Poor Taste? Not Offhand.

I did get some complaints last week about the story of the guy who lost his arm when it became stuck in his furnace boiler. I have my own response to the complaints of “poor taste” and “NOT FUNNY!”

I also have a reply from the reader I was thinking about when I wrote the story — a Premium subscriber who is missing an arm.

But let’s first start with the story, from True’s 13 June 2010 issue:

Give The Guy A Hand

Jonathan Metz, 31, was repairing the furnace in his West Hartford, Conn., home when his arm got stuck. So stuck that by the next day his arm was starting to get gangrenous, so he reached some tools and started to work on cutting his arm off to free himself. “It was the right thing to do,” said Dr. Scott Ellner, a trauma surgeon at the hospital Metz ended up in. “This man saved his own life.” Metz had almost completed the task when police, summoned by a friend concerned over Metz’s disappearance, found him. He had been trapped for nearly three days. (Hartford Courant)…Of course he was repairing the furnace: a new one would have cost him an arm and a leg.

Before Whining…

First, as I’ve pointed out many, many times, This is True is not always meant to be funny. I talk about very serious stories all the time. As I’ve often said, True strives to be humorous, ironic or thought-provoking. If I can produce some combination with the same story, great.

But not all stories can generate all three. In those cases, you need to decide which I’m trying to do — you know, think about it a little! And if you didn’t find that story thought-provoking (would you have the courage to do what was clearly the right thing in a situation like that?!) then, well, you either didn’t read the story very carefully, or you just don’t think very much!

I’m also not sympathetic to people who laugh at nearly everything, including the misfortune of others, but then cry foul when everyone else laughs at their particular pet issue, such as, say, “disability.”

Making Fun

But “you made fun of” someone’s misfortune! some cried. Yep: I did. I think that beats averting your eyes and walking the other way, doesn’t it?

It’s a serious story, and I lightened it up a little so that it could be told to spark thought. It’s important to know what the point is. This wasn’t a story about misfortune, it’s about courage, and we can smile because John Metz showed us all what courage really is — and lived to tell about it.

It’s also a story about having to make a huge decision that will affect your life forever. We all have to make decisions that affect our lives, even if most of us are fortunate enough to never have to make a decision quite like that.

Many don’t get the chance to make a decision: life is thrust upon them, and they have to live with it whether they agreed or not.

Of course, then they have a different decision to make: to live with it with humor and enjoy their life, since not having an arm doesn’t mean one’s life is over, or to whine and cry and lament and be miserable for the one thing that’s missing, rather than enjoying everything else that’s not missing.

I choose to make an example of the humor part, rather than the “give up and die” decision that so many make. Or, worse, they give up even though they didn’t die.

Someone Who Lives It Every Day

Which brings us to Bandit (and yes, that’s his real name), a long-time reader from New Mexico. I met Bandit this April, when I was in Albuquerque for a conference, but without meeting him I already knew he was missing a good part of his arm (about mid-forearm down, if I recall correctly), since he likes to make fun of it.

He refers to himself, of course, as the “One-Armed Bandit”. He knows just about every off-handed joke that exists, and tells them a lot. Because he’s uncomfortable? Not at all: he wants to be sure other folks aren’t uncomfortable!

Not surprisingly, he wrote me after he saw the story. I replied that I had thought of him as I wrote it. His instant reply: “I had hoped I have made enough of an impact you would think of me. :^) ” But of course he did! A very positive one.

I told him that not unexpectedly, I had heard complaints about the story. I figured that would draw a response, but what he said was even more illustrating than I had hoped. But then, he’s had plenty of time to think about the subject.

Where Thinking Takes You

“The thing I have noticed is people fear losing a limb to the point of lashing out in anger,” he wrote. “They assume that losing a limb means their life will be over, and sadly, for them, it will be. They have learned it, somewhere. The fear is false, of course. I heard about a kid who was born without a thumb (or ‘lost’ it young) and was taught by his parents he was a cripple. So, of course, he became a cripple.”

Think about that: for merely missing a thumb, he lived his life as “a cripple.” Bandit continues:

“My father was wise. I was born without the left hand (my parents wanted 1.95 kids). One of the first things my father did was talk to a child psych instructor where he was going to college on the GI bill. The instructor’s advice was ‘Ignore it.’ My folks took that advice, although it was not easy for them, both because of their upbringing (my paternal grandmother never really got over it), and the society of the time (i.e., some of the neighbors). This is one of the main reasons I am *slightly* obnoxious about my off-handed puns. It helps reduce the fear of others, starting with their fear of offending me. I’ve had presidents of client companies come to the Stygian depths of engineering to meet a consultant named Bandit (they seemed to appreciate the honesty….) People very quickly forget I don’t have two hands.”

He says that when his wife starts overloading him with stuff, he has to remind her “I only have two hands!” 🙂

“So I was interested to read the article,” he continued. “I have a lot of respect for the guy: he made the right decision in a difficult situation. He is like the guy who had to cut his hand off with a dull knife after being trapped for a week.”

