“Miss Julie, your arm looks frozen. Is it dead?” a five year old dancer once asked me. She had every reason to wonder.Tinted gray from dirt and daily wear, my hand never moves. The fingers are sometimes bent in abnormal ways, and after a long day of dancing, the smell is not so pleasant. But, no one had ever called it frozen before. I found such a description humorous, and in a way, pretty accurate. Throughout my whole life my arm has raised brows and prompted questions. It confuses people. It’s been called an “alien hand” and a “robot arm”, but to me, it’s just my prosthesis.
Born with a left arm that stops right below my elbow, I have always been different. At nine months I was fitted for my first prosthesis, and I have chosen to wear one ever since. When I was younger, I didn’t understand why I was made with just a nub. I would pray for God to make my short arm grow, but my parents constantly reminded me, “God made you special.”
In elementary school, kids asked about my arm everyday. Each time I responded with confidence, “God made me special.” But, I didn’t really understand “special”. My arm would get irritated, and boys would make fun of me. I did things differently than other children and a trip to the arm doctor was not always enjoyable. Is that what “special” meant? Couldn’t I be special and still have an arm like everyone else? As a confused little girl, I had no idea of the immeasurable impact that being born with a short left arm would have on my life.
As I got older, it started to make a little more sense. I grew to accept the fact that there was no way I would ever have a normal arm like everyone else, and began to embrace my individuality. As soon as I realized that making farting noises with my fake arm attracted boys’ attention, I was the most popular girl on the playground. People’s questions became less annoying, but rather amusing. “Which hand do you write with?” was my personal favorite. For Halloween one year I was an arm-y girl, with my old arms of all sizes protruding from my camouflage outfit, and I have thought of endless crafty ways to trick unsuspecting strangers.
My prosthesis has instilled in me a genuine sense of humor. I love to make people laugh. I am able to look at the difficulties in life with a certain peace of mind, knowing that something good will come from such troubles, something to laugh about later on.
Some people consider me handicapped, and at birth, many thought I would never live a normal life. They worried that school would be awkward, and that I wouldn’t be able to do certain tasks. Others even expected me to have countless mental disorders in addition to my physical “disability”. They were wrong. I keep a list in my head of all the things I can’t do because I don’t have a left arm. It’s fairly easy to remember: Nothing. Although keyboarding class was a struggle in 4th grade and learning to jump rope took a little longer than it did for most kids, I persevered. I know that I can do anything I put my mind to, and never will I let my arm hold me back. I can now type just as fast with 5 fingers as many can with 10. I tie shoes and French braid hair with just one hand, and even taught myself to paint my fingernails with my toes. The struggles that I have faced through not having a left arm have shown me the importance of determination. My situation has taught me to never give up. I never have and I never will. There is nothing I can’t do.
Eleven arms later, I now understand. Wearing a prosthesis has simply brought attention and opened doors in my life, but it is my God-given short arm for which I am truly thankful. Not having an arm has taught me many lessons and revealed to me many ways that I impact others. I have been blessed by interaction with many people of all ages that are similarly challenged. I have helped children adapt to new arms, and talked with older people about struggles that we face and how to overcome. I always strive to live my life as an inspiration, both through my dance and the way I go through my daily activities. I try to encourage people to be thankful for what they have and to never assume they can’t do something. I want to be seen as more than just having a fake arm. I want to make a difference.
Although I know my arm will never grow to be like everyone else, the impact that it has had on my life and the lives of those I come in contact with is growing everyday.