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Life as an amputee - with Lisa Cox

Thursday 5 October 2017

Lisa Cox sits on the floor, against the wall of a gym, holding dumbbells in each hand.
Lisa Cox wants you to know that you should treat people with a disability just like you would treat everyone else.

When Lisa Cox was 24, she contracted am infection which caused her to have a stroke. The medication needed to help her recover caused damage to one of her legs, her toes and fingertips, which all had to be amputated.

We spoke with Lisa about what life is like as an amputee, whether that’s the appropriate term, and how people should treat amputees.

QH: Should we call you an amputee? Is that the appropriate term?

LC: I don’t care, but everybody’s different. Disability Australia has guidelines around the language we can use to write and speak about people with disability.  

I say I’m an amputee: I’ve lost a limb, I’ve lost bits and pieces all over!

There’s this misconception that you shouldn’t talk to people about their disability. But often they’re open to talking about it, provided the questions aren’t overly intrusive. A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t ask an able-bodied stranger something so personal, it’s probably a good indication that you shouldn’t ask me.  

QH: What should parents do if children react noticeably to someone with an amputation?

LC: Children will say the craziest things to me. That’s fine: they’re kids! They haven’t got a filter yet. It’s the parents, the adults, who are old enough to know better.

I’m honest and upfront with kids (without going into horrific detail). Children will learn from the example I set – if they see I’m ok with ‘looking different’ they will be ok with it too.

If we keep the dialogue open and encourage people to ask questions, everyone learns.

QH: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about being an amputee?

LC: The thing I’m most surprised by is that I’m more okay with it than society is, as a general rule. I’ve moved on, I’ve dealt with it and I get on with life. But society still pigeon holes me, sticks me in a ‘poor you’ category as a victim. I see so many people become uncomfortable around me and you can tell they don’t know where to look.

QH: What should people do instead?

LC: Look me in the eye and start a conversation as you would do with anyone! I’m okay with me, why can’t you be?

Lisa Cox sits on a concrete step beside a footpath, yoga mat beside her.

QH: What should people be aware of about amputees?

LC: We’re ‘normal’ people. We’ve lost a limb, not our brain or sense of humour. We still want to be and need to be treated like everyone else: with dignity and respect.

Losing a limb is not the end of the world. Yeah, it sucks at first; it’s not all rainbows and unicorns! But you get on with life, and you’ll find that most amputees have. They might still have a few problems and it might take a while to get used to things. It’d be nice if society got on with things the same way we did.

QH: What are the questions you wish people would just ask, or would stop asking?

LC: The disability community is quite divided on this, so I speak for myself, not the general community. It’s a case-by-case situation, so treat every person as an individual.

The “what happened” question is something I really don’t mind talking about, so by all means ask! Just staring at the carpet and pretending me and my wheelchair aren’t there is probably more awkward for both of us.

Have conversations with me not just about my disability: I’m an author, I’m a business woman, an aunty and a wife. I love to drink coffee, wine and go to the gym (but not in that order!). I’m all these other things that define me more so than the fact that I’ve lost limbs. I'm definitely capable of talking about far more than disability and amputations alone.

A lot more has happened in Lisa’s journey and the first year she spent in hospital (including heart surgeries and a hip replacement in her twenties). You can find Lisa’s writing on her website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Last updated: 12 February 2018