Fake Arm 101

Frequently Asked Questions

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My prosthetic arm

What happened to your arm?

I was born without a right forearm.  It’s a congenital birth defect most probably caused by amniotic band syndrome.  I have worn a prosthetic arm since I was a baby.

What’s that on your arm?

I generally have stickers stuck to my prosthetic arm.  I do this for a couple of reasons.  For one, it is a subtle way of telling people that I’m laid back about it. For another, it’s just fun. :)  For people who want to ask about my arm but are too uncomfortable to come out and ask, the stickers are a good opening question.

Closer look at the fortune currently decorating my fake arm.

How does your prosthesis work?

My body-powered prosthesis attaches by a strap across my back to anchor on my opposite shoulder.  When I move my elbow the hook opens.

Why don’t you have one of those really cool arms like I saw on the Discovery Channel?

Admittedly, my fake arm is pretty low tech. And there is some really cool technology out there. But Discovery Channel technology is slow to actually get to regular people. Prosthetics are really quite expensive, and insurance does not always cover them.

How do you afford them if they’re so expensive?

I was eligible for free arm stuff until I turned 21 through a charity. I got long lectures on the expense involved in prosthetics and the importance of a good insurance plan on my last free visit.  I have only needed minor repairs since then, but eventually I’ll have to address this issue.

Does it hurt?

Kids always seem to be concerned that my arm hurts, and they never seem to be quite convinced that it doesn’t despite all of my assurances that it does not hurt and that it feels just like their arms.

Do you ever have phantom pains?

Nope.  Since I was born without an arm my mind is not aware of a deficiency.

Can you feel it if I touch your fake arm?

Mostly yes. Even if I am not looking I can feel everything but a very faint touch on my fake arm. Remember my real half arm is inside the socket. It is still very close to my body, and I am aware of it.  That said, I am not always as aware of it as I should be.  If I bump into you arm first out of clumsiness, I’m sorry in advance!

Were you a thalidomide baby?

No, that was before my time and largely in Europe.  I wrote a bit about the thalidomide question here.

Did your mom do drugs or something?

No, she did not.  It was totally random that I was born this way.  Thousands of kids are born with various birth defects every day for no real reason.  This is the only question about my arm that I find rude.  I do understand that people want to find a reason that this happened, but some things are random.

How do you put your hair in a pony tail?

I can figure out a way to do anything.  It might require a bit of ingenuity to adapt the situation to my needs, but I have yet to not be able to do something that I need to do.  And when people ask about a particular task, I really have to think about how I do it because it becomes second nature to do it the way that I’ve found for myself. Anyway, here I am putting a pony tail in my hair:

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Is your prosthesis surgically attached to you?

No way!  That would be awful.  I can take it off whenever I want.  Like when I am sleeping or bathing for example.

Do you ever go without your fake arm?

Yes.  I got without a lot.  Some things are actually easier without it.  It can also be kind of uncomfortable after a whole day–similar to wearing shoes all day.

Are you completely useless without your fake arm?

No.  There are things that I have to concede that I can’t do (or that would take a ridiculous amount of effort to do) when I am not wearing my arm, but not as many as you’d think.

Do you want me to help you when you look like you need it?

You can ask.  I’m the independent sort who likes to do things on my own mostly, but, as long as you don’t mind if I say no, you can always ask.

Can you type?

Yes.  I type with my five fingers about as well as an average two handed typist. Secret confession: I’m actually really proud of my typing ability.  People never expect me to be able to type.

Were you teased a lot as a kid?

Not really. I don’t know how I managed to not get teased about it, but I did.  I’m glad.

Why do you call it a “fake arm”?

Well, one of the interesting things about disability culture is that everyone has a distinct idiolect (personal dialect). In the company of doctors and prosthetists, we talk about “residual limbs” and “terminal devices.” but among ourselves and our families, we all use language and terminology that we have developed and are comfortable with.

What kind of terminology should I use?

Whatever you feel comfortable with. As long as it isn’t mean-spirited, I’m happy.

Do you sleep in your arm?

No.  I take it off to sleep.  Actually I take it off whenever I am relaxing, just to be more comfortable.

