Don’t Fix Me, I’m Not Broken

By Jess Williams

If Stacey Conner tells you she’d give her right arm for something of value, don’t fall for it; it’s a trap.

Stacey Conner doesn’t have a right arm to give. For that matter, she doesn’t have a left arm, either. And perhaps most surprisingly, she just doesn’t much care.

Conner, 22, was born without arms. The birth defect has never been explained, but Conner has never allowed the absence of her arms to slow her down. She just uses her feet.

Conner cooks with her feet, drives with her feet, types with her feet, dials the phone with her feet, adjusts the thermostat with her feet, makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with her feet and even gesticulates with her feet when she speaks.

And sometimes, depending on her mood, she finds it very annoying that the whole world thinks she’s is so amazing.

“It’s not amazing at all,” She said. “It’s not a miracle. If you didn’t have arms, you’d do it, too. I’ve never had arms and hands, so I don’t miss them. I don’t miss holding someone’s hand because I’ve never done it.”

That kind of stark practicality — coupled with a fierce independence — has propelled Conner through life with relatively few problems, despite the fact that the world in which she lives is built for people who have two limbs more than she.

In her closet at home, Conner said, there are two artificial arms that are electronically powered and very realistic-looking. They cost about $8,000. She hates them.

“When I was a kid,” she said, “they sent me to Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas all the time and they kept trying to fit me with artificial arms. I never could get used to them, though, and it took me a while to decide that I didn’t want to be fixed, because I wasn’t broken.

“I’d like to go back there someday and help kids with no arms learn to use their feet. There’s nothing you can do with your hands that I can’t do with my feet. That’s what they should be teaching those kids. I could teach them that.” Conner said she also could teach those children something else: Pride.

It was sometimes hard for her as a child, she said, when other children — and more than just a few adults — would tease her about her condition and taunt her about how she looked.

As an adult, Conner said, she’s learned to hold back her anger and simply explain her story again and again and again to the curious. She’s even developed a sense of humor that carries her through the awkward moments.

One time at Six Flags Over Texas, she said, she was standing in line with her cousin and a group of children kept staring at her and whispering and giggling. Conner told the children she’d lost her arms on the roller coaster and her life had been a swirling, sucking eddy of despair ever since.

“I bet they never got on the really good ride,” she said, smiling.

The range of peoples’ reaction to her appearance, she said, runs from immediate (and unwanted) sympathy to averted glances and unceasing stares.

To the sympathetic ones, Conner explains that she neither wants nor needs their sympathy, although it would be nice sometimes if they’d pull a door open for her.

To the ones who won’t look at her she responds in kind.

And to the ones who stare, she smiles and, if a conversation is initiated, she tells them about how she drives her standard-issue 1979 Chevy truck; or about how she hops on the counter tops to cook on the stove; or about how she dresses herself every morning with the help of a suction cup and a stick; or how she mostly does everything anybody else does in her own way.

The world, she said, is not a hostile place for a person with no arms — or any other handicap — to maneuver through, so long as the affected person has the right attitude and the proper degree of motivation.

“I had a choice,” Conner said. “I could have chosen to be an invalid and have everybody take care of me all the time or I could have chosen to be independent. I chose independence. There are some days I wake up and wonder `Why me?’, but I don’t let it get to me. I just do what I have to do. I’m no different from anyone else in my attitudes or my wants and needs. I’m human too.”

Conner said that even as a child, she used to watch other children do things like color with crayons.

“My mom would find me in my bedroom using my feet to hold the crayons,” she said. “I was determined to do whatever they were doing as well as they were doing it. I still do that.”

As an accounting major at Tarleton State University, Conner is applying her tenacity to a challenging degree program that she hopes will give her a challenging career.

She would also like to make enough money, she said, to build her own house — one especially suited for her specific needs.

In the meantime, she makes do in the world as it’s built for the rest of us, using her feet to accomplish what some of us can’t do very well with our hands.

Her desire to teach other handicapped people how to cope and function normally is a drive that compels her to share her life story when asked, and to educate the rest of us on a regular basis about what being handicapped means and what it doesn’t mean.

It doesn’t mean, for instance, that a person needs to be pitied or looked after for every little thing.

It does mean, on the other hand, that a proper perspective on everyday life be employed. That perspective, she said, should focus on what the person can do with what he or she’s got to work with and expand on those skills.

Throwing artificial limbs at people, she said, is sort of silly and usually annoying. It’s far better, Conner maintains, to work with the tools you have rather than to look for shortcuts and add-ons.

Conner said her next major challenge is to learn to scuba dive and to sky dive.

“It’s all up here,” she said, pointing to her temple with her big toe. “I can do anything I want to do if I tell myself I can do it and if I really try. God challenged me. He said, `OK, kid. You’ve got a lot of obstacles there’, But I like to find ways around them. I guess when I die, I kind of hope He’ll pat me on the head and say, `You did a hell of a good job.’ ”

This article appeared, January 1989, in the Stephenville Empire-Tribune, Stephenville, Texas 76401.