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Living With Amputated Legs

Duncan Kelly

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My Dad lost both his legs in the second world war. He was fighting in Italy, near Messina, when him and two friends stood on an anti-personnel mine. My Dad had one leg off at the knee, and the other one above the knee, about mid-thigh. He had shrapnel embedded in his hands and arms for his whole life.

A couple of days later, in hospital, my Dad realised that he had a decision to make: he either had to decide to make the best of what life had given him, or he could decide to feel sorry for himself and the unfairness of life and become a miserable person. He decided to make the best of his life.

He married, had four kids, drove a car, built me a treehouse 3 metres up a tree, swam in the sea, held down a regular job at a timber importer, took the family camping, became chairman of the St Giles association for the handicapped, was an elder in the church, ran their finances, donated over 50 pints of blood, and serviced his own car.

He could walk on his artificial legs, without a stick, carrying two cups of tea for him and my Mom, until he got quite a bit older and his balance wasn't so good.

I wouldn't have swapped him for any other able bodied dad. He was the best there was.

So if you are in the same situation, I just want to tell you - the sky's the limit. You have the potential to be a force for good in the world - and like my Dad, you can use your disability to get into places and affect people in a way that no able bodied person could ever do. My Dad had a hood that he was allowed to put over parking meters - he could park anywhere for free! More than once we were allowed to park in the mayors parking spot! Cool hey!

When you have this sort of disability, you can pull people's legs and joke with them in the most reckless way, and get away with it! Very few people will hit someone with no legs - it makes them look like the worst type of bully. I've seen my Dad dealing with aggressive drunks, and they never touched him, even though they had been smashing holes in doors just minutes before.

My Dad's attitude was to always look for the good in other people. There's always some good in there somewhere. I think that that made a big difference in people's attitude towards him.

So be encouraged. There's an amazing amount of things that you can do without legs. My Dad had a pair of flippers made by the guys at the “Limb Factory" (the prosthesis unit at the local hospital) and he used them to go body surfing. That was when he was in his fifties dude! The flippers were in the back of the car when I went for my drivers test, and the traffic officer was so interested in these things that he passed me, even though my driving kinda sucked!

Humor helps tremendously in these circumstances. My Dad liked the joke about the guy with 3 eyes, no arms and one leg standing at the bus stop. The bus driver pulls up, and says to him “Aye aye aye, you look ‘armless; hop on!" If you can laugh at yourself and see the funny side of even the worst circumstances, they are easier to bear. It helps people around you to relax too, which in turn helps you to feel more “normal. "

Phantom feet worried my Dad quite often. This is the feeling that you've got feet, and they are itching, or sore, or aching. He took that as it came, and it passed after a couple of minutes.

Nowadays there are so many new materials available that prevent chafing and blisters on the stumps. Prosthetic limbs have come a long way as well with bendable carbon fiber materials, which my Dad never had. But an indomitable spirit can overcome many obstacles.

Decide to make the best of life.

Life can still be a whole lot of fun!

Duncan Kelly

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