Do you get discounts on gloves since you only need to buy one?

I must admit, I’ve never tried.

Do you get disability benefits from the government?

No. I’ve been told that I probably could, but I’ve never looked into it. However, I was also told that I would be able to get my entire college education paid for as a student with a disability, which turned out to be false.

What kind of job can you do with one arm?

Currently, I work in an office setting, but in the past, I have worked in restaurants.  I’ve even been a server.  I feel pretty confident that I could do *almost* any job I wanted to do.

Are you left handed?

I use my left hand to write, but I have been told by doctors that I am right handed.  Apparently, if I was not naturally inclined to use my right hand, I would not be nearly as proficient with my fake arm as I am.

Do you ever wish you had another hand?

Honestly, no. The idea of gaining another hand seems extraneous. Unnecessary. Just like a third hand would feel to you. I know it’s hard to understand.

But don’t you wish you were like everyone else?

Not really. Maybe occasionally, but it’s more for other people’s sake than my own. It’s hard for me to explain in a way that makes sense. Maybe it is because I grew up among basically accepting people, but I very rarely feel a lack.

Does it embarrass you to talk about your arm?

It can.  But I would rather people just ask, so that I can give them a real answer rather than let them jump to their own conclusions.  I am a rather quiet person, and I don’t always like to have attention drawn to me. So I generally appreciate it when people ask their questions discreetly or in a one-on-one setting, where I would not be embarrassed at all.

Do you have any book recommendations about disabilities?

Yes!  :)  I recently published an article in Book Links magazine about using books to talk about physical differences with kids: Just Like You: Helpings Young People Understand Disabilities Through Books.  I also have a list of books about disabilities for adults on my book list wiki.

What should I tell my child about your disability?

I have lots of opinions on this!  :)  The most important advice I can offer is to let them ask questions.  Don’t make them feel bad for being curious about me.  I look different–that is a curious thing.  The second most important thing: Do not make up a story about me.  Please don’t start telling your child about how I lost my arm in an accident, especially right in front of me.  You’d be surprised at how many parents do this.  I am more than happy to explain. I encounter curious children on an almost daily basis.

If there is a question that I’ve forgotten to address here, if there is something you are still confused about or wondering, ask me.  Fakearm101@gmail.com

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You can also get more information by following my Fake Arm 101 Pinterest Board or buying my Fake Arm 101 zine.  Search the hashtag #fakearm101 on this blog or on Twitter to see any posts related to disability issues.

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19 thoughts on “Fake Arm 101

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  7. I feel like I just read a Q&A written by me…except the part where I quit using my fake arm in Kindergarten (it was too had to climb the monkey bars with it!) I have a million other questions that could only be answered by someone who has lived like this but instead I will just say thanks for putting this out there for others to read!

  8. Thank you this was very interesting. I just finished watching the movie The Best Years of Our Lives on TCM, which has a returning navy veteran who lost both his arms below his elbows, played Harold Russell. I watched closely and could never figure out how he was closing his hooks.

  9. Hey i just randomly found this and gosh its so nice to read. Basically i was lookin for information my little boy is 6 and like you was born without a right hand he doesnt wear a fake arm though he does have one but just sits in his toy box but anyway hes a little bobble on the end of his arm (unsure whether you have the same) but recently hes been sayin he is having pain every now and then in his bobble and i was just wondering if you have had a funny feeling in your arm? If you dont mind me asking that is :)

    • Hi Jess,
      I have never experienced any pain in my residual limb, phantom or otherwise. I was under the impression that people with congenital limb deficiencies wouldn’t experience phantom pain, but I could be wrong about that. Good luck finding your answer!

  10. You’re wonderful.

    When my son was in elementary school, one of the moms who volunteered there had an arm that looked exactly like yours. He was dying of curiosity – why did she have it, did it hurt,, how did it work, etc. I encouraged him to ask her, thinking that would be better for both of them to just talk about it than to have him sitting in class staring at her and wondering. Nope. She bit his head off for asking and scared him off ever asking such questions directly again. I wish he’d met and asked you, instead.

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