My name is Jeremy and I’m a double above-knee amputee. It happened as a result of a trauma, so one day I wasn’t disabled and the next day I was. I’m not really a writer, but I’d like to share my story for anyone who would like to hear it.
So it all happened about five years ago. I was 23 years old and I had just finished my first year of medical school. I had basically wanted to be a doctor ever since I could remember, so I was pretty happy to be where I was. Also, I was living with my fiancé Wendy. She was going to grad school too at the time, so we were really poor, living in this teeny one bedroom apartment in the basement of a family house. Every time the family did the laundry, bubbles would start coming out of our toilet for some reason. We could also hear pretty much everything in the house from the vents, like when their son randomly discovered the parents’ stash of weed and called his friends over to smoke it with him. Wendy and I really got a laugh out of that. Then we realized that if we could hear them so well, maybe they could hear us, so we started making an effort to control the creaking of the bed.
Wendy thought that the mother of the family had a thing for me. Three out of five weekdays, when I was going to my car in the morning, I’d hear Carol yelling, “Jeremy, wait up!” And then she’d give me some lunch she packed for me. Whenever I ran into her, she’d always ask me all these questions about how school was going, etc., but she never talked to Wendy at all. Wendy’s theory was that Carol’s marriage was unhappy and it made her feel better to flirt with me. The conversations we heard through the vents were mostly arguments.
I haven’t thought about that year in a while. Even though I was in that tiny apartment and completely overloaded with work, it was probably one of the best years of my life. In any case, that summer I got into a car accident and both my legs were basically ripped off. I woke up in the hospital. I don’t really remember the first time they told me what happened, because I was in a haze for about a week after the accident. I do remember seeing my two bandaged stumps and feeling this deep sense of panic that probably would have been a lot worse if I weren’t shot up with fentanyl and who knows what else.
My family was really great during that time. My parents were there with me every day. Wendy was visiting all the time, but we could never really be alone together because I didn’t have a single room and there were always nurses and doctors coming in and out. I think it would have been good if a psychiatrist of some kind would have talked to me then, but nobody did.
Two weeks after my injury, the dean of the medical school came to visit me. He sat down by my bed and he said, “So Jeremy, what are you going to do now?”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “What are you going to do with your life? You don’t want to wind up on welfare.”
So I said, “I’m going to go back to medical school.”
He said, “Oh no you’re not.” Then he started telling me about how our school never had a student in a wheelchair, etc etc. He kept using the phrase “it’s never been done”. He said it was going to be too vigorous for me, how would I manage when I was on the floors, and all that. And this all happened less than five years ago, not thirty years ago. I was disabled for only two weeks and I was already being discriminated against.
Lucky for me, the dean didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. But I had to take a year off before going back, so that I could do rehab and also, I wanted to try out prosthetics.
My experience with prosthetics was not a good one. The doctors had me wait until my leg stumps healed up before I could even try them. My stumps are fairly small, so I was mostly prosthetic and hardly any leg. I tried them out in rehab for a few weeks with the help of crutches. I have to say, it was good to be able to stand again after being in the wheelchair for so long. Unfortunately, my stumps kind of rejected the prosthetics. They got very irritated and the left stump actually got infected and I was in the hospital with a fever of 103. So I was pretty much stuck with the wheelchair.
I don’t think I could have gotten through the first few months without Wendy. She kept up with going to school, but she came to see me every chance she got. She was very supportive of my decision to go back to school, as opposed to my parents, who agreed with the dean that it might be too much for me.
Wendy and I were always very physically affectionate, but it was hard to be that way when we never had any privacy. I finally came home for Thanksgiving and Wendy was spending the vacation with our family. It was weird being home in my wheelchair and seeing everything from a different perspective. But in a lot of ways, nothing had changed: I was still in medical school, going to be a doctor, and I was still with Wendy. One thing that did change is that my room used to be on the second floor, so my parents had to move all my stuff downstairs to the guest bedroom.
I finally had a chance to be alone with Wendy, after all these months. She came into my room and sat down on my bed. I was in my wheelchair and I transferred to the bed to be next to her. I had generally been folding my pants legs around my stumps by when I transferred, the empty legs hung down and I could see her looking at them. I took her hand in mine and I was so excited just to be close to her again. I had been looking forward to having sex with her again practically since I was first injured and now that moment was finally here. I had an erection that was literally almost as long as my legs.
