Chloe Thorpe, 27, an actress from London writes about what it's like to live with Nils Bergstrand, 37, a singer who lost his leg.
“That guy only has one leg”…was the first thing I heard about Nils, my now boyfriend.
I reacted rather non-plussed to this little bit of information, as although losing a limb is obviously a huge trauma, you see amputees living full and happy lives all the time, normally with legs better than their original ones. In movies people live with missing legs with relative ease, Paralympians seem to manage just fine and this man looked happy enough standing in his tux in a bar in Soho.
I ended up falling head over heels in love with this man and have since learnt the sadness, stress and ongoing daily trauma of an amputee, a reality I never knew would enter my life.
I think of him as beautiful, he thinks he looks like a freak. I am happy to say, no one agrees with him. His “stump” (I wish there was a nicer word for it) is a part of him and I think I am lucky that I never knew him any other way. I see sometimes the sadness in his friend’s eyes when they talk about how he was before, and I am thankful I don’t feel this way. To me he has always had one leg, or one and a quarter to be exact. It is and will forever be unfortunate that he was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time on a holiday in Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, I wish that Nils had waited in the queue for the bathroom instead of standing where he did, and then the ricocheting bullet would have flown past him. In the same breath however I don’t wish him to be any different from the man I know and love today.
I have to admit I really had no clue how much pain an amputee goes through every single day. I thought if there was no body part there was no pain. I now realize how naïve this was. Not only is there a huge strain on the rest of his body as he has to compensate for the loss, but there is also the awful phantom limb pains. His leg twitches and spasms of its own accord and often he grimaces in extreme agony as he reacts to a pain that is happening in his now missing leg. He sometimes gets itches in the calf that is no longer there and a pain as if someone is stabbing his foot and there is nothing he can do to fix this. He tried for a while what they call ‘mirror therapy’ to fix these phantom pains, a process based on fooling the brain into thinking you still have two legs. He didn’t stick to this, not only is it arduous but both Nils and I find it a rather cruel process, as inevitably it reinforces his reality - he doesn’t actually have two legs any more.
His reality has become my reality; I used to be a single girl living in London, living life by my rules, my plan and running here and there to make things happen. Like in any relationship I had to change, but I now also have to think about totally new things. I have to slow down, I can’t run for a tube or a bus anymore, an instinct that is hard to fight at first. I have to consider so much more, think ahead, we can't go out to busy clubs or markets, can’t go for long walks or to a venue that has no seats and we can't carry boxes after a trip to Ikea.
"I ended up falling head over heels in love with this man and have since learnt the daily trauma of an amputee, something I thought would never enter my life"
It's not only daily life but also my future I have had to consider, as if we decide to have a family Nils wont be able to run and play with our children. A sad reality, but one that we are united in finding a solution for. We are constantly researching new equipment and technologies so our future can be as smooth as possible.
I don’t want to portray myself as the struggling one out of the relationship, because very obviously I am not and I know that our reality is hardest for Nils, I just didn’t know how much it would change and affect my life. Actually I had never thought of the ‘plus ones’ of amputees and the trauma they share because of the reality they live in.
My life is a happier place now I have met Nils and there are some perks. To say that there are perks to a disability feels wrong, but it is true. We get priority boarding on flights without paying any extra, reductions off theatre tickets and designated parking spaces just for us, in the whole of Europe – as the French said to us “if you are dizabled in England, you are dizabled in France”! It could be viewed as a blunt reminder of the prosthetic leg in the relationship, but we viewed it as an additional benefit – c’est tout.
I have never met anyone that carries so much hope around with him, hope for a better life for both him and everyone around him. People who meet him always comment on how joyful he is. They never say he is joyful ‘despite’ anything, just that he is a truly, genuinely joyous person. I believe that nothing ever happens to someone if they can’t handle it, and in a very odd way, because of his overflowing supply of joy and hope he is able to handle it.
I know that if I had been through a similar trauma I would not be walking around London pursuing a career in the music industry. It is a career that involves rejection after rejection and reminder after reminder for him that he is often not physically able to do his job. He isn’t being invited to auditions because his leg is an insurance problem and has been turned down by agents because he can not run or jump. I support him and if he wasn’t so good I would persuade him to pursue other talents, but he has a skill and I believe that the fact that he wears a prosthetic leg should not hold him back. We are a modern world, a considerate world and I have just as much hope as Nils, I suppose our task is to make everyone else have hope for him too.
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