I Am Not One-Armed

July 19, 2012 — 49 Comments

I am not a “one-armed” anything.

A recent article about a limb-different boy in Texas winning his events at a swim-meet has people talking about the mis-use of the term “one-armed.”  Ben Ramirez clearly has two arms, but is missing part of one; like me.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend – Ben Ramirez

So, what’s the deal?  Why does the media default to “one-armed” when there’s any kind of arm limb-difference?  Jim Abbott even spoke to the phenomenon in his book, Imperfect.  Jim has nearly two full arms, but a malformed left hand, and still he was referred to as a “one-armed pitcher.”

“One-Armed” Olympic Champion Pitcher, Jim Abbott

In fact, I very deliberately chose the domain LivingOneHanded.com because, well…it’s accurate.  I didn’t choose OneArmedAndLovingEht.com or IWishIHadAnotherArmWhichWouldActuallyGiveMeTwoAndAHalfArms.ThatSeemsGreedy.Org because my arm is not really the issue.  Plus, that last one is really long.

And as obvious as it may seem to us that “one-armed” is the wrong term to use, I’m going to be honest with you here and say…I understand it.  I understand it because I’m still getting used to all the terms myself.  Eight months ago I had never heard the term “limb-different.”  Never.  In my whole life.  When I started visiting message boards and different online groups, it was like learning a foreign language.  LBE?  RBK?  I’ve learned that those mean Left Below Elbow and Right Below Knee (amputees).  (I bet somebody has a super sweet grid of all these terms somewhere.  I want it.)  Just today, in fact, I got an email from someone who used AK in his note and I had to think hard about what it meant.  Ahh, Above Knee!  And I’m still a novice at all the other terms like Symbrachydactyly.  I just googled that and had to look at it seven times to make sure I spelled it correctly.

It’s a whole different world, this limb-different community.  It’s fun and exciting for me, but there are times I feel lost.  And ignorant.  I am limb-different and can probably tell you less about the science and terms and lifestyle than a ton of the moms around here!  But, I suppose that makes sense.  I grew-up this way and never thought of myself as different, so why would I take the time to learn about it?  My mom, on the other hand (so to speak), probably knows more about it than I do, too.

So, I’m thinking two things.  The first is that we need to be patient.  We need to understand that differences are always a challenge and people generally do their best to treat them with respect and dignity.  That said, it’s also an opportunity for us to teach!  To teach those who are different than we or our kids are how to approach our differences accurately and with respect.  You wouldn’t describe someone with blonde hair as “black-haired” and think it was good enough.  “I mean, hair is hair, right?” you might think.  And you’d be wrong.  And someone would correct you.

I don’t view this as a fight at all.  It’s an opportunity.  Let’s seize the opportunity and learn together.

Also, please don’t buy the domain OneFistOfFury.com.  I’m saving-up for it.

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I'm a husband, a father, an author, a speaker, a friend...all kinds of things, actually.

49 responses to I Am Not One-Armed

  1. I like you Ryan. I’m glad we’re online friends. And the fist of fury site… will totally rock.

  2. Hello, I found this through a tweet by @KTlaBlanc

    I have not met many, and none in a personal way, king different people. I am an aspiring author and so describing people is important, but something I struggle with anyway.

    Anyway, I thought I may as well ask, how would you want to be described in a book? I know you can’t speak for everyone, I just would like your personal view.

    What would be the best, and non offensive way. Or is political correctness necessary? I tend to not understand these things anyway.

    Thanks for your frankness and any answer you may have.

    • Good question, Amber! Personally, I’d just say my “left arm ends shortly after the elbow” and probably just call it my short arm or left arm after that. Thanks!

  3. Family and friends are quick to say that Dylan (16 months LBE) is ‘one- armed’, when they actually do address it directly. Anywho, I quickly correct them that he has two arms just one is shorter and he doesn’t have his left hand. Makes a difference to us. He’s so active that most people don’t even notice it for a while then when they do I can see the slight hesitation. Thanks Ryan for giving me perspective. It helps because I don’t apologize for his hand, I don’t address it and make it an issue- because it’s not! I just let him be and I owe a huge part of that to you. THANKS!

  4. Love the thought! We don’t say our son (RAE) ‘doesn’t have an arm’ in the sense that it implies that what is not there is a negative, we say ‘he HAS a little arm’ to reinforce it as a positive. (That probably sounds more clear that it reads…)

    Anyhow, keep up your writing, I love it and it is always relevant!

    Thank you, Ryan!