I kissed her and I was practically shaking with excitement. I touched her face and I noticed that she was crying. I pulled away and I said, “What’s wrong?”
Then she started really crying a lot. She said, “Jeremy, I’m not attracted to you anymore.”
That was probably the worst moment of my whole life. Wendy was the only thing keeping me going and now I felt like everything had just fallen apart. We had been a couple since freshman year of college and I had thought that our love went deeper than a pair of legs. I felt that if our positions had been reversed, I would have stayed with Wendy through anything.
I started crying too and then Wendy said that we could still have sex if I really wanted. That really felt awful when she said that, but it was out of the question at that point anyway.
Obviously, we broke up after that. I really hated Wendy for a long time after that, but I guess I’ve sort of forgiven her. I guess she couldn’t help the way she felt and it was better that she told me the truth rather than make me believe she still felt the same about me. But still, my self confidence was at its lowest right then. I felt like I was no longer a real man in some ways, and to have to one woman I loved tell me that she no longer thought I was attractive… it confirmed my worst fears. I mean, I know I'm a pretty decent-looking guy (several girls have said to me I have the nicest green eyes they've ever seen), so this was the first time in my life when I felt completely unconfident about the opposite sex. I thought I was going to be alone forever, because any reasonable woman would be disgusted by my stumps. I now know that’s not true, but it was what I thought at the time.
There haven’t been any women in my life since Wendy. I still haven’t gotten over her in a lot of ways. It’s hard to move on after you’ve decided that you’re going to spend your life with one particular person. I’ve been on a couple of dates, but there weren’t any sparks or anything. I’m really not in any hurry to meet someone. I’m pretty happy with my life right now and with my schedule, I don’t have a lot of time for another person. But that is not to say that if the right person came along, I would turn her down.
Anyway, by the end of the year, I felt ready to go back to school. I learned to drive a car with hand controls and I had an apartment by the school that was wheelchair accessible. My new apartment was a lot nicer than the old one, thanks to a bunch of aid from the school that I became eligible for because of my disability. I cut off the legs of most of my old pants, so that I could easily tuck them under my stumps. This was my first experience living independently since the accident. I was scared, but I knew my parents were only a short drive away if I needed them. As it turned out, I didn’t need them very often, except my mother would generally do all my grocery shopping.
The next year went pretty well. I was lonely a lot because all my friends from first year were in the class above me, so I had a whole new class to deal with. But surprisingly, everyone was very nice and supportive. Since I no longer had a girlfriend to distract me, I spent most of my time studying and I honored every class.
Third year of medical school was a very different experience. This is the year where we leave the classroom and do clerkships in the hospital, such as medicine, surgery, pediatrics, etc. I think this year can be difficult for anyone who isn’t the stereotypical able-bodied white male (like I used to be). Definitely women and minorities get treated differently and the same is definitely true for people with disabilities.
During my first clerkship, which was medicine, I became good friends with another student named Michelle. Michelle was an African-American female and she felt that as minorities, she and I were largely ignored by the doctors. Michelle and I were teamed with two other medical students, both of whom were able-bodied white males. Michelle first pointed out to me that when the attending spoke, he would almost always look at the two guys. He almost never made eye contact with Michelle or me.
It was worse for me though than it was for her. During rounds, we would have to go between different floors to see our various patients. The hospital had the slowest elevators I’ve ever seen, so I had to wait about ten minutes to get up one floor, while the rest of the team took the stairs and was there in fifteen seconds. The attending knew that I couldn’t get there as fast, but he said to me, “We have a lot of patients to see and we can’t wait.” Michelle encouraged me to report him, but I guess I can sympathize. I mean, there were a lot of patients to see and he was very busy, so he didn’t want to spend the whole day on rounds.
It was more difficult to deal with patients too. It was bad enough that I had to introduce myself as “Jeremy, a student doctor” but a lot of patients weren’t willing to accept a doctor in a wheelchair. A lot of them demanded to see a real doctor, and practically everyone looked at me in surprise and asked, “You’re the doctor?”
