Wednesday, 2 April 2014

To this day the idea of amputation freaks me out

Preface: To be clear I am compassionate (perhaps too much so) for people who have had something amputated. It just freaks me out as a concept. Especially the whole phantom limb thing. Especially wondering what happens to the limb after it has been removed. Where does it go? Oddly I have no problem with limbs missing from birth. It's more the idea that once something part of someone is now gone, but they remain.

A most vivid memory of my sister happened when I was around 10. As a family outing, my parents and some other related family folk, took my little sister and me to Puffing Billy. A must see if you’re ever in Victoria.

Puffing Billy is an old steam train that, still being in working order, takes passengers from a station on the outskirts of Melbourne to a place called Emerald Lake, which is rich with fun times, happy families, and picnics.

My sister was 4 years old at the time. Little, though almost as big as me by then, with blond hair, big eyes and she full of innocence and naivety. I was feeling particularly protective of her on this day.

The old steam train has been altered a little to accommodate the “touries”. There are old bench seats on the insides of the carriages where upon the parents and the oldies sit. The windows have been removed and replaced with horizontal bars, and the sills widened, so that the children sit on the sills, dangle their legs and wave to the passers by from the train. It’s all very quaint and innocent and lovely. And so, of course, that is what we did.

My sister sat next to me on the window sill, her little legs dangling out next to mine, and her arms wrapped over the protective bars, nice and safe. Except to me she seemed so small compared to those bars (she would have fit through easily after all), and definitely far too young to realise the danger. And so I clung onto her to prevent disaster, to scared to ask to come down for feeling foolish. As the train chugged slowly along (chooka-chooka-chooka) my anxiety grew, and I was clutching my little sister for fear of loosing her altogether.

As our journey progressed, I began to feel a little more at ease, and determined to enjoy the ride of terror, though still holding onto my sister quite tightly. I had noticed something different about the girl sitting next to my immediate left, but had been far too distracted to look closely. After some time, when my anxiety had abated somewhat, I again noticed the strange and unfamiliar smoothness of her legs and the seamless transition of her lower legs the “shoes” at their end. A great gust of wind revealed an even more astonishing terror. Underneath her knee length skirt, her knees were empty sockets joining her upper legs to her lower legs by great big chunky bolts. Her shoes were nothing more than painted plastic.

Of course, for the remaining part of the journey I was as calm as ever. To this day I am petrified about the concept of amputation, to the great amusement of my friends, and the possibility (however remote) of my becoming an amputee.

This is one of but many memories I have of my little sister. When we were very young we played together. Then fought together. And now we talk and talk, share, drink tea and watch Seinfeld. We share big love. I’m still overwhelmed by feelings of protectiveness whenever she drops her ice-cream or anything else bad ever happens to her.

It’s my biggest fear that she falls under the train and looses her legs, or drops her ice-cream. Awful. 

Although, my irrational fear could also have something to do with my my Pa who, around the same time as the Puffing Billy incident, had to have several amputation procedures. He loved to freak my sister and I out - he drew a smiley face on his stump and used to wave goodbye to is with it. He was a champ but that'd freak anyone out at 10. 

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