My nephew, David C. Koger, was an energetic, witty, gentle, optimistic, friendly, and kind 33 year old man who passed away too young from a raging case of Type 2 Diabetes.
It had already ravaged one foot, requiring the removal of his left leg from the knee down, and the removal of several toes on his right foot. David, nonetheless, lived a full life with a prosthetic leg, sharing an apartment with two wonderful friends, getting a ride to work with one roommate each day, as she would drive his car and make sure that they were up and running each morning on time. David had a girlfriend in Washington state that he adored, a devoted best friend, a job he enjoyed, and a sense of belonging and gratification through his participation and leadership in the local Toastmaster’s group near where he lived in Lake Mary, Florida. While David struggled with his weight for what seemed like most of his life, in preparing his photographs of his growing up for a showing at the funeral and memorial services, many of us noted that he was not, after all, terribly heavy as a child. That was only a perception which he, unfortunately, carried with him into adulthood.
Before David’s death last month, my 16-year-old daughter, one of David’s cousins, had decided to focus her Girl Scout Gold Award project (she has been a Girl Scout for 10 years) on promoting healthy eating and exercise habits among teenagers. With the passing of her cousin, she has decided to form a David C. Koger Foundation as her sustainable project for the Gold Award and incorporate a focus on preventing diabetes through nutrition and exercise as part of her mission statement. It is the beginning of finding ways to not have David’s passing at such a young age be in vain.
David recently gave this speech and I want to share it with you.
Good afternoon fellow toastmasters, distinguished judges, and guests. My name is David, and as tall as I am . . . I will always be a foot short . . . and for those of you who haven’t met me and probably don’t get that joke it is because I am an amputee. I had my left leg, below the knee, removed in January of 2010, and according to the government, it is going to grow back. After the surgery, I applied for disability so I could get . . . back on my feet. I went to all the doctors and filled out all the paperwork and after 6 months I got a letter saying:
“While you are currently disabled, the condition or conditions by our estimate will not last more than 12 months so you are not disabled according to our definition.”
While I relished the idea of writing back to the state and inquiring as to when my leg would spontaneously regrow. I must admit, I never truly felt disabled. Mostly due to about seven pounds of carbon steel and fiberglass, my prosthetic. I offer you tonight a glimpse into the life of my “artificial” lower limb and how it has helped me to get a leg up on life.
My prosthetic is a lot like a household pet that I can’t get rid of, it sleeps beside the bed every night.
Occasionally I bring it to bed with me and wake up in the most ungodly and uncomfortable positions and then I throw it out of bed. I have to clean it and walk it, but thank God, it doesn’t eat much. I get up every day and put my leg on one leg at a time (like everyone else), but it takes a little time to break it in. I have a little get-up dance I do to get started, and yes I have two left feet, this prosthetic and my spare. This gets the locking pin into the receptacle so I can walk around without fear of delivering a flying kick to someone’s head. I typically do a final adjustment before going out for the day in which I add liners to make sure things fit snuggly. It is at this time every day when I am at my most careful to make sure the pin doesn’t get caught on the liner or I will end up at the hospital explaining to the doctor why he has to cut me out of my own leg. After that, I am ready to put my best foot forward no matter what I am doing.
I affectionately refer to my prosthetic as my “stealth leg” because surprisingly enough people don’t seem to notice it. I attribute this to the speed with which they got me up and running with my first prothesis. They told me they had the technology; that I would be better, faster, stronger, but I never got my own theme music. Amongst my many friends name Dave and David, my moniker comes with a hand signal *slaps leg*. The first and only time someone had to ask why that was my hand signal, I was actually proud of myself and how far I have come. When I was released from the hospital I didn’t know how I was going to get along without my left leg. You could say I was stumped. I knew I had to find a solution before returning to work, or I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. A few weeks went by and I got depressed and started to worry. I couldn’t keep my feet on the ground. When I found out I was getting a prosthetic I felt like I could walk on air and with a little therapy I was on my feet again, literally, about three months after the operation.
I don’t see myself as handicapped, except when it comes to parking.
I will ham it up every year at the doctors as long as he signs that little piece of paper. It helped a lot that my local doctor laughed when I told him I would give my left leg for a better parking spot. A friend of mine from Toastmasters told me they were impressed with how comfortable I was with myself, and the biggest part of that is humor. I learned that being able to crack a joke disarmed people, or you could say, it took their legs right out from under them. When people have asked me if they can make jokes, I just tell them if it bothers me I will just put my foot down. I suppose if someone is malicious and really pisses me off then we will find out what a one legged man in an ass kicking contest can really do.
I have a supportive network of friends and family, and without them, I wouldn’t have courage to laugh about what is a very serious condition. I respect people who are more sensitive, and honor those who lost theirs in service to others. I ask you all to do the same, and remember that while laughter is the best medicine, respect is a lifelong cure.
Someone asked me the other day what it was like to lose a leg, and I said, “It’s not half as bad as losing this one would be. This one cost 13 thousand dollars and now you know that they mean when they say it cost them an arm and a leg.”
Elizabeth Citrin is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.