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David's Mental Meanderings
3rd July 2003

There was quite a diverse group of patients at the limb clinic Monday.

When I got there, the prosthetist was working on a bloke who lost his leg 30 years ago. That's three times as long as me. He was friendly and we chatted. On the surface he seemed happy enough, but as we talked it was clear he still hadn't fully come to grips with his disability. He hadn't been able to work for seven years because of the mental stress related to his limitations. He is reaching an age now where there isn't much point in going back to work.

I was most struck by a boy of about 12. He lost his leg about the same time as me. The only difference is that he was only two years old at the time. He's really only ever known walking with a prosthesis. I can't imagine how many legs he's gone through. According to his grandmother, he is very active and even climbs trees. When they needed him to go over to the scales to be weighed, he showed no difficulty crawling under the parallel bars to get across the room (since there were older folks like me blocking the path around them).

I know he does have some limitations -- there are just some things you can't do with an NHS prosthesis. (I'm not knocking NHS prostheses - I'm glad to have two -- but they aren't $20,000 bionic legs.) I never was the athletic type as a child and would have welcomed the opportunity for exemption from most of PE, but not at that cost. There's only so much I would have done to have missed being the favourite target in dodge ball on every rainy day. I suppose even I will never know what goes on in his head, living in the rough and tumble social world of school at his age with his disability. He's old enough to appreciate that he is different from everyone else. I hope he is and stays as well-adjusted as he appears now.

There was also a bloke who looked about my age. He had just lost his leg, below the knee like me but from what cause I do not know. He was being cast for his first socket. I suppose I understand him the best. Been there, done that, bought the prosthesis. (Well, he won't actually have to buy the prosthesis.) He sat in his wheelchair with his female companion observing the proceedings. Normally they don't have non-medical females in the room full of men sitting around in their boxers, but both the little boy's granny and the newbie's partner were apparently exempt from this protocol.

Anyhow, I can still remember getting cast for my first temporary leg. Not being on the NHS and not having any insurance, there was a potential issue with cash flow. I lost my leg the month after I opened my law practice. Within a month out of hospital, I practiced out of a wheelchair and eventually on crutches, but as a brand new lawyer with a brand new practice, there wasn't a lot of business. The temporary leg cost about $2500 and I only had about half that. The money came in at just the right time to get my leg for Christmas. Then there was learning to walk again, which, to be honest, came fairly easily. I hope it will be as easy for the newbie.

The thing I don't know about the newbie is whether he has good theology. When I was in hospital after my accident, everyone wondered why I was always so upbeat. Some might have thought it was the narcotics, but my pastor at the time pinpointed it correctly. It was good theology. I was a Calvinist at the time, and while I now look to Patristic sources as more authoritative than Reformed ones, the essential truth is the same - one I still hold because it has been held by the Church throughout the ages: God is on the Throne. He is in charge. I didn't have to be despondent, because I knew that it was all a part of an overall plan.

I was told to expect grief over the loss of the limb. I was told about support groups. I was supposed to get depressed. I never did. Sure, there are times when I think of how nice it would be to have both legs. I get a little tired of being tired because it takes 35% more energy to walk. Phantom pain is still unpleasant after ten years. And I am fortunate that I have only ever fallen directly on the end of my stump three times and it has never caused permanent damage. But I haven't suffered mental anguish.

Ten years down the road, I can see the evidence of what I took on faith at the time. I'll give one brief example. I later spent about a year as a chaplain in the same rehab hospital where I was an out-patient learning to walk. I was able to spend a lot of time with amputees, who had to take my encouragement seriously. Many of them were older folks who had lost a leg through diabetes or similar conditions. They couldn't imagine that they would ever be able to adjust. When I combined my encouragement with a bit of mobility demonstration, they realised that all hope wasn't lost. They invariably were amazed because they had no idea I was like them when I first walked up.

I suppose it was physically easier being a monopodal Calvinist than it has been of late. Since I moved into sacramental worship, I've had difficulty genuflecting in the Western Church and even more trouble prostrating in the East. And we Orthodox stand for the entire ninety-minute Divine Liturgy. I'm glad we aren't legalistic about this and no one actually minds if I have to sit occasionally. Fortunately our community borrows an Anglican church, so seating is readily available. Still, I don't like to sit down at any point (other than the sermon) - I just have to do so.

Knowing how few Christians there are in this country, it is unlikely that the new amputee has good theology. Whether he does or doesn't, I feel sad for him in his situation. Losing a big chunk of your body and a certain degree of mobility is traumatic.

I also feel sorry for those who think good theology is just a crutch for people who need that sort of thing. At the end of the day, we are all cripples. Those of us who are physically crippled just have the opportunity for a particular insight into how we are all spiritually crippled. When we remove God from our lives we are cutting off an intrinsic part of who we were created to be.

The pain of this trauma has been dulled by the opium of hedonism. Karl Marx opined that religion is the opiate of the masses. Like most things, Karl got it wrong. Instant gratification keeps us numb to our true condition. What reason do most people have for not embracing the Cross? There is too much to give up. They would no longer be able to do the things they enjoy. They would have to make lifestyle changes. Why change when they have "found" themselves? Yet the pleasure of all the things they enjoy, or to be more specific, all the sins they enjoy, just mask the emptiness. No one can find themselves until they find that part of them that is inherent in their creation: the need to worship their Creator.

The Fathers often referred to the Church as a hospital. Within its precincts, that missing part if us is reattached and we are nursed along with the medicine of grace as it slowly grows back together, making us whole again. We are enabled to run the race that is set before us, but like Jacob, we always walk with a limp. We will find our complete healing in the Church, but only in the Church Triumphant, after mortality is swallowed up by life and bring absent from the body, we are present with the Lord.

As for my leg, that condition is temporary. There aren't any prostheses in heaven.

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