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Special Needs in Strange Worlds

J. Kathleen CheneyWriters always try to research things when we write about them. When I wrote about a character who had suffered an amputation during war time, I tried to do my due diligence, reading up on how characters who endured a Civil War Era amputation survived the surgery, the infection, and the terrible conditions. And then there’s the struggle to live on with the change in one’s state, both the physical and mental aspects of that.

In a piece I’ve been working on, I have a character with an amputated arm. (The setting is 1815 Russia, but the medical process then wasn’t too different from the Civil War US.) My character was lucky both because it was his left arm, meaning that he kept his more dexterous hand, and because they didn’t take his scapula and clavicle, and thus his shoulder still filled out a jacket or shirt.

In a lot of ways, it’s easy for a writer to figure out what a character with a missing arm can and cannot do. For me it was a matter or strapping my arm to my side and trying to do things one handed. I’ve had a cast before, but in that case I could use my fingertips and the cast itself to hold things. With my hand secured to my side, however, I had to improvise quite a lot. Try it. Try dressing yourself using only one hand. The zipper is your friend, but they didn’t have those in 1800s Russia. The button? It’s actually not too hard to undo, but a real struggle to fasten. Laces? Hah! Laces and drawstrings require pressing one string between one’s hip and a hard surface (like the edge of the dresser) while tugging on the other. I tried a lot of things that I have my character do, and there are an astounding number of challenges just getting up and getting dressed in the morning.

Full Story at SF Signal


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1 thought on “Special Needs in Strange Worlds”

  1. The LGBT author Etienne has done several novels and a trilogy about gay men with disabilities. These include a blind college age musician and piano tuner, a male surgical nurse who, due to a drunk navy surgeon, has to use a catheter to urinate and cannot have an erection. He also has to use a colostomy bag due to colorectal cancer surgery. The nurse story is a trilogy. A third story concerns a gay American peace Corps volunteer male who is enslaved in the middle east and subjected to surgery that removes his penis. He is sold as a sex slave. A fourth concerns a gay organist who was born without a penis.

    Not SF but IMO quite well done novels that feature main characters with major disability issues.


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