Friday, July 04, 2014

Working with Limb Loss

I have to admit that I enjoy driving, despite all of the problems it creates. Aside from the chance to study landscapes through "windshield surveys" (which is what professional geographers call "driving around"), one of the great benefits is hearing fascinating stories on public radio.

We are members of WBUR in Boston, which produces a lot of the most interesting content, and today was an especially fine example. The very warm and gregarious Robin Young interviewed her colleague Miles O'Brien about the months of denial he experienced when losing most of an arm in a freak accident. Because he lost the arm far from home, he actually kept reporting on major stories -- such as the lost Malaysian airliner -- without colleagues or even his family knowing what had happened. In many ways, it turns out, he did not even let himself know what a loss he had suffered.
Miles O'Brien -- WBUR
I share this story on a geography journal because I think it resonates with experiences I have had with my students each year since 2009. That was the third year of my Geography of Coffee travel course, but the first in which we met with communities that were overcoming the effects of landmines. We were led to these communities through the efforts of BSU alumnus Michael Lundquist, who directs the Polus Center and its subsidiary project, the Coffeelands Landmine Victims Trust. In these communities, we meet people who have suffered limb loss through war, accident, or disease, and whose focus is on habilitation for themselves and others. It is necessary to process and cope with the loss, as O'Brien has discovered, but as he has also discovered, humor is part of moving forward.
When he joined us at the PLUSAA wheelchair factory, where custom chairs are built by and for people with limb loss, Michael Lundquist challenged my students and me to wheelchair races as part of overcoming the stigma and discomfort many of us have around limb loss. 
Although some of the Polus Center projects in Nicaragua have now become independent of the organization, I still bring my students to them, and will recommend listening to the O'Brien interview as part of the preparation for our travel course.

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