Across plates of Chinese food earlier this week, amputees Jay McGahey and Robert Shows commiserated about the loss of their arms.
Both lost limbs in work accidents about a year ago. McGahey’s right arm was caught just below the shoulder blade while cleaning textile mill equipment at a Waco factory. Shows, 57, who co-owns a Waco construction company, lost his left arm below the elbow when he slipped in a muddy hole 16 feet down and fell into sharp equipment a year ago yesterday.
Limb loss has not only been an adjustment for them, but for their families, they said at an amputee support meeting Tuesday night — apparently one of the first such groups for nonveteran amputees held in our area.
“Limb loss does not just impact that person, it impacts everyone around them,” said Steve Crider, an amputee who organized this first meeting of the Cane and Able Waco Area Amputee Support Group. “It helps to be around others. People are full of questions and they want help and answers. It helps to find people who understand.”
McGahey, 54, a single father, says his 16-year-old daughter has given him the strength to face each day since his accident. She nursed him back to health and he credits her fortitude during what he calls a dark time in his life.
Shows laid his remaining hand on his wife, Vicki, and said he couldn’t have made it without her — the lengthy hospital stays, surgeries, therapy and readjusting to life without a left hand. She smiled lovingly at him and said her husband helped her get through a life-threatening illness a few years back. “We’ll get through this together,” she shot back.
Clearly, their support helped them to endure. But it’s also clear that at this stage in their rehabilitation they need to be around others who are also missing body parts to feel entirely whole.
“That first year, I was so angry,” said Crider, who in 2008 lost his right leg below the knee in a motorcycle accident in Fort Bragg, N.C. Crider said an SUV T-boned him, and he flew 50 feet through the air before landing. An accomplished martial arts student (and now an instructor), he “saw the ground coming” and was able to tuck and roll to protect his head and neck, but his leg was crushed in seven places on impact.
Coincidentally, the four-year anniversary of his accident was the night of this meeting, which he decided to host after he encountered an amputee in a shop who peppered him with questions. He told the dozen assembled how he endured 27 surgeries and was hospitalized for three months before doctors amputated his leg that New Year’s Eve.
Opening his eyes on New Year’s morning and not seeing his leg was not only painful, it was depressing. Crider had just graduated from college and, though he had been certain of his future before, the accident took all of that away. “Depression comes in waves. Some days you just don’t want to get up. And that depression comes back and comes back, but it does get easier,” he told them. “People mean well, but it’s all about attitude and perception and that’s the battle you will face.”
Indeed, all had their own tales of difficulties steering cars, going through doorways or, in McGahey’s case, learning to eat and write with his left hand. They sought advice on prosthesis devices. And double leg amputee Margie Barton (and guide dog) and her family told about adaptive kayaks they rent through their Waco company, Geared.
A report by the Amputee Coalition, a national nonprofit group based in Knoxville, Tenn., found amputee support groups provide “a community of ‘others like me.’ ” The report said: “Peer support is essential. It is a service that has the potential to reach an individual on a level that no friend, family or any professional can touch and can jump-start their transition to a new life.”
Crider has set meetings for the second Tuesday of each month. Hopefully, it will jump-start many new beginnings.
“This is more important than you could know,” McGahey pulled me aside to say as I was leaving. “Having people to talk to who understand. You know?”
I think I do and I hope others will.
For meeting information, go to www.facebook.com/caneandable.wacotx or call 254/412-9784.
Contact Sandra Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 757-5723.