  5. Bess, Mom to Oliver (and Finlay, and Kelly!) July 19, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    Gah!!! We talk about this all the time!!! Oliver was born with one hand and an ARM. He actually calls his short arm (he’s LBE) his “arm”, b/c that’s what it is! If he only had one arm, then what is that coming out of his left sleeve?! His arm! So glad you wrote about this, b/c we thought we were the only ones who whereever super annoyed with this description. Keep up the awesome stuff :).

  6. Food for thought. I am RAE. I guess I should quit describing myself as “one-armed.” Thanks for a funny thought-provoking essay.

  7. Hi Ryan, found your blog via a DB friend. It has never occurred to me that anyone would refer to my daughter Anna as “one armed” as she do obviously has two! Just that the left has a little hand on the end.
    Love reading about people living their lives with limb difference.
    And Ruth, I’ve done that one too!

  8. Hi Ryan,
    Love reading your posts and so glad to be in your loop. I’m really touched by what you wrote today. My son has a little hand with nubbins for fingers. And many people say he doesn’t have a hand. I’ve always referred to his hand and his fingers One of my proudest moments (I have several every day with this amazing kid) is when a girl said to him, you don’t have a hand and he said casually “yes I do! Here.” And he showed it to her.

    Anyway, I love your honesty, your humor and your insight. Thanks for all that you do!

  9. Great post, Ryan! Here’s my tripartite comment:

    1. First off, I love your sense of dual perspective/subjectivity when it comes to living limb-differently. On the one hand– there isn’t a better phrase for this, is there– you’re limb-different yourself, so you have that insider’s perspective; on the other, the status of your left arm never factored much into your sense of subjectivity until recently, so you’re able to take on the perspective of an “outsider, so to speak. Anyway, I think your singular embodiment of this dual perspective (binocularity?) is really valuable.

    2. Would it be fair to say you’re one-and-a-half armed?

    3. I just finished eating some really buttery popcorn, so I typed this comment using my one clean hand. Typing one-handed takes some getting used to!

  10. Ah man. I am a new reader and I already love you. But not in a creepy sort of way…don’t worry. 😉 My one year old son was born with a limb difference (LBE) and I honestly hadn’t given this issue much thought. I’m sure it will become more of an issue as he gets older. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

  11. My son is almost 4 years old and at 3.5 year old while taking a bath he told me. “mom, I have 2 arms and 1 hand.”. I couldn’t believe what was coming out of his mouth because he was absolutely correct and only 3 years old. Cliff was born with ABS and had a right arm amputation at 3 days old. The amputation is above the elbow. Ryan, can’t wait to meet you next weekend at the helping hands picnic. FYI Cliff can now swim Independent across a small backyard pool.

  12. I was born without my right hand (so I guess that makes me RBW – right below wrist?) and have only just discovered this whole world of limb difference and, you’re right, it is very confusing at first. I just want to say that I love your blog and thank you for providing insight that it both incredibly thoughtful and very funny. 🙂

  13. Put me down for a One Fist of Fury shirt! My son (RBE) walked into a room and a little boy said, “Look, it’s the kid with no hand!” Another little boy said, “That’s just stupid. See? He has A hand!” Kids kill me. Elijah has also been the push-up champ for two years at his elementary school (that’s champ of the whole school). His teacher asked him how he did that. His reply was “I have an ARM!” Duh. We’re hoping for a 5th grade three-peat! 🙂

  14. Hi, I am Ben’s mom, and I totally agree with these comments, He does not think of himself as “one armed” either.

  15. Bella was born without fingers on her left hand. I sometimes get confused when people say “so she only has one hand”… well no not really, she has part of a palm so that means she really just doesn’t have fingers on that hand. We refer to her left hand as just that, her hand. She has a “nubbin” on her left hand where her thumb would be, which we call her tiny thumb. I hate the word nubbin, I’m not sure why. She wasn’t born with ABS, she was just born with a limb difference like so many. I’m glad to have this community of people. Even though she’s 3, I’m still learning how to help her learn and be an independent young lady.

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Sarah! Bella sounds like a wonderful 3 year old. 🙂 So glad you’re a part of the LOH community!

