What It's Like to Lose Your Arm

I’d always heard amputees talk about the stares and the acute awareness of being viewed as different. During my first shoot for the NewsHour with one arm, I was wearing a blazer when I met a researcher I was to interview. She left the lab, and I took my jacket off. When she returned, it was a good thing she wasn’t sipping her coffee, because she would have offered up an amazing spit take. As we both looked at my stump, I shrugged and said, “It happens.” She smiled and nodded and then we pressed on. It didn’t really bother me for some reason—perhaps because of the honesty of her reaction. What makes me more uncomfortable is when I notice people consciously looking away. Is that pity? Revulsion? On the sidewalks, I look straight at people looking at me, and lots of times, they smile. Maybe I am still attractive. Or maybe I’m a freak.

My girlfriend was the one most upset about my silence in the Philippines. When she saw me for the first time, we fell into a long embrace. With tears welling, I asked her if she could still love me despite my diminished body. She caressed and kissed what is left of my arm. I took off the bandage and showed her the stitched wound. She kissed it.

TV reporter Miles O’Brien, in New York magazine, on adjusting to life after losing his arm.

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Photo: milesobrien.com