Aron Ralston

He refers to Aron Ralston, a Colorado mountain climber. In 2003 Ralston was out climbing by himself in Utah when his right arm got stuck: a boulder shifted, crushing it against a sandstone wall.

Ralston knew he was truly alone: he hadn’t told anyone where he was going, so even if someone figured out he was missing, they wouldn’t know where to look. He had no cell phone. He rationed his water, but ran out after five days. He carved his name, date of birth, and his expected date of death in the wall, and pulled out his camcorder to videotape a farewell message.

Then Ralston, who also happens to be an engineer, got an idea: he used leverage to break his own arm — the radius and ulna bones in his forearm — and then used a multi-tool to cut the soft tissue around the break to amputate his arm. The hard part was the tendons, he said later: the tool wasn’t very good, “what you’d get if you bought a $15 flashlight and got a free multi-use tool.”

Hardly the End of His Ordeal

Once he was cut free, leaving his forearm and hand behind, Ralston was still eight miles from his pickup truck …which naturally had a manual transmission. But first he had to get down a 65-foot (20 m) wall. He rappelled it, one-handed.

He then got a lucky break: while walking out he came across a family from the Netherlands, who gave him water and two cookies, and called for help. A search and rescue team took him out the rest of the way by chopper.

(His severed arm was recovered. He had it cremated — and left the ashes at the boulder. It had won it fair and square!)

Damn Right There’s a Lesson!

Ralston, now 34, didn’t quit, just like John Metz won’t. Ralston still climbs mountains — one of his prosthetic arms has a rock axe end!

And he is on the lecture circuit explaining “how he did not lose his hand, but gained his life back,” one promo says. Losing his arm “was a blessing in a way,” he told the New York Times in 2009. “It made me think about the way I was living.”

Coincidentally, a movie about Ralston, by the guys who made Slumdog Millionaire, finished filming last week, with James Franco playing Ralston.

So would someone involved in such a life-changing event make jokes about such a mentally and physically painful situation? Well, consider Ralston’s book about the decision he made, and how his life has turned out. It’s titled Between a Rock and a Hard Place. It hit #3 on the New York Times’ best-seller list.

I rest my case. If you didn’t think it was funny, then “Oh well. Hope you found it thought-provoking.”

Jonathan Metz Update

Because of the extreme interest in his story, Metz held a press conference at the hospital. He sat at a table in street clothes — including a short-sleeved shirt, with the left sleeve hanging empty.

Once he could smell his own flesh rotting, indicating infection that he knew would kill him, Metz said, “I had a decision to make.” He knew what he would have to do to live: he had already spent a night yelling for help, and no one came.

Implementing the Decision

“I definitely dithered for a few hours after coming up with the initial idea” to cut off his arm, he said. “I thought there must be some other way, so I kind of started looking around my surroundings again. Maybe there was something I missed. You know, what would MacGyver do if he were here?”

But when he could come up with no alternative, he spent six hours to “psych myself up” for his amputation. Using his right arm and his teeth, he made a tourniquet for his left arm, and then got to work.

Once he hit an artery, though, “the amount of blood that came out of the wound became alarming,” he said. He tried to make another tourniquet from some cable, and lapsed in and out of consciousness from the blood loss.

“I had given up,” he said — but he really hadn’t: he opened a valve on the boiler to get some water. What came out was “the most disgusting, orange water I have ever seen,” he said. “And yet it was the best-looking water I have ever seen.”

He drank enough to get his strength back. “It was just enough to make me feel like, ‘OK, here’s a way out of this.'”

“The first thing he found was a hacksaw blade,” said his father, Paul, “so that’s how he started. But it wasn’t going fast enough. So then he looked around some more and found a saw blade with bigger teeth on it, which would cut it faster, because every cut was painful.”

He was almost done — on the third day after getting stuck — when he was rescued, thanks to a friend who called police to check on Metz.

Life Goes On

After several surgeries to close up his wound, Metz has been released from the hospital, too. He’s planning to get married in November.

Meanwhile, while Metz was still in the hospital, Automatic TLC Energy donated a new boiler for his home, including installation.

Metz’s friends and family set up a web site for updates and to solicit donations to help him pay for his medical bills. (It apparently accomplished its goals: it’s since been shut down.)

And that’s the difference between letting a missing thumb turning you into a cripple, and a missing arm being an inconvenience, or even the start of a new career.

Note: the original story has been updated to clarify Metz was stuck for two days, not “nearly three” as the hospital — and newspaper — first reported. He got stuck on the evening of Monday, June 7, and was rescued Wednesday afternoon, June 9.

- - -

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44 Comments on “Poor Taste? Not Offhand.

  1. I like to tell people that I don’t have all my toes on one foot. Immediately they become very solemn, and then I explain, I have 5 on one foot, and 5 on the other. They’re not ALL on one foot.

    Poor taste? So what? Get over it. Life is too short and there are way too many people for me to worry about possibly offending SOMEone’s sensibilities. As the guy said who runs the daily funnies site, everyone has the right to be offended by whatever they choose, and I have the equal right to not care.

