they can call on me at anytime to talk with patients. I believe the loss of a leg due to illness, accident, results in fear of the unknown, fear of losing independence, fear of not being able to make a living, things such as that. When those fears are addressed, when there is inspiration, hope, then emotional healing, grief healing, can take place. No way around it, the loss is grief. And grief is a personal journey and not everyone deals with it in the same way.

For me personally, as soon as the fear of the unknown, (such as seeing how prosthetics work), seeing how easily independence can be regained, seeing how walking and much more is possible in a relatively short time, it all became hardly anything more than a new life challenge. I tell everyone, no matter their physical setback, take advantage of all the physical therapy the insurance gives you and then continue. I’ve seen people following knee surgeries for instance, give up on their physical therapy long before they have to. One thing I have learned this past year, physical therapy is invaluable.

Every little bit of inspiration we give to others, comes back to us ten times, one hundred times and more! You know that well, Meyrick, and I thank you for the inspiration you put out there for others to share in.

After all, that is what life is all about....

MJ said...

Hey Linda,

Thanks for sharing this. I definitely had my mind made up about how I was going to tackle the challenge. Not that I was so smart or so strong but I was still "at battlestations" trying to survive.... kind of in shock. I think I worried that someone else would come in and make me question myself. I had already seen some TERRIBLE brochures about being an amputee and I was finished with outside influences - I was going to go it alone (and with my family of course).

It was all a bit too early in my case... also in the cases when I went to the hospital for the others. The situations you describe sound a lot better. I have since done a fair amount of peer counseling with amputees and it seems to work out a lot better after an initial grief period passes.

Thanks so much for reading and sharing your experiences here. Someone WILL read it and get something from it.



Mike said...

Man I can absolutely relate to the feeling of someone wanting to indoctrinate me into some "lame club". I didn't want any part of that. It took a while before I wanted to talk to "another one" and even then, it was only because I saw how active you were. I was seeking that same level the best way to get there is to surround yourself with the best.

Missy said...

I really don't know who I help, other then to vent and rant in my own mind (on my blog). While I can't relate to you and the hand you've been dealt, it is inspiring just the same...makes me feel like a total whimp and forces me to do something even when it might not be comfortable or a workout I just don't wanna do!

Karen Hoffman said...

thanks for the inspiration to blog...

Chloe said...

wow. that is exactly what I needed to read right now. thank you for being so inspirational!

Ryan Denner said...


Just reading this now. Great post. I have enjoyed helping others in the past. The 'tntsdh' in my blog name is team in training san diego hawaii. I did TNT twice, and it was a blast.

I liked the end part of your blog that encourages ANYone to write about ANYthing - even if they think no one will read about it.

Good post man. There is a so much more I could say, but just ain't the same over text.

Keep on keepin' on...