My article about inclusion in the arts was published on backstage!
I went to college for musical theatre and voice performance. I graduated and worked at regional theaters and did a few Off-Off Broadway productions. And then I lost my leg when I was driving to an audition.
I’m an actor/singer/dancer/musician/comedian. And I happen to wear a prosthetic leg. Does that make me a disabled actor? I don’t think so. It makes me a more knowledgeable human being. The experience of losing a limb and living with a body outside the norm will certainly influence my choices as an actor, but I think that’s actually an advantage. Not a disadvantage.
Technology has come so far, when I walk sometimes it almost feels as natural as my real foot and ankle. Sometimes it hurts like hell and I curse the prosthetic leg torture device! I’m ready for technology to catch up with me completely, but we’re not quite there yet.
This summer I have the joy of being part of a new musical, The Bipartisan. I was cast not despite my prosthetic leg, but in part, because of it! This director knew how to think outside the box and saw the opportunities in utilizing my “fake leg” for comedic purposes and to catch the audience by surprise.
Audiences always enjoy a good inspiration story about someone living with a disability. I prefer that audiences be inspired by my performance or skills, not my disability. Nicu’s Spoon Theater Company is spinning that notion on its head with their new production of Richard III. All of the actors in the show have some sort of disability - except Richard III.
As a society we are so afraid of disability. Consciously or subconsciously we all know it can happen to anyone at any time. Richard III is evil because he was born with a disability and it made him hungry for power. Not it this version.
On this 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, please join me in embracing this notion that there are no disabled people, just disabled technology. Our world is beautiful because of its diversity, the arts are the best outlet to explore that beauty and promote inclusion for all.
As someone who has had to use crutches for almost a year of her life, and will now have to use a prosthetic leg for the rest of her life, I think I can safely say that there is one phrase we crutch-using folks or prosthetic leg wearers really despise. That phrase is a simple, two word question that will make us want to punch you in the face. “What happened?”
Let’s think about the possible answers, 1. I fell down stairs. 2. I hurt my knee dancing. 3. I just had surgery. 4. I lost my leg (to cancer, diabetes, traumatic accident). Notice what all of these answers have in common? They are not fun events! They are actually pretty horrible times in a person’s life. In my case, you are asking me to tell you about the worst, scariest, most painful day of my life. So why in the world would I want to talk to you about that? Especially when most of the people asking this exact question are strangers or mere acquaintances that I will never see or speak with again.
If you see someone on crutches, I think it’s safe to assume that they are not just using them for fun (unless they are my brothers who like to steal my crutches). So please, never ask a person using crutches or wearing a prosthetic leg, “What happened?” unless you are good friends with them. Even in that case, it’s really better if you wait for them to offer this information. Instead of letting your curiosity get the best of you, why not just say, “I hope you feel better” and let that lead to a conversation about what happened if the injured person takes it there.
I’m no Miss Manners, and I can’t speak for everyone on crutches, but please spread the word, it is rude and inconsiderate to ask someone on crutches (or in a wheelchair, or wearing a prosthetic leg, or someone who has anything different about them!) “What happened?” Let us offer you the information when we’re ready. I’ve started charging people for my leg story, no joke. I’d rather say, “Leg story will cost you $20” than punch a person in the face (which is how my body wants to respond after being asked this question by 50 strangers in one weekend).
Next time you trip over your own shoe, break your ankle and have to use crutches, think about how annoying it will be to have to tell that story to every Joe Shmoe who opens a door for you. “What happened?” Now imagine how much harder it is to answer that question when you don’t even have an ankle to break!? Save yourself and everyone around you from a very awkward, uncomfortable silence and refrain from asking these dreaded two words, “What happened?”
I decided to try a VLOG instead of a BLOG. I'm not sure how I feel about VLOGS. I think they come off as a little cocky sometimes. But I wanted to try it because I thought it may reach more people than most of my other blog posts. I think a common misconception about amputees is that once we've healed from the initial surgery, we can walk with a prosthetic leg and be done with the struggle. This could not be farther from the truth and I hope society can watch my video and understand the depth of our challenges. When you see someone walking with a prosthetic leg, be impressed! But don't be surprised to see someone with a leg amputation in a wheelchair. We all have different paths in life, some are full of more twists and turns than others.
I’m finally buying NICE shoes. Not DSW or Famous Footwear, or…Payless. I’m treating my feet with the respect they deserve and it’s starting to feel (and look) amazing. When I got my prosthetic leg I thought I was confined to a life of sneakers and yoga pants. Lately I’ve been venturing away from the sneakers, though they are undoubtedly the most comfortable of all my shoes. A girl’s just gotta change it up!