    Besides, as I’ve taught my students, you cannot control the people around you; you can only control your OWN reaction to them. Something that the Poor Taste Police would do well to remember.

  2. I believe the way you handle a “disability” makes all the difference in the world. I used to work with a gentleman who was a very large (big and tall) man. He had polio as a young child and had one shrunken arm. Occasionally, the arm would get in the way, so he’d just flip it behind his back. One of his co-workers started calling him “Flipper”.

    When I first met him, I was offended that this other man was making fun of him…until the “disabled” man told me he thought it was funny. He NEVER considered himself disabled. Even when situations would occur that made it difficult to do his job with only his good hand, he never considered filing an ADA complaint. He just went in, explained why it was a problem, and got it resolved. He’s one of the lovliest people I know and every time I hear about these people who cry “DISABILITY”, I think of Dennis and remember that there are people out there who don’t let things get in their way and don’t live with the victim mentality. By the way, Dennis was a Fire 911 Dispatcher for many years. These are our everyday heroes.

    Another “disabled” person who serves not as an object of pity, but an inspiration. Dennis sounds like a cool guy! -rc

  3. Randy: Aw, shucks – I’m famous because of you (at least widely unknown…)
    The simplest way to think of not having “everything” (although … umm .. I can pass two short arm inspections ..) is to treat it like a hobby. 75% of things are the same, 23% are more interesting, and 2% are a reason to face the day. I’m an engineer. Duct tape, hot glue, cable ties, and sticky back velcro are great things.

    One of the biggest pains is buying gloves. Ever try to buy just one glove? Fortunately, my boss told me about this guy, a cowboy entertainer without the other hand, so we can trade. I need to find out where his show is near me to go see him. (He has trained buffaloes for his act.)

    I like Ralston & Metz – always glad to see new members of the club – normally it costs an arm and a leg – they got in for half price!
    Pretty cool a company gave Metz a new system. (I bet the instructions assume the user has two hands.)

    I would encourage him to live without a prosthetic for a while though – just a suggestion. (If I were to “lose” my right hand, I might get one – it might be handy from time to time. Also see “Manny” in Heinlein’s “Moon is a Harsh Mistress”.)

    (Love the comment about all toes not on one foot. Gonna steal that…)
    Keep stirring the pot, Randy. I figured you were going to blog about this. (wanna join the club? I have a chop saw. My consulting fees afterward are half-off….(grin))

    You know how hard it would be to type with only one hand? Oh: yeah, I guess you do. 🙂

    In my ambulance days, I used to say I drove with one hand, talked on the radio with my other hand, and worked the siren with my other other hand. I suppose I would adapt. But for now, I want to be able to continue to type at >100 wpm. That’s the only way I get everything done! -rc

  4. i think both these young men are amazing! they both have a sense of humor which will help them get through life. for some reason i thought your would be about another set of amazing young men:

    nick vujicic born without limbs
    the john robinson story born without full arms or legs. he has stubs.

  5. I’m reminded of a man I used to work for. Both his dad and granddad had lost a leg in industrial accidents in their mid forties. When he was a kid he thought that when men in his family got to a certain age they lost a limb.

    This was a natural thing in life. Neither man stopped working because of his accident. They just went on with their lives and got back to earning a living.

    He always said that he was ready to lose a limb and didn’t think that it would bother him. He had been ready since he was a kid.

  6. My dad worked in a dangerous vocation. He was a cop. He had to learn how to cope with many awful things. Humor was his mechanism. This doesn’t mean that he lacked compassion, nor does it mean that he didn’t take his job and taking care of the public seriously. It just meant that he had used laughter to cope with the realities of being a cop.

    I don’t work in nearly as dangerous of a profession, but I’m at risk of being mauled (and almost have been a couple of times). I learned to laugh it off.

    People that don’t learn to take a lighter attitude to cope with things (and yes, this applies to things that happen around us too, not just things that happen to us directly) often add to the bad stress in their lives. They don’t actually help anything.

    Learn to laugh.

    Just because something is laughed at, doesn’t mean that people aren’t taking it seriously.

  7. I had an eye removed six months ago (there was a malignant tumour in it). At the hospital, they told me that other people would find it a problem much more than I did. And they were right.

    You see, I’d known about the tumour for five years. And I knew the day would probably come when the eye had to go. The operation was minor, and I was in hospital for an hour shy of two days.

    But many people just didn’t want to know. One would sit as far away from me as possible whenever they saw me (at this stage I had a basic blank prosthesis, so I kept an eye patch on; there was nothing visible). Others were hesitant about raising the subject.

    I found the best thing was openness (talk about it, but we sensitive to those who really couldn’t cope), and humour. I would make lots of (bad) jokes: “I have my eye on you”, and do other things too (tap the eye with a pen in meetings, making a clicking noise). And there is the new smiley! .-)

    It has helped them, I think, and it’s helped me too. I actually have better vision than when I had two eyes (no interference) and I point that out. I went back to work four days after leaving hospital (I’m a university teacher), to emphasise how trivial it was (another idea from the hospital).

