I had dated throughout my life and been previously married for 6 years in my late 20’s. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a “Ladies Man” or a “Player”, just a regular guy looking for “The One” & genuinely enjoying meeting women, whether the date worked out or not. I’d had the regular social fears of “I’m not good-looking”, “She’s out of my league”, & the usual “What ifs” that we tend to get caught up in as we traverse society’s dating expectations & etiquette. But I never fretted over not being able to find the girl of my dreams. In 1992, I was involved in an accident at work that resulted in nerve damage to my right wrist. After conservative treatment we opted for surgery to repair the damage which resulted in me acquiring a disease called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), or what is known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Type 2 (CRPS II) today. In 2001 I started experiencing severe symptoms in the fingers of my right hand. After multiple surgeries, which were doing ten times more harm than good, I was referred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, just 90 miles from my home. After doing some diagnostic tests it was determined that I did in fact have severe CRPS II and due to the massive amount of damage in my wrist I would never be able to use my hand again. While I was devastated at the news I had been researching the possibility of amputation to be able to regain function with a prosthetic & to be able to live a “Normal” life. I discussed this with my surgeon who agreed that it would be my best option to return to some semblance of a life. Unfortunately the insurance company didn’t agree. So we embarked on a 2 year journey of treatments, drugs, drug trials, nerve blocks, pain management, & therapy while I fought the insurance company tooth & nail. During this time I lost everything because I couldn’t work. I lost a successful live entertainment production company that I had built from nothing, I lost my house, I had to sell everything I owned, and I was forced to move in with my parents at the age of 32 (I thank God daily for their support & love, otherwise I would’ve been homeless). Finally, in 2004, I won my battle with the insurance company and they agreed to the amputation! After having my right arm amputated below the elbow in May of 2004, everything changed for me. How people physically looked at me, treated me, & thought about me was drastically altered and so was my own perception of who I was and what my future would be like. You may be wondering, “Why is he bringing this up now?” Well, a few days ago a conversation was started on Facebook because of a young lady named Sarah Herron, a contestant on the reality show “The Bachelor”, who also happens to be a congenital arm amputee on the left side. She had made a statement that she felt that she was still single BECAUSE she was missing part of her left arm. The conversation that ensued was great, with many different opinions & perspectives from others in the limb different community who are friends that I admire & respect. So this is just my humble perspective and the experience that I went through in dating after my limb loss. To say I was self-conscious about my new body image would be a HUGE understatement! I was afraid, and physically ill, when I thought about going out in public right after my surgery and I didn’t want to be rejected. But I made a decision that I wasn’t going to hide for the rest of my life, swallowed my fear, and put myself out there. It was brutal at first, and I wore my signature Oakley sunglasses as my defense mechanism & to watch people watch me. It was quite an experiment in human nature and how society reacts to someone who’s “different”. Sad thing was that I realized I was the SAME way when I had all my limbs…. One of the big things that came up for me was “Who’s going to love me looking like this?” I truly believed that IF I ever got married again it was going to be to another amputee, because they would be the only one able to understand and relate to me. I think back on that today and it was a crazy, but totally understandable mind set, and at the time I was Ok with it, resigned to the fact that I didn’t feel worthy or capable of being loved by a totally able-bodied (TAB) woman. I started the dating game again about three months after my surgery. I had put up a profile on Yahoo, chatted on-line with some women, and went out on a few dates, ALWAYS telling them before we met that I was an amputee and if they weren’t comfortable with that we didn’t have to go out on the date. Surprisingly, none of them turned me down to meet, though I was really nervous about how they’d react to my arm & prosthetic. I didn’t, however, make a love connection, but my confidence began to grow and though I still believed I’d end up with an amputee spouse, I kept dating throughout the next few months. In April 2005, not even a year after my amputation, God sent me my angel. We met on-line, she IM’d me through Yahoo, but had no profile or picture, which made me a little hesitant to respond. So, I let the message sit for about 15 minutes and I had this overwhelming feeling that I should reply. So I did. And for the next three hours we talked on-line, followed by an hour on the phone, and an agreement to meet the next night at Applebee’s for dinner, with the caveat about my arm, which she brushed aside with an “I don’t care about that” The next night we met at the allotted time and proceeded to talk at three different restaurants (we kept closing places down), and in my truck, for the next 12 hours! Needless to say, the rest is history. Shawn & I were engaged by Thanksgiving and eloped to Vegas in January of 2006 to tie the knot! Shawn NEVER once treated me like I was different. She was curious & asked many questions but treated me like I had all my limbs. Though I was able to get the sympathy treatment for awhile, she learned quickly and now says “You’re only handicap when it’s convenient for you” & “If you had two hands you’d be dangerous” We all have different perceptions, feelings, fears, and apprehensions about being “Different”, none of which are insignificant or wrong. Society tells us that we have to be a certain way to be “Normal”. I think that’s a bunch of hooey! I’ve learned that being “Different” is just that, different, not bad. I would encourage people to continue conversations like this and I want to thank Sarah Herron for putting herself out there.
Eric Westover is a below-elbow amputee and the starting Keeper for the U.S. National Amputee Soccer Team. He is an outspoken disability advocate, motivational speaker, blogger, coach, and consultant to the non-profit industry, as well as serving on the board of the Coastal Carolina Fellowship of Christian Athletes & Vice-President of the American Amputee Soccer Association. He is currently working on his first book, A Man & His Nub: Blessing in Disguise, set to be released in 2013.
He is married to his lovely wife, Shawn, and they have two children, Paige (17) and Dylan (14). They live in Myrtle Beach, SC with their two dogs, Tobie & Grace, and their cat, Boo. You can contact Eric at email@example.com and follow his blog at shorthandedkeeper.wordpress.com.