I’m 47 years old and just learned about ABS. My right arm matches the description of one of the potential outcomes of the syndrome, as I was born with a below-elbow amputation and have the characteristic “nubbins” (I dislike the word) on the end of my limb. As a youngster, I was told that umbilical cord ‘strangulation’ of the limb was possibly the cause of my deformity. The ABS explanation strikes me as more plausible.
I was first fitted for a prosthesis when I was 14 months old, at what used to be called the Hospital for Crippled Children, in Toronto, so I’ve worn one for most of my life. My mom tells me that acquiring the prosthesis marked the moment I stood up and walked, because it got in the way of what was, until then, my quite efficient crawling. I still wear pretty much the same model of prosthesis, with a Dorrance hook in lieu of a hand. I find it’s more useful and durable then a mechanical hand and the arm is less subject to breakdown than myoelectrics, not to mention a lot lighter. I wear it full time and indeed, feel naked without it. Of course, I’ve long since gotten used to the fact that the mildly conspicuous hook regularly draws stares and double takes from strangers. Most days I can ignore them. Think of it as a form of celebrity. For a few brief moments, in the face of the gawkers we all meet, I’m famous.
When I was growing up, my parents were determined to have me participate in everything our family did. We lived in the country, so a lot of activities were recreational, like water-skiing and swimming or downhill skiing, snowmobiling and shinny on the lake in winter. As I grew older, recreation made room for work activities like logging, hauling gravel (I drove a dump truck at 14), gardening, tapping the sugar maples to make syrup or building. If something had to be altered, such as the snowmobile controls, my father made it so I could use it and my brothers were the ones who had to adjust to the modification. In all, I was always made to feel that my amputation, while it may have made some things a challenge, was never an insurmountable barrier.
I’ve been married for 28 years to my beautiful wife. We have two, brilliantly productive children (whose limbs are perfectly ‘normal’). I built our cottage, largely by myself. I bike and play hockey with a group of men who are all fully “limbed”. I’m a film and video artist and I edit video on digital systems for other producers and artists. My wife contends that when it comes to undertaking whatever I set my mind to, it’s ridiculous to think that I have any disability whatsoever. The reality is that I occasionally struggle with some activities, as anyone who’s an amputee will likely concur. But I think human beings are remarkably resilient and adaptable creatures and we can overcome a lot.
How we come to feel about ourselves is a complicated thing for everyone however, arguably made more difficult by having a body difference that sets one apart from the ‘norm’ (whatever the heck that is). So I can readily relate to the self-consciousness expressed by others who have told their ABS story. I don’t want to presume to advise anyone but I will say that in my experience, the fact of the love you engender in those closest to you—your family and friends and neighbours—breaks down those differences and makes them irrelevant. Rush to love; embrace kindness; meet the stares and incomprehension and suspicion with compassion. Every person has had to overcome or contend with or accommodate something in their life that’s not easy. It’s just that for those of us who experienced ABS, that thing often is right out there, for all to see. Hidden or not, we have to bear up with grace and seek goodness where we can. We’re given only one skin to live in: we might as well settle in and be comfortable in it.
Ross Turnbull (Ross is pictured with his daughter – his prosthesis is visible on her shoulder)