    I had a rare condition, but a student I know had the same operation two weeks later; he had it worse than me, with only a few days’ notice of any problem. He’s doing well, and we meet and exchange bad jokes. We both now have temporary artificial eyes, and complain about not being able to see 3D films.

    Humour is the thing. It works for me, and it works for those I know and meet. Mine is a small problem; I take my hat off to those who have lost hands, limbs and so on.

    I absolutely love your new smiley! -rc

  8. First I applaud all the people you’ve mentioned. My story is: When I was 60 God decided I should be right-handed. I was left-handed all my life until then. I had 3 strokes, completely ruining my left hand. And had to get the tendons severed because of the pain. I’m 66 now, and still going. I look around and see people worse off than I.

  9. One of the things I like about quotations is that a person of high regard can fit an element of inspiration into a brief sentence or two. John, Denver’s last line reminded me of one from George Bernard Shaw, considered one of the great literary intellects of the 20th century:

    “Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”

  10. Hmm, when I read the original story I thought of the movie series Saw. Never actually saw those movies (not my speed – my kids loved them, though), but I think I get the premise. As I understand it, a bad guy forces someone to decide between losing an arm or dying, and the audience gets to watch him agonize for 90 minutes before he makes the obvious choice.

    In the movie, it was an intentional act from a traditional horror-movie bad-guy (traditional in the sense that he has no reason to act that way, but people that watch horror movies don’t really care about that), rather than a tragic accident. But the decision of the victim is certainly quite similar to the real-life story.

  11. I’m grateful to have found This is True, and even more grateful that you started this blog for more discussion on some of the stories and comments from readers.

    Having grown up in a small farming town, I knew several folks who others might have considered disabled, but who I only knew as “one-eyed Bill” or “Righty” — folks who had experienced farming accidents, survived, and continued to farm and support their families. It’s what we do.

    I’m grateful for my friend Carol who was born without a left arm below the elbow. One of my favorite experiences is going to the salon with her and she asked for half-off because they were only doing the nails on one hand — makes sense to me, but flustered the manicurist!

    My friend Bob has MS and is in a wheelchair. One of the things that he says that I love (and it may not be original to him, but it’s how I know the quote) is “we’re all disabled — my disability just happens to be more visible than some people’s.”

    Thanks for making me think!

  12. I do about 50 wpm, and that is entirely self-taught. I have never made it past page 2 of any typing manual – the “how to place your hands” page.

    So – if you are 100 wpm with two hands, and I am at 50 wpm, I guess we have a pretty reliable metric on hands/wpm.

    I would encourage anyone with kids to get them to play “cripple”, ie wrap a hand in a sock so they cannot use it, wear an eye patch or blindfold, put a rock in a shoe, etc, for all day some Saturday. Better yet, have two kids buddy up, where one is blind, and the other cannot walk — some set of complementary skills where they need to cooperate. (I would actuality formalize this in grade school – every year have 3 days – one for prep, one for the event, one for debrief. Kids missing something get a free pass and are made mentors.)

  13. The best thing about this whole blog was reading about Bandit. I am still laughing over the fact that his parents wanted 1.95 children!!

  14. I have a Hispanic friend whose best friend has cerebral palsy. They both are very witty. They told me they wanted to start a band called “Spic and Spaz.”

  15. I’ve been reading This Is True since shortly after you started, and did not see any reason for anyone to be offended by this story or your comments. I don’t think I could cut off my arm like that. The fact that Metz did so when it became obvious to him that he had to to save his own life shows not only his will to survive, but his inner strength.

    One thing I’ve repeatedly noticed is that the people who are most offended by their sacred cows being laughed at aren’t the ones you’d expect. Want to hear the best jokes making fun of preachers or organized religion, hang around preachers. Want to hear lawyer jokes? You bet they can laugh at themselves. And as has been pointed out here, those who have lost limbs seem to be the ones most at ease laughing about it.

    I have a lot of respect for Mr. Metz. As I said, I don’t think I could cut my own arm off. I hope I’m never in that situation. He did what was necessary to stay alive, and that says a lot about him. The fact that he did so as a last resort after examining his situation to see if there were any alternatives to me means he also kept his wits about about him and didn’t panic.

  16. I played softball in a league against a guy who’d lost his arm in a farming accident. I believe a combine ‘harvested’ it a few years prior. He’d learned to work with his handicap. One funny way, the first half of a game he’d hit only grounders, and by the fifth inning, the outfielders were either almost into the infield or half asleep. He’d usually get at least one or two good hits per game before the coach yelled at them if they came in too far so that he could tap it just over their heads. He rarely got more than a single, but most guys wished they had his batting average. Just not his batting style.

  17. Tami writes: “Even when situations would occur that made it difficult to do his job with only his good hand, he never considered filing an ADA complaint. He just went in, explained why it was a problem, and got it resolved.” Most people with disabilities take this approach — at first. Unfortunately, they often find employers utterly unwilling to make reasonable accommodations, and a handful of them choose to spend the time and money to challenge these employers in court.

