Surviving in a Two Handed World Bilateral Upper Extremity Learn to Take their Lives into their Own "Hands

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by Rick Bowers

³I can't help you.´ ³Sorry.´ Stares, whispers, looks of embarrassment, backs turned. That's the type of reaction Adonis Brown got when he asked for help going to the bathroom one day while traveling to Appalachian State University from his home in New Bern, North Carolina. The humiliation of asking for help and the disappointing reactions were nothing new to the young man. But this time, it was harder. He desperately needed to use the restroom - and he desperately needed help. ³There was no one who would volunteer to assist me,´ he says. ³I even stopped a police officer and explained my situation to him. He just looked at me like I was crazy.´ And then Brown explains the humiliating result. ³I know the embarrassment firsthand that comes from soiling one's clothing because no one is willing to assist you in using the restroom, not even a police officer.´ ³Throw it to first! Throw it to first!´ As the neighborhood kids swung the bat, slid onto base, and cheered their teammates, the sounds of fun were hard on the ears of the young boy standing on the sidelines watching the game. In dirty clothes and baseball caps, they seemed to be having the time of their lives. John Foppe wished he were one of them. Standing on the sidelines was nothing new for the young boy, but he never got used to it especially growing up in a sports town like Breese, Illinois. ³It was very isolating and lonely,´ Foppe says. ³I was jealous, angry, and frustrated. µWhy am I different?' I wondered.´ Born without arms, 46-year-old Adonis Brown and 30-year-old John Foppe both had to deal with the isolation, helplessness, limitations, dependency, frustration, and humiliation of living in a world that is set up for two-handed people. Neither knows why he was born without arms. Doctors called Brown's condition ³a fluke´ and speculated that Foppe's condition had something to do with his pregnant mother's bout with the

Using voice-activated software and a mouth stick to type. Brown is a motivational speaker. chin.all with his toes.´ he explains. Although both were fitted with hook prostheses as children (Brown when he was 5 and Foppe before he was 3). is not where Brown and Foppe began. He wears special ³tabi´ socks (Japanese-style socks in which the big toe is separated from the other toes). Unlike Foppe. they ultimately found freedom. Growing up without arms It took years of failure. he maintains his own Web site for his business. Brown has a small two-digit nub on his left shoulder and by manipulating his body. cumbersome. Watching him cracking an egg in a frying pan with his feet. and he only wears slip-on shoes or shoes with Velcro so that he can slip in and out of them when he needs his feet. heavy. ³They were hot. and just in the way. chin. He has a Master's Degree in Social Work and is a much-sought. Fortunately. He drives. both found friends who helped them with everything including going to the bathroom. he also hated his prostheses and found them more of hindrance than a help.´ Today. greasy cheeseburgers . Foppe has also excelled. His dream is to teach as many upper-extremity amputees as he can how to survive in a two-handed world. for both of these men to reach this point in their lives. In elementary school. probably because he was able to depend on his left nub for many tasks. however.Hong Kong flu. and success. however. trial and error. typing with his toes (he types about 48 words a minute).´ Brown says. independent-living consultant.´ Brown says. neither uses them today. Neither his house nor his car is adapted for his disability. ³My prostheses never served any purpose but to fill out a shirt sleeve. . and has even been spotted sitting at tables eating bratwurst and big. or getting money from an ATM machine by punching the keys with his foot is strong evidence for one of his favorite sayings: ³Our only real handicaps are those mental and emotional ones that keep us from living a full life. ³They were my hands. talks on the telephone. Today. and mouth. Foppe mostly uses his feet. and perseverance. neither Foppe nor Brown stands on the sidelines of life. ³There were times I'd be wearing those artificial arms and I'd pick up something with my feet and stick it in the hand.after motivational speaker. through all the hardships. The important thing. and he's considering writing a book on the subject. Brown never developed the use of his feet much. opening a door with his chin. but rather how. and a few simple assistive devices to perform his daily tasks. both boys relied on others to help them get through the day. independence. paints watercolors. he can do anything he needs to do using simple assistive devices.´ Although Foppe changed from hooks to myoelectic hands in the second grade. mouth. and trainer for people with disabilities.