Due to ongoing skin issues on my residual limb, I can’t wear heels yet…I can barely wear my flats for a whole day! But I’m working on controlling my fears and anxiety to allow myself to have some fun with these new shoes.
I don’t like expressing the sad moments in my life; I never post negative statuses on Facebook. But I want to open up about ongoing fears and struggles since my amputation – and why wearing nice shoes is a big step!
Each amputee faces a different journey. If anything, losing my leg has taught me that you can NEVER judge a book by its cover. Just like no two people are alike, no two amputees are alike (and no two cancer patients are alike…;). There are many amputees out there walking around without the assistance of crutches, I used to be one of them! But health problems have made me stumble two steps back.
I’m suffering from a severe case of what is called – heterotopic ossification. Basically, bones are growing outside of the skeletal structure. These bone fragments are ruining the little amount of soft tissue that I have left in my residual limb, and when they rub against my skin too much it starts to bleed. This happened in June. When that spot was finally healed it happened again in a different spot in September.
These tiny spots take forever to heal because they are on a skin graft, which is like baby skin and very fragile. When a spot opens up, it also opens me up to a higher risk of infection – which can be disastrous.
Wearing shoes that don’t have that cushiony, polyurethane enhanced sole feels really weird, and puts more pressure on my skin. But I have to start living my life the way I want to live my life, not dictated by my injury. I’ve been holding back for so long and that’s no way to live. My “catch phrase” has been – “The prosthetic leg I wear isn’t a sign of loss, but a reminder to overcome fear and embrace life.”
I think I need to change this phrase. “The prosthetic leg I wear isn’t a sign of loss, but a reminder to MASTER fear and embrace life.” I might never overcome my fears, they will always be there. But I can master the way I handle those fears. Instead of thinking about what I can’t control, I’m learning to focus on what I can control.
I might need another surgery to fix my problem and help me walk again. There are a few surgical options out there, but none of them are appealing. One requires a six hour surgery of sewing blood vessels together, the other involves losing a few more inches of my leg.
My newest prosthetic leg has a vacuum attachment that has been very helpful for the health of my soft tissue, it also looks pretty badass! Maybe this leg will be the miracle I need to heal my real leg, who knows!? But I’m not putting life on pause any longer. For now, I’ll be the girl on crutches…wearing those really cute shoes.
As I lay in bed, the scent of fresh flowers wafts through the air. I am relaxed and at peace. These beautiful flowers in my room were given in celebration of the premiere of my one woman show, “Inspiration Whore.” But that scent sparks a vivid memory of my hospital room last March. I remember the nurses saying, “We love coming to your room because it smells like a garden!” At the time I didn’t even think about the smell, I just liked looking at the flowers because they reminded me of all the friends and family that I am blessed to have.
When I was in the hospital I thought of those flowers as messages of condolence, but now I see that the meaning behind them was the same as the reason for my current flowery apartment – those flowers were given as a celebration of life!
Every day I thank God for my family and friends, for my ability to still be alive and appreciate them! When my leg was taken away in an instant, so was my freedom of mobility. It’s not until something dear to us (like walking!) is taken away that we can finally see what matters the most.
Each morning when I wake up I am thankful for my friends and family, I know that if there is a day when I can’t get my leg on, they will be there to help me through the struggle. Sometimes I slip into believing that life just isn’t fair. It’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to my friends and family. Hope and faith – believing in something greater than myself – help to get me through this challenge. But what helps the most is the love and support from friends and family. Never underestimate the power of friendship and family support. It is important to be there for people going through difficult times, even if your support is just being at the other end of a phone line or a gentle hug. Even if you think they can’t feel it, they will feel you.
Due to the nature of my injury, my skin is very delicate and wearing a prosthetic leg can be damaging to that skin. It’s still painful and there are some days I worry I won’t be able to get out of my apartment! Have you ever had to worry about getting your leg on? I hope not! Be grateful!
I’m still learning to adapt to these new conditions. Yesterday I couldn’t put my flats on because I lost my shoe horn, and getting a cute flat shoe on a prosthetic foot can be quite a challenging task. A good friend was there to help me through this moment of utter frustration. I miss the days of sliding on jeans or throwing on a pair of heels. My situation is not ideal, but it’s my life and I’ve accepted it. I will wear heels again, I will be able to run again! For now, I’m at peace with waking up and taking a step, without crutches, my own step.