    Bandit suggests fake-disability activities for children. These kinds of activities are not widely accepted by disability advocates. For further analysis, see this essay.

    To be fair, that article talks about simulations of “momentary” disability, such as “Jumping in a wheelchair for a few minutes,” while Bandit talked about doing it “all day.” Big, big difference. -rc

  18. Please forgive another post … I am not trying to dominate Randy’s blog.

    I read the essay via David’s entry. Randy is correct in his post-script – but I want to go even further.

    Basically, take the top 6 (blind, deaf, etc) and generate lists in random order. Each kid gets a list in their record starting in first grade, indicating what they will be for that grade.

    The event is three days: prep, do, debrief. The prep is a full day, bringing in folks to teach the kids how to navigate when blind, use a chair, etc. The folks should actually have the condition, and not physical therapists. The kids should be encouraged to ask questions and practice. One of the things I can spot is a curious kid from 100 paces – and I encourage them asking questions when appropriate (I tell their parents “I can see your kid is curious, and that’s OK”). I have had some great conversations with kids, and hopefully satisfied the curiosity (or lessened their fear) for most kids.

    (One of the things kids want to know is if my arm hurts – no, unless I hit it with a hammer. I build houses for a hobby.)

    The ‘do’ is all day, from the time they get on the bus to the time dropped off. There are always teams – blind w/ chair – and they are together all day. And – no cheating.

    The third is debrief – for whatever it takes – draw pictures, say how it felt, etc.

    This is quantifiably different from “a few minutes in a chair”. (There was a great Hill Street Blues sequence with Belker and a guy in a chair – the guy kicked Belker’s butt because Belker was faking it.)

    I would like to see this done as an experiment. Also – kids with whatever (ie blind) would be part of the teachers for the three days.

    The blog David linked to shows what happens because of fear – the whole discussion on physician assisted suicide, for example. (I am not being negative about the blog – it raises important issues.) For example, some folks would choose death if they became paraplegic. I am not taking a position here on such things, but I know there are folks who are so fearful of losing a hand, they become useless if they do.

    I would also like to see an experiment conducted by the military (because it would be statistically significant): give a whole battery of psych tests to all boots, then do evaluations after injuries (ie arm blown off) to see if there is any correlation (on how an individual does) for any of the tests.

    The specific thing I have noticed is attitude. If someone has a positive attitude, they will do well. Otherwise, they turn into a veg. Attitude is also determined by those around (family, friends) – if they treat the person with pity, the person becomes pitiful.

    No worries on the follow-up: part of the idea is to have a dialogue here. I think what you say to parents is cool. The only thing I learned about it from my childhood was from my father: “Don’t stare!” Well, I didn’t mean to! I never developed fear, but I didn’t learn anything about those people I saw, either. -rc

  19. A big difference between a few minutes and all day? Maybe. But it takes a lot more than a day to learn to navigate with a cane, use a guide dog, negotiate stairs with forearm crutches, use a sign language, or handle complex manual tasks with only one hand. It also takes more than a day to build up enough muscle strength to last all day in a manual wheelchair. These activities also tend to ignore less-visible and harder-to simulate disabilities, such as learning disabilities.

  20. This reminds me of my friend Nick’s brother, who was born without arms and learned to do everything with his feet, including play the guitar. A documentary was made about Nick’s brother but the most poignant thing I remember is Nick telling me about a conversation his brother and Mom had on the bus one day. It was a coldish day and they had been late so they ran to the bus without the brother having time to put on his jacket. (He wasn’t yet a teenager at this time.) On the bus the brother struggled with his jacket when another rider said to the Mom, “Why don’t you help him with that?” She looked at the other passenger and said, “I am.”

    That’s a good mother. -rc

  21. David:

    The difference is: the kids would learn that it *is* possible to adapt. That is one of the fears that I personally see – the person does not *know* adaptation is possible, so assumes *they* cannot adapt – that it takes a “super cripple” ™ to be able to adapt to blindness, no hand, no leg, etc. I have found my roommates and family have actually started using some of my methods – monkey see, monkey do. Rather funny to me….

    The statement I cringe at is “You can do more with one hand than most with two”. This implies most folks are not competent to do basic things, which is doubtful. Either that, or most folks have too many hands.

    David, you have not indicated if you are “temporarily able bodied” or not. I am curious about your experience with such things. Not dissing you – my experience is clear on this blog, but I have no information on yours, so I am unsure why you have the opinion you do.

    Take building a house. It really does not take “unusual skills” to make one, and the skills are not that hard to learn. My favorite things are teaching middle-age ladies to hammer (framing) and sheetrocking. When they get the first good hit, they just blossom. I encourage everybody to give it a try – look for your local Habitat group. The actual physical capabilities are not that great – you don’t need to be in shape, or strong, etc. You do if you make your living at it, but Habitat first teaches and serves, and the house getting built is really a third-order effect.

  22. I think that when it comes to those of us that still have all of our original parts, there is a valuable lesson to be learned, i.e., having a positive attitude. Keeping a positive attitude in the face of adversity, either perceived or real, can sometimes be difficult, but it is possible as evidenced by the stories here. I might add that many of the veterans are inspirations also.