  16. Oh Ryan, I started reading this and burst out laughing. And then I read further and I started crying and just let the tears flow because I am so proud of what you are doing. I know you don’t remember meeting with groups of families that had children with limb differences when you were young (until about age 10) but you helped so many families even then that were afraid for their children and how they would fare in this world. There were families that didn’t want to accept or even keep their children but after they met you and saw how easily you adjusted to everything their fear melted and they could love their kids. This was all before the internet and your Prosthetist arranged all of these meetings for us. He was a great little Asian man.This wasn’t just a job for him. He had a great heart. Then there is the one-armed thing. I would tell people you were not the “one armed man” from The Fugitive.( You’ll have to look it up if you are too young to remember.)There are still people who ask me how my one-armed son is doing and frankly I just tell them what you are doing and leave it at that. They don’t mean anything by it.New people I go into more detail with. So I was really glad you left me laughing at the end. You had better be ordering up a bunch of those OneFistOfFury shirts. I think they’ll be in demand. Love you, Mom

  17. Yay for T shirts!!!!!

  18. Ryan, now I know that you get your great sense of humor from your mom! Your parents definitely did something right. I’m so happy to know you (I feel like we are BFF, lol), and I cannot express how great your blog is. We, me and my husband, try to educate about the 1 hand, 2 arm issue, but we try to pick our battles. My mom however is a bit more protective. She will battle anyone over the least little thing when it comes to her little buddy, a LBE.
    Best story, my husband is at the hospital with our 2 year old, getting routine tests done, the admission lady tells my husband in a snotty voice, “uh, dad, you have his arm stuck in his shirt”, like he was just a dead beat dad. My husband says, “oh” and uncovers his strong arm. The lady’s mouth dropped open and she got up and left…I am so upset that I wasn’t there to see that one. :))
    Thanks Ryan for all that you do. What doesn’t seem like a big deal to you is huge to all of us in the Hyre house.

  19. Great article. I love the one thing you mentioned: accuracy. Growing up, people would call my “limb difference” many things. They always seemed so unsure and follow up with “is that ok?” I would always answer with, “it’s ok if it’s accurate.” (i didn’t much focus on what was PC when speaking about myself.)
    Some would say “stump” sorry, but I’m not an amputee, so it’s not the base of anything that’s missing. Some would say “one-armed” wrong again. I’m comfortable with one-handed, short-arm, limb difference, etc. as long as it’s accurate. My favorite is to catch folks off guard (and maybe give them a laugh) “So what are you?” Right-handed, obviously.
    Thanks for your perspective and shout out to my childhood roll model, Jim Abbott (well, him and McGyver).

  20. I admit that until a little over 8 months ago, I also had never heard the term “limb different”. And then my youngest was born. I was feverishly googling random related keywords while we were still in the hospital with him; it was such a wonderful relief to discover that there were others! Maybe not *exactly* like my little guy (with all four limbs affected), but just the general “limb different” term was very comforting to me, reminding me that we aren’t alone.

    And, of course we’re patient, and of course we’re positive, but, good golly, sometimes I just want to zip into a grocery store or whatever without having my baby be somebody’s object lesson in differences or compassion. Maybe the distinction for me is context. Does someone ask a curious question with a kind smile? Or do they stare and point and use the word “weird” or “wrong”?

  21. I enjoyed this a great deal. Fyi. I just bought onefistoffury.com. I’m sure we can work something out. 😉

  22. For me, this relates to the distinction between “your hand is funny” and “your hand is different”. I, like many here, am a teacher of young children. When new-to-me kids try to tell me that my hand is funny, I lead them gently to different –
    My fingers are small, they didn’t grow, they’re not going to grow…they’re unlike yours, child. Funny (or, yes, weird) has a stigma, to me, that different lacks.

  23. i really enjoyed reading your entry and all the comments.

    i love reading your website because it’s nice to find people whom have similar perspective to me when it comes to parenting.

    just like Demetria i am raising my daughter to be herself and not making an issue about her little left hand. so far nobody has used any term to describe her hand but we decided to think about how to explain to little kids who ask “Why does she has one finger”? i wanted to be more specific but everyone suggest we should just say she was born like that, like Nemo.
    for me her hand is not a disability, or special needs. she is just my sweet girl.

  24. omg!! love this site, these comments and all the upbeat messages. my 5 yr (lbe) is about to start kindergarten..in the process of making a book to field the questions of all these new parentsand little friends.. and i do go crazy when they say, oh.. look,, thst kid only has one arm!!! glad to hear everyones rely.. although when at the beach , and i get those relentless kids that do not grab their kids away and teach manners… i pull out my last time we were here, the great white shark attacked.. yeah.. i bet they still arent near water!!! i know, a bit immature, but….

  25. Hello Ryan, my 8 years son he is exactly same as you having a shorter left arm with no hand.. but now adays he started hiding it all the time at school and everywhere and not using his left arm at all…we really afraid if he doesnt use it it will not grow well and the difference in lenght and apperance will become greater.. any advise to deal with his case and to let him use his hand …any certain exercises could help to increase the growth of his left hand? thanks alot and really loved your site 🙂

  26. I so agree with this! I was just telling my husband, WHY do people call me one armed?? We clearly have two arms!! I was born missing my right HAND. I have two arms however! Luv this!

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