10 Questions

Ten Questions You Always Wanted to Ask an Amputee

"It sometimes feels like my foot is still attached to my leg, but in a completely different place."

by Emma van den Berg
Jan 17 2017, 3:34pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

Once you get comfortable walking around—usually a few months after your first birthday—you tend to take for granted how easy it is to go through life on two legs. Running to catch a train, swimming, riding a bike, and even just standing there is so doable on two legs that you're probably not even aware of needing them for it.

Mickey Delsman is a 23-year-old student from Amsterdam who lost a leg when he was ten. Quickly after the amputation, Mickey learned to use a prosthetic leg. I recently met with him to talk about exactly how much of a difference having his leg amputated has made to his ability to run to catch a train, swim, ride a bike, or just stand there.

VICE: How did you lose your leg?
Mickey Delsman: I was diagnosed with bone cancer in my shin bone when I was ten. I found out more or less by accident—I had strained my leg and couldn't really walk any more. The doctor immediately noticed there was something seriously wrong with my leg and, a year later, I was told they had to remove it as a precaution. I did get a say in how much they would take—I chose to have my kneecap moved up and have everything below that removed.

Do you ever experience phantom limb pain?
Yes, I've even been on medication for it, but never finished the treatment. I still feel phantom pain in my missing leg. I don't know if it'll ever go away. For me, it feels like a tingling where my leg would've been. If I try to focus it feels like my foot is still there, but stuck, somehow. I can sometimes feel a shock running through it, or it feels like my foot is still attached, but in a different place.

How are you able to walk?
I have a prosthetic leg, and I walk pretty well with it. I used to hop everywhere—that's why my remaining leg is very strong. I taught myself how to walk again and never really had physical therapy. I just practiced a lot. I was young, and I wanted to play outside, so I did just that.

Not too long ago my prosthetic knee broke—it would just get stuck while I was walking around. The prosthetic leg breaks down quite often because I put too much weight and pressure on it. And then there's oil or some kind of grease in the leg, which can leak. Usually these prosthetics should work for three years or longer, but I wear them out much faster. I just use them constantly—I go out like a normal person, and I cycle around the city delivering food. My last prosthetic foot was broken in several places when I was done with it.

All photos by Kas van Vliet

Do people ever joke around with your prosthetic leg?
One time I was on vacation with friends in Spain, and our toilet seat broke at some point. A few friends asked if they could borrow my leg and take it to reception, to convince the receptionist that my leg had come up from the sewer into our toilet. The poor guy was so confused. That was pretty funny. Another time, at a festival, a friend of mine had built this huge garbage pile and thrown my leg on top of it as a joke. That wasn't fun. You need to ask these things first.

When is it hardest for you to miss a leg?
I can do pretty much everything quite well. I might not be able to play football or basketball as well as other people, but I do OK. When it comes to swimming, though, it's difficult. I miss swimming. Going to the beach is hard for me. My artificial leg can't be in the water. Of course I can take it off, but I don't always feel like it. And I'd have to hop to the water on one leg. That's what I used to do, but these days you'd sooner find me just hanging out in the shade.

I've been in some dangerous situations because of my leg. A friend of mine and I were on a ferris wheel once; when halfway through, I noticed that my leg had got stuck between the cart and the wheel, which made our cart start hanging more and more askew. I tried to free it, but it didn't work, and we really started to panic. When the leg finally came loose, our cart dangerously swung back-and-forth. We almost fell out. That would have been especially unfortunate for my friend, because I might have just dangled there, hanging from my prosthetic leg.

If you'd have had the choice, would you have lost an arm or a leg?
When you miss an arm, you can still play football and stuff like that, and your balance is much better. But I think I'd pick losing my leg again. It's simply what I'm used to.

Have you ever used your missing leg as an excuse for anything?
I used to, sure. I would go to an amusement park, sit down in a wheelchair, and go on the rides through the disabled entrance. I already had a prosthetic leg by then, but I just exaggerated a bit how hard it was to walk for me. And at festivals we'd always watch the overcrowded shows from the disability bays.

Have you ever been bullied because of your leg?
I might've been teased, but not directly about my leg. People would sometimes laugh at me for not being very fast. They'd say something and run away, and I couldn't keep up with them, of course. But I don't recall any specific bullying. I grew up in a relatively small town, and everyone knew how I had lost my leg. Everyone was always very careful around me. That annoyed me sometimes—I don't need people's pity.

And now? Do people ever respond weirdly when they notice your prosthetic leg?
I used to cover up my leg even during summer, but I'm over that now. People sometimes stare, but they usually respond to it fine. I mostly get questions from young children who don't understand what's going on. They ask me about it, and I explain that I have an artificial leg. They usually find that very interesting.

When you have a date, do you let them know you have a prosthetic leg beforehand?
No. I was on my way to a Tinder date recently when my prosthetic knee got stuck again. That really sucked, but I immediately told her when we met: "We have a problem, because my knee just broke down and I can't walk that well." She had no idea I had a prosthetic leg at the time. But people usually aren't weird about it.