I got some pretty obnoxious comments from patients over the years. A few people asked me if I was in some new program for equal opportunities for people to become doctors. Amazingly, some of the worst stuff was said to me by patients who were recent amputees (usually from diabetes) and were getting ready to go into rehab. They said things like, “Why don’t you come back and talk to me when you can walk.” Generally, people were just very suspicious of a doctor in a wheelchair.
Michelle said to me that I was at least lucky that I got to sit down all through rounds, since the other students usually looked like they were ready to collapse by the end of it. But really, it was much harder for me physically. Just doing a physical exam on a patient was a real challenge at first, especially when it was some old man with severe emphysema who could barely sit forward so I could listen to his lungs. I remember trying to prop a guy up and nearly losing my balance and falling out of my chair. But I developed my own style of doing things eventually.
Strangely enough, some of my worst experiences took place in psychiatry, which was the least physically demanding clerkship. It was a locked inpatient unit and the staff was constantly on the lookout for patients trying to escape. So any patient who was a flight risk, they would force them to wear a hospital gown or maybe take away their shoes. Even though there were very few patients there who were in wheelchairs, being disabled was like a red flag (even though I was wearing a white coat). The first two weeks I was there, I got stopped practically every time I tried to leave the unit. As much as I tried to explain, the nurse or whoever would insist on wheeling me back inside so that someone could confirm that I was really a medical student.
One night while I was on call there, I had a really splitting headache. I didn’t know any of the nurses on service that night, so I just went up to the friendliest looking nurse and asked her if I could have a Motrin from the medicine room. The nurse gave me this suspicious look and said, “Who are you?”
I said, “My name is Jeremy Andrews. I’m a medical student.”
She said, “Why do you need a Motrin?”
I explained, “I have a headache.”
So she looks at my legs like she doesn’t believe me and she said, “You have to get permission from the doctor.”
I said, “It’s just a Motrin. Come on…”
But of course, she wouldn’t give it to me. So I had to track down a resident, who got me the Motrin. But it was really ridiculous. I know for sure that if I hadn’t been disabled, she would have given me the Motrin without a second thought.
I could go on for a while about my negative experiences in the hospital, but all in all, I still love medicine. I got my degree last year and I’m currently an intern in internal medicine. I wish I could say they take it easy on me because of my disability, but unfortunately I slave away just as hard as any of the other interns. The nurses are actually better around me, because they know it takes me longer to respond to a page. Other interns complain that as soon as they leave a floor, they immediately get paged to go back there, but that doesn’t happen to me. The nurses make sure everything is taken care of before I go to another floor because they know I have to deal with the super-slow elevators.
In all modesty, I’m probably one of the better interns in medicine. The other intern on my team, an able-bodied white male named Rich, is completely disorganized, so I wind up picking up a lot of his slack. Every ten minutes, I get paged and the nurse says, “Dr. Andrews, you have to write for Mr. So-and-so’s fluids.” And I try to tell her that it’s Rich’s patient, but they know Rich is disorganized, so they page me anyway. Last week, a few nurses were joking around about Rich, saying how he wasn’t so bright, “good thing he’s handsome”.
I’ve been fairly lucky with my patients too. I’m on a geriatric team now, so most of my patients are these sweet little old ladies. They all say to me, “Dr. Andrews, you have to meet my granddaughter…” It’s pretty funny.
Like I said, I haven’t had much in the way of relationships since Wendy and I broke up. My sex drive has been lower since the accident, but I still have to masturbate a couple of times a week. Initially, my stumps kind of disgusted me and I didn’t want to think about them while I got myself off, but now I’m used to them. I’ve been asked if I get sexual pleasure from my stumps and the answer is no. I think that because of the trauma, they are overly sensitive and it is almost painful to rub them when I’m aroused (admittedly, I’ve tried… hey, a guy gets curious). Since they are so short, I sometimes hold my left stump while I masturbate and that feels pretty good. I think if a girl wanted to experiment with doing things with my stumps, I would definitely be open to that. After what happened with Wendy, the idea of a girl actually being turned on by my stumps is very appealing.
Because of my busy schedule, this is all I’m going to write now. If there’s a lot of interest, maybe I will find time to write some more.
To be continued...