  23. I’ve really enjoyed reading all the comments here. The best chiropractor I ever went to did not have a left hand, but that never stopped him. He could do an adjustment better than any two-handed chiropractor. He was probably in his 70s when he retired. At first meeting him, you would notice that he didn’t have a hand, but after the adjustment, you never paid attention to it again, because you’d feel so much better, he was that good.

    People who can’t cope after becoming disabled probably weren’t all that good at coping before, anyway. They probably are the same people who never had a sense of humor, either. I really do think that humor is what gets people through the rough spots. Bandit is a prime example of that.

    Randy, you are doing a terrific job. You do make us think.

  24. well, I’ve NEVER been one to whine and cry about my situation (it would be too boring for way too long)

    I’ve been sick too long to want to whine!

    Gimme some chinese food, and a new Ipod touch, I’ll be happy!

  25. This reminds me of one of my favorite comedians, Josh Blue. He was born with Cerebral Palsy. He has no control over his right arm. He was on Last Comic Standing in 2006. Most of his jokes was about himself and his “disability”. He would say that he didn’t know what his arm was doing most of the time, or his arm has taken a job as a sign language translator for spanish people. He’s hilariously funny and not surprisingly, he won the competition. I watched that show every night that season and rooted for him all the way. Many times I laughed so hard at his jokes tears were streaming down my face and I really cried when he won, he deserved it. He is an inspiration to everyone, disabled or not.

    My mom and my brother both have a birth defect that causes deformed hands and feet. My brother unfortunately had the victim attitude growing up but my mom never did. She’s only got 1 finger on each hand and that never stopped her from doing anything she pleased and there is very little she can’t do. Growing up with a mom and a brother like that taught me early on to have respect for those that were “different” and so I had a lot of friends from elementary through high school that were disabled in some way or another. One I recently reconnected with online and she thanked me for always being kind to her when most kids were cruel.

    Now my 3 year old son has been diagnosed with Autism. And while his disability isn’t immediately visible it has given me new respect for other parents out there who are going through the same thing. Life with my son isn’t always easy, but I wouldn’t trade him for the world.

  26. These two stories are one of my definitions of true courage. I have occasionally contemplated my own character and wondered if I would have the courage to sacrifice my life for a higher cause, or a limb to save my life. I hope, if the time ever comes, that I will be able to do either, or both.

    Thank you, Randy, for having the COURAGE to both present stories such as these, and to “lighten it up” with a comment like that! If we can’t keep our sense of humor, how much else have we lost???

  27. Thanx Randy for the thought provoking articles and follow up. I reckon humour is a great way to deal with the “little” challenges throw up at us.

    I went blind in my left eye when I was 13. My dad was a doctor and when my parents stopped dismissing my “can’t see outa my eye” pleas, they thought I had a brain tumour. I found out when adding to a letter my dad was sending to my sister who was overseas. Whoops!!

    Fortunately it was ‘only’ toxocara — a parasite had got into my blood and landed at my eye and had a bit of a feast on it.

    Anyway, how lucky was I? Time to get on with it. Now in my mid 40s I still play field hockey (I run out on penalty corners) and train in jujitsu. However I love reminding many of my peers that 1 eye is better than 4 when I can read/spot things they don’t/can’t! Many party tricks and jokes have come about over the years with my one eye (from my friends as well as me)!!

    Seriously, one eye, one leg, one arm or some other challenge is not what makes the real person. .^)

  28. Bandit, I think what you say to children is wonderful.

    I think the “worst” part for “able bodied” people is similar to dealing with a death. You don’t know what to say, are afraid to say the wrong thing, and make it worse in the process. Example: an acquaintance’s husband passed away. I’m afraid to make *any* reference to my husband (unconsciously) but I also know saying nothing is bad.

    My oldest is 5 1/2 and I am trying to teach her that everyone’s different. So far, she takes differences in stride (fat, thin, tall, short, black, white etc.)

    She commented on how pretty someone’s pink hair was and mortifyingly, she commented (age 2) on the “spots” (freckles) on a woman’s face. She gave us the death glare and I stammeringly told her it was rude to comment about other people but yes, weren’t her freckles pretty. Then we had another talk about how each person is unique and how boring it would be if we were all alike.

    Like you Randy, I was taught not to stare, but it’s rude to ask also.

    It’s rude to pretend someone is not a little person, but it’s rude to offer to help them open a door. It’s hard because no matter what you do, you’re wrong, even if your intentions are always good!

  29. I really appreciate reading Bandit’s comments on this. Growing up we always tended to forget that my dad only had one hand. He lost his right arm just below the elbow as a three year old.

    The only thing that was never allowed in our house were images of those old wringer washing machines. He took us hunting and fishing. He taught us kids how to build decks, frame walls, and work on cars.

    If you told him he couldn’t do something he went out to prove you wrong. His drivers license when he was younger insisted on a suicide knob on the wheel and that he only drive an automatic. Both of those restrictions didn’t last long.

