Science journalist Miles O'Brien was on assignment in the Philippines in February when a case of heavy equipment landed on his left arm. The resulting injury required that his limb be amputated above the elbow. Now, some four months on, O'Brien writes about adjusting to the "mono-mano" lifestyle.
O'Brien describes his "Life, After" in an essay published in this week's New York Magazine. It's an outstanding feature, driven, in large part, by O'Brien's tremendous emotional honesty. The poise with which he balances the cold realities of amputation with information and bittersweet humor is especially noteworthy. We've included an excerpt below, but you'll want to read this one all the way through.
Denial is powerful. It can be a crucial coping tool when experiencing loss or trauma, but it also can unmoor you from reality. From the time I lost most of my left arm in February, I was living in that parallel universe, one where I'd power through, barely acknowledging the amputation—until I went for a run on the sunny afternoon of April 6.
It was nothing more than a slightly uneven sidewalk that took me down. No problem for a runner with two arms. In fact, this particular sidewalk is right behind my home, and I had negotiated it uneventfully for years. But here are two things you need to know about life after an arm amputation: First, your center of gravity changes dramatically when you are suddenly eight pounds lighter on one side of your body. Second, while my arm may be missing physically, it is there, just as it always has been, in my mind's eye. I can feel every digit. I can even feel the watch that was always strapped to my left wrist. When I tripped, I reached reflexively to break my very real fall with my completely imaginary left hand. My fall was instead broken by my nose, and my nose was broken by my fall.
Lying on that sidewalk, moaning in pain, I reached the end of Denial River and flowed into the Sea of Doubt. It finally dawned on me in that instant that I was, indeed, handicapped. That may not be the term of choice these days—"differently abled" or "physically challenged" may be de rigueur—but as I touched my bloody face, feeling embedded chips of concrete in the wounds, "handicapped" sure seemed to fit.
The woman I was passing on the sidewalk when I fell took one look at me and cried out in panic to her husband: "My God, what's happened to his arm?" "It's gone," I said. "But don't worry, that didn't happen today."
Read the rest at New York Magazine.