³I told the boys. and.´ Foppe's turning point Though Foppe had numerous disappointments as a child because of his condition. we made a game out of it. I felt very hurt and blamed myself because I did not have arms like everyone else. At this time. That year. It did not help matters much when in the tenth grade.´ he says. We were absolutely astonished. when he was in the fifth grade. µThey're going to have to accept me the way I am. Foppe wore his class ring on one of his toes.´ He had actually begun using his feet to grasp things before he was 2. He drew and painted using his mouth and the small nub on his left shoulder.'´ Brown's turning point After completing high school in 1973. and he couldn't use his arms to eat in a spot like that. She ducked out on me early in the evening to be with some other guy.but he picked up a toothpick with his toes for the first time. the stares and the snickering became harder to face.The hooks Brown wore on the end of his prosthesis sometimes provoked teasing. Brown went to Appalachian State University to study commercial art. ³It's one of those miracles or wonders of the human body and how it adapts. By the time Foppe reached high school. his mother also told his brothers not to help him anymore so that he would learn to do things for himself. even if he breaks every plate in the house.´ he says. He was dependent on his brothers to help him get dressed and his friends to help him use the bathroom. After that.´ he says. Carole. ³like when people become blind and their hearing becomes more sensitive. ³It was the first turning point in my life.'´ says Carole. ³but I was very sure that no girl would want me for a boyfriend. he wasn't motivated to seek independence. . he decided. ³He was sitting in the middle of a table with aunts and uncles all around him . I was used by a female classmate to get to the prom. They had in fact become his hands. µIf John wants a plate from the cupboard. and he picked up pennies and put them in his piggybank. refused to let him go to summer camp because she didn't feel that he was willing or able to take care of himself. ³Most of my friends were going to parties and had girlfriends. It was like trying to eat with football equipment on. After that. Things changed. he was amazingly adept at using his feet. He considers it natural that he turned to his feet to replace his hands. He had already stopped using his prosthesis. Carole recalls the event: ³They were in a booth.´ After his junior prom. Foppe took his date out to eat. Before it was cool. his mother. So he had to use his feet. Says Carole. let him get it himself. Foppe recalls lying on the floor struggling to put on his pants with no arms. The pampering was over. as he grew older. however.it may've been a birthday party .

³After that.´ Amazingly.´ he explains. He is then able to drive with his nub. through trial and error. They all felt that dressing and bathing and things like that were going to be something that I would always need assistance with. eats. knowing what I was truly up against. ³It was and is that my needs are beyond today's training.´ Then.´ he recalls.´ Brown says.´ For daily activities.³I was doing great in school. He had been to several occupational rehabilitation centers. he developed ways to do everything he needs to do. taking my clothes off at night. Some devices are permanently attached to the wall and some are portable. I was apart from my family and friends. He rubs his head against a wall-mounted brush to brush his hair. achieving freedom Growing up.bathing. takes showers. to even ask for assistance. I was driving long before I learned to do these things. Once he is soaped up. beaten and discouraged.´ Over the next years. he uses a custom-made. ³But he couldn't be there all the time. ³He helped me with going to the bathroom. ³Now. and turns it on. Brown met an upperclassman who empathized with his situation and volunteered to become his roommate and assist him. I felt embarrassed to even have to approach someone and explain my situation to them. The toothbrush does the rest. drives. After that humiliating incident. he says he grew closer to God and started trusting Him to teach him how to do things. small-diameter steering wheel connected to a crossbar that is snapped onto the car's main steering wheel. he sticks a battery-operated toothbrush in his mouth.´ Brown has used a bidet for his . but for the first time in my life. which is a large rectangular pad that attaches to the wall with suction cups. For driving. ³The most difficult thing I've had to do was learn to take care of my biological needs . he simply pulls it down. I could not expect him to stop his life just to be at my beckoning call. For traveling. ³These things took lots of years of trial and error. There came times when I needed assistance but he wasn't around. Brown took that fateful trip back to college after visiting his family and was slapped in the face with his dependency. and packs it in his bags. and going to the bathroom. He now uses the bathroom. fully and completely independent of the need for assistance from others. His shower is adapted with a Hygienic Body Washer. but all of them were unsuccessful. He believes in using ³what you have. I was out in the world and had no idea how I would be able to take care of myself.´ he says. which brings it closer to him. Brown dropped out of college broken. he can rub against the pad to wash his body. For a long time. bites down on it. he didn't venture far from home for fear of additional humiliation. To brush his teeth. dressing. he uses dressing sticks and other hooks and devices to help him. getting a bath in the morning. rolls it up. and even mows the lawn without assistance. Then. I had a burning desire to learn to be totally.´ Brown recalls. and putting on my night clothes. Brown had never met anyone like himself who could teach him how to be independent. ³It was not that the therapists did not know what they were doing. getting dressed.´ Learning independence.