    He would tell stories about the the time a cop pulled him over for not having both hands on the wheel. He would rest his stub on the back of the seat and my mom was sitting next to him at the time. The officer was kind of flustered when dad pulled his right arm out from behind mom.

    My dad’s biggest complaint has always been when parents shush their children when they comment on his missing arm. He has always been of the thought that explaining a situation is much more useful than ignoring it.

    With all the things my dad has done it may seem silly, but one of the things that most impressed me as a child was the fact that my dad could tie his shoes with only one hand. I’ve tried for years to do that and still can’t.

    Looking back the main thing he taught me is there truly is no such thing as handicapped, unless you choose to perceive yourself as such. You may need to do something differently but if you really want to do it you will find a way that works for you.

  30. I really enjoyed the comment by by Bob, of Herne Bay, England. When I was in fifth grade there was a kid in our class (I’ll call him Johnny) who only had one eye. He had an artificial eye (which we all knew about).

    One day a substitute teacher had to leave for a moment, and asked Johnny to “keep his eye on the class” for her.

    He did. Quite literally. He removed his eye, walked around the room, touching it to some classmates at random.

    There was some giggling, some crying (yep, even in fifth grade), and a lot of pandemonium.

    When the substitute returned she asked Johnny what had happened, and he told her, simply, that he had done what she asked, but he couldn’t do it all at once.

    I don’t think the teacher knew, even then, that his eye, which only stared in one direction, and which always had some dried tears around it, was artificial.

    And what a great sense of humor. I’d guess “Johnny” went far, instead of moping around with a “poor me” attitude. -rc

  31. “One day a substitute teacher had to leave for a moment, and asked Johnny to ‘keep his eye on the class’ for her.”

    Peter Falk, the Columbo actor, was playing baseball in high school. The umpire made what Falk considered to be a bad call. Falk popped his eye out and handed it to the umpire with a comment about needing an eye because the umpire was obviously blind.

    There was a line in a Columbo when Columbo asked someone to sit in on an interview because “three eyes are better than one” – I was in hysterics.

    Just ran across this pretty cool technology that might be useful. (I have no problem with someone wanting to replace a hand, just the attitude it’s *required* to live a useful life. Shucks – even I need a hand from time to time.)

    From that article: The implants are called ITAPs, short for intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics. Says the veterinary surgeon who recommended the procedure:

    “The real revolution with Oscar is [that] we have put a piece of metal and a flange into which skin grows into an extremely tight bone.

    “We have managed to get the bone and skin to grow into the implant and we have developed an ‘exoprosthesis’ that allows this implant to work as a see-saw on the bottom of an animal’s limbs to give him effectively normal gait.”

  32. Really interesting and enlightening comments, everyone. I saw Jonathan Metz’s press conference and immediately thought about Aron Ralston’s situation years earlier. Both are brave young men who understood what had to be done to survive their predicaments. Kudos to them for “doing the right thing” as the doctor stated. I will continue to wonder if I’d have the same fortitude if I were faced with such a dilemma.

    Thanks, Bandit, for your comments. Love your self-effacing sense of humor and appreciate you putting the rest of us at ease.

  33. When I was 14, I broke my leg below the knee. It ended getting infected and came within a day of losing it. When I admitted to the hospital, and when the doctor was talking to my mom about it, the only thing I could think of at the time was that I could make a pretty cool pirate costume (peg-leg). The doctors did save my leg and I still have both working legs today.

  34. One thing I didn’t understand about the original article. It says that the man saved his life by cutting off his arm (or attempting to at least), but then also says that he didn’t finish cutting it off before help arrived to free him.

    So he didn’t actually cut it totally off, right? I assume the police finished the job, but wouldn’t they have freed him anyway had he not started to cut it off?

    I know the man had no idea anyone would ever show up, just curious.

    He didn’t get the amputation finished by the time he was rescued, and firefighters took the boiler apart to free him. But he still saved his own life by keeping the rotting tissue from circulating the septic infection into the rest of his body. -rc

  35. As a homecare RN, I’ve encountered hundreds of patients with chronic health conditions. The ones who do the best have the best attitude: take your meds and go about your business. The ones who do poorly are the pisser/moaners who whine and cry about their problems.

  36. Far worse are those people who don’t even suffer the problems, but piss/moan on behalf of those who do, whether asked for or not.

    No, I’m not talking about those who are actively doing something to help others who are incapacitated, but those who do nothing and demand that others also ignore it out of “respect”.

  37. I find it sad that some people would consider their life to be over if something like losing a limb happened to them. Sure, it would be different, but the human brain is highly adaptable, if it wants to be.

    Example: I play piano. If I were to lose a hand, my piano playing career would be over, right? Wrong! There’s tons of piano literature out there designed to be played with one hand. And I’m not talking about mediocre music. It’s good music that pianists with two hands regularly play. This music exists because pianists in the past who lost a hand didn’t want to stop playing merely because of that, so they commissioned composers to write music for them. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is! (Or I suppose, in this case, your hand. 🙂

    Now, naturally, I’m sure if I were to lose a hand (or a leg, or an eye), I would go through a period of mourning over my loss. But, I hope I would eventually brush myself off and be ready for life again.

