What it is like to only have one arm

By 2050, there will be approximately 3.6 million people in the United States missing a limb. According to www.pewsocialtrends.org, the American population will be approximately 438 million. After doing a bit of quick math, I calculated that about 0.8% of our population will be missing either an arm or a leg.

But what is it like to be missing a limb, specifically an arm? I wanted to find out. I’ve had a passing interest in the idea of having one arm, thanks to anime and TV, believe it or not. In Volume 3 for RWBY, Yang, one of the main characters, gets her arm cut off during a fight. In Season 2 of Attack on Titan, Erwin Smith loses his arm to a titan in one of the best scenes in that show. As for TV, in The Walking Dead, Merle, Hershel, and Aaron all either lose a hand or a leg.

So, with the inspiration of some of my favorite shows on my back, I decided to go armless for a day. To do this, I simply put my left arm in my shirt and pulled in my sleeve so I wouldn’t feel tempted to take it out. If any safety issues ever came up that required me to use two hands, I could simply just take off my hoodie.

The second I left the door on my way to school, I put my arm inside my shirt and was already noticing a problem. Having only one arm means the weight of my backpack wasn’t disturbed evenly, so my one arm got tired quickly. I found myself pushing the bottom of my backpack upwards so it could stay on longer, because I feared it might fall off.

During first period, I noticed the major problems most amputees face: everything is slower. Typing takes much more time, because I only had one arm to type with. This may go without saying, but I think it’s an often overlooked part of having one arm.

Here’s a fun challenge: try to find the commonality with the following sentences. 

  • I had to ask people to zip up my backpack for me when class ended.
  • Eating my lunch was much slower.
  • I couldn’t play video games at all.

In case you forgot what you were reading, the commonality is that all of these sentences can be ended with, “because I only had one arm”. Anything from basic tasks like zipping my backpack to complex stuff like playing video games becomes nearly impossible.

For an example, let’s take a look at how lunch went for me. I had to open the front pocket of my backpack to grab my lunchbox. The coat I stuffed in there earlier was also there, so I had to remove that before I could grab my lunchbox. When I got my lunchbox out, I tried to put the jacket back in the backpack, but it kept falling over. I ended up using my feet to prop it up so I could fit in the jacket. Even so, I couldn’t zip my backpack, so I just had to wait for a friend to do it at lunch.

I’ve practiced eating with one hand before, so besides the fact that I couldn’t hold my cup of lemon pudding down while I ate, I was basically OK. However, that’s not the main challenge I faced.

My friend brought his Nintendo Switch to school that day so we could play Super Smash Bros: Ultimate during lunch. I forgot to inform him that I would only have one arm that day. Anyways, I ended up playing a round, and needless to say, I didn’t do very well. I figured the best way to play was to hold it like you do when the Joy Cons are split, so you hold it vertically. This means that you would have to switch which way the control stick moves the character in settings, so it’s conceivable that this would be a valid way for a one armed person to play the game, although still at a disadvantage. I didn’t have the opportunity to switch the way the stick moved, so I ended up losing the match badly.

Because video games make up an embarrassing amount of my free time, this made me think about what opportunities are taken away from people missing limbs. One armed people are limited to the most basic of mobile games that only require tapping or swiping, meaning one of my favorite pastimes would be gone if I ever lost an arm. 

You know how I talked about how even basic stuff takes a lot of time with only one arm? Well, I really noticed that during 5th period, which for me was Beginning Drawing. We were working on our perspective summative, which involves drawing lines from a ruler to a specific point. Normally, you use one arm to hold the ruler steady and another to draw the line, and you can already see my dilemma. I ended up having to adjust the ruler where I wanted it, setting it down, putting my iPad on it to act as a weight while hoping it didn’t mess up the ruler, and then drawing a line. The entire process took at least 5 times longer at least.

One thing I wasn’t able to emulate that many amputees face is discrimination of any sort. Whether it be weird looks or being told outright that I wasn’t normal, I never experienced any of it. Even if you’ve never met me before, it’s obvious that I have two arms, even if one of them is in my hoodie. Whenever a friend or a teacher asked why I was only using one arm, I explained that it was for journalism class and they didn’t really ask beyond that. At worst, they silently judged me for my weird life choices.

Before I end this article, I quickly want to address how Amputees are viewed in popular culture. Earlier, I mentioned how in the show RWBY, a character by the name of Yang Xiao Long loses her arm in a fight. It’s a common fact that people tend to relate to people like them, so having a character with one arm can resonate with fans who maybe went through the experience of losing a limb, or people who were born without a certain limb to begin with.

However, I feel like this character moment falls flat on its face just a few episodes later. While losing her arm does play into her character development, making her more cautious instead of headstrong, the fact that she loses an arm at all is stupid, considering she gets a highly advanced robot arm just a few episodes later. 

Now, I know prosthetic arms are a real thing, and they are quickly becoming more and more usable, but not to the extent shown by Yang’s robot arm in RWBY. It’s hard to relate to a character that has a cybernetically enhanced arm. RWBY is a show that revolves around a lot of hand to hand combat, so maybe the writers felt too restrained with her just having one arm, or maybe they just thought a robot arm would be cool. Either way, I find it kind of lazy, because even if robot arms are a technology in the RWBY universe, that doesn’t mean you have to use it. Besides, there are plenty of ways the fights in the show could become more creative with one of the characters only having one arm. 

So, in conclusion, it sucks having one arm. Of course, my experience of having one arm is limited, and I’m sure people get used to it over time, but still, spare a thought for the people who don’t have an arm or leg. Thanksgiving is coming up soon, that would be a perfect time to give thanks for what you take for granted.

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