Living full lives Brown and Foppe have both learned a lot from their experiences . ³At first.000 volts and 900 amps of electricity when another crane operator ran the crane Blackwell was riding on into a power line. Brown often uses African-style clothes. he says.´ Brown says. for formal wear. ³If someone says I can't do something. I've written a book. In Blackwell's new world.´ Foppe agrees and strives to surround himself with positive people. Unlike Brown and Foppe.'´ Starting over late in life Around six years ago in 1995. . I think it has freed me to say I want to have my own business.´ He has taken that same philosophy and applied it to other areas of his life as well. I own my own business. He went from a life of independence to a life of dependence . He also lost his job and his hobby . ³I felt abandoned. however.´ says the 44-year-old former crane operator of how he survived 96. Today.significant bits of knowledge that they'd like to pass on to others. you can live a full life. I've gone to graduate school. Blackwell had no experience whatsoever living without hands. I didn't understand how they could be so mean.restroom needs in the past and recommends them to other amputees. It shouldn't be about your lack of limbs. And I'm not trying to brag. bathing. and doing most of the things he did before the accident. I felt rejected. he says. I hated it. I'm not saying that to boost my ego. and they also make it easier to use the restroom. to say that I need to go on and get more education. Foppe attributes much of his current high level of independence and success to the tough love he received from his family when he was in the fifth grade. ³I'm eternally grateful.´ he says.´ But now.a hard prospect for a man used to doing things for himself. he needed help eating. I'm just saying that as an example to people: µLook. Gerald Blackwell was thrust into the same world that Adonis Brown and John Foppe inhabit when both of his arms were amputated about six inches above the wrist following an electrical accident. that makes me want to do it even more. ³I've learned never to give up and not to take negative advice. ³We become like the people we associate with. ³Tough love isn't just when a parent tells a child no. ³I have to be tough on myself so that my life can become better.racing sprint (dirt track) cars. However.´ Foppe says.´ he explains. and to live to higher standards and levels of expectations. he now uses another method for himself. ³They say I'm one in a million. They're easier to put on and take off.

He purchased two of the devices and the entire set of tools. bilateral upper-extremity amputees have definitely shown that they can learn to live a normal life.' and they were my hands. forks. Blackwell uses a positive-closure hook on his right arm and a No.´ Facing the world on the world's terms Finding a way to compensate for something as important as arms takes a strong will. knives.´ Blackwell explains. One of the things Foppe says he hears constantly from audiences after his speeches is that he takes away all their excuses. I'd either drop the fork or I'd drop the knife. however. Although the hooks help him accomplish a lot of tasks. The devices don't replace his hooks. excitedly. You couldn't hold pressure on two of them at a time. a good dose of technology. in some cases. ³When people see him. However. he needs to look around for another way. Blackwell is able to do more ³hands-on´ work on his sprint cars with the use of assistive devices that have opened up new possibilities for his life that he thought were forever closed. they instinctively think: µIf this young man . But regardless of how it's done.´ he says. ³When you're on a double harness with bilateral arms and you're trying to close one. ³So if I was trying to hold a fork in one hand and cut a steak with the other. I'm not quite sure if there's anything I'm not going to be able to do. the harness system opens the other. directing them on what to do as they actually did the physical labor. ³I've got a car in the garage I've been taking apart for the last three days constantly now. ³This has just turned my whole world around. µOkay. 7 farmer's hook on his left. perseverance. He's learned now what Brown and Foppe learned long ago: If he can't get things done one way. here's what we need to do guys.´ he explains. and. Although he continued building and working on sprint cars as a hobby.Blackwell was ultimately fitted with two cable-operated hook prostheses. for years he had to use other people as his hands. and spoons. some of the activities he once enjoyed were still beyond his grasp. they have an important weakness when used by bilateral amputees. He recently discovered a terminal device that can be attached to the end of his prosthesis and that allows numerous tools to be attached.´ Today. He's excited about the future now that he can again put his hands on the cars and work with them rather than merely giving directions to others. ³It was more like.´ he explains. hammers. ingenuity. Renowned motivational speaker Zig Ziglar explains Foppe's dramatic impact on others. but are rather an addition to them. ³I've also cut my first steak and my first meat in six years. which helped him regain some of his independence. which includes wrenches.

and Blackwell have had to go to accomplish the simplest of tasks make it difficult for anyone to say.´ http://www.amputee-coalition.can do that much with that difficulty and handicap. the lengths that Foppe. then I'm definitely going to do more with what I have. ³I can't. Brown.html .'´ Indeed.org/inmotion/jul_aug_01/world.

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