  38. I thank EVERYBODY in this discussion for reminding me how small my every-day problems are. (Just to be clear, I’m not being sarcastic.) I know I could give my life for someone else, and I probably could sever a limb for survival. I even believe that I could manage fine with the amputation. I just have a hard time with the little stuff — bills, taxes….

  39. Funny, just got an email today with pictures of a bird going through an arduous process of building a complex nest. And the caption at the end: imagine doing all that with NO hands.

    By the way, anyone thinking that it’s just a matter of laying some twigs down, just TRY getting one of those nests off your windowsill. It’s like superglue.

  40. James in Virginia reminded me of an episode of the TV-series M*A*S*H where a GI came in with a hand injury and another problem and with time constraints the doctors were unable to give the patient the full use of his hand — and this character had been a concert pianist before being drafted. One of the doctors obtained copies of some of the works written for one-handed playing to show this man that he could still be a musician with only one hand.

    That said, a dear friend of my dad’s was born with one good hand and one very deformed hand (he only had about half an arm). He became a mechanic! Worked on cars all of his life! It was his right hand that was deformed but he always shook hands with people with his left hand like it was the most normal thing in the world to do. I never felt sorry for the man because he never showed that his situation ‘bothered’ him.

    Also my Grandfather had polio as a child which left him with one leg shorter than the other and with only 1 eye. Watching him remove his glass eye was a fascination when I was a child. He had to wear a leg brace all of his life and in his late years he drank a lot, I suspect to ease some of the pain that wearing that heavy brace caused him all of his life. But he worked for a living in saw mills! And when he first moved to the town where I now live in 1938 he spent a lot of time WALKING the town to see what was there and which neighborhoods were more and less desirable places to live (I learned this from talking to my dad many years after his father had died) before he brought his family here to live. I guess at 28 he had more ‘get up and go’ than he did in his 50’s and beyond — like most of us!

    It is true that the way people WITH ‘disabilities’ feel and act about it really does make a difference in how we respond to it. I once worked with a man who had Cerebral Palsy. He had to use crutches to get around but he did! He was a very outgoing man and loved talking to people on the phones (we worked in a call center doing tech support). Most of the time in talking to him you would not even know there was anything ‘wrong’ with him.

    Another example and I will stop — the son of a woman in our church was born with Cerebral Palsy. It left him with a ‘club foot’ but other than that he is perfectly ‘normal.’ Several years ago he decided he wanted to bring back the Track and Field program to the High School where he was teaching at the time. He found out what he needed to do to get the program started but was told there was no money for it in the budget. Somehow this man WHO CANNOT RUN has taken his team to the State Championships 3 years in a row and PLACED! They did not win all of the events and they compete against a lot of schools that are better-financed and outnumber them by a wide margin. He is now the Principal of an Elementary School down the street from the High School but he is still the Track Coach at the High School!

    When I get down about my little aches and pains I think about some of the people I have mentioned here and realize that I have much to be thankful for — both for my body and for knowing these people!

  41. I remember this story, and Bandit’s responses, from somewhere around the time I started subscribing to True. They’ve stuck with me, and I’m sad to say that I think it was mostly because I didn’t really believe him, deep down. (Sorry Bandit!)

    Now I do.

    Last month I fell and fractured my primary arm very badly. I was in a cast for weeks, and it’s still not fully healed. But what I found while in a cast was the interesting part — Bandit has actually understated the problem, I think. When I came home from the hospital in a cast, my parents (you know, the people who should know me best?) somehow assumed I wouldn’t be able to shave. You know, that job that *never* takes more than one hand.

    And it didn’t stop there. Anywhere I went, people just assumed I needed help, with anything and everything you can imagine.

    Truth is, though, it really isn’t that different. I wish this hadn’t been a surprise to me, but it was. With one hand, some things take a little longer to do, and some things require a little creative thinking to accomplish…and that’s it.

    So I would actually go one step further than Bandit’s suggestion about the grade-school kids and being “disabled for a day” — I think there’s a number of people out there, likely others reading this, who should try the same. These things do happen, and we as a society tend to treat people with one arm as though they had no arms and only one leg to boot. (heh!) It was a hell of an eye-opener for me, and I’ve always tried to be one of the more “enlightened” types.

    Fortunately I know I will always have a ways to go.

  42. Brian, CT: “I remember this story, and Bandit’s responses, from somewhere around the time I started subscribing to True. They’ve stuck with me, and I’m sad to say that I think it was mostly because I didn’t really believe him, deep down. (Sorry Bandit!)”

    [snicker]

    Always glad to see temporary members to the club :^) Keeps y’all humble…

    On a practical basis, the two pains are trying to buy *one* glove, and hammer and chisel/punch. See this page — yes… that’s me.

    The first part is my first prototype. The end few are more refined prototypes.

    Brian: how about an update?

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