Never Say "You Can't Do That" to an Amputee!

Lorraine B. Erickson


Can you imagine a trumpet player without hands? Neither could we. In fact, in assisting Ms. Mailhot with the chart of her article "Musical Instruments for Upper-Limb Amputees" which appears elsewhere in this issue of ICIB, we agreed that a child had to have at least three fingers to play the trumpet. Well, we were wrong, and that is why we want to share our experience with others and encourage them not to reject the possibility of ANY activity for an imaginative amputee, until he has actually tried it.

Two years ago when Bud, my quadruple-amputee piano student, then 12 years old, wanted to play the trumpet in the school band, both his mother and I said "You can't do that-you need three fingers to play a trumpet."

Bud asked his mother, "How do you know I can't play a trumpet unless you let me try?" However, he let us talk him into trying the trombone instead. He had no difficulty playing that instrument by holding it with the hook of his left below-elbow prosthesis and manipulating the slide with his right hook, also on a below-elbow prosthesis. Fig. 1 , which orginally appeared in the January 1973 issue of ICIB, shows Bud playing slide trombone. He did find it somewhat difficult to assemble the instrument with his hooks. Hence he sought easier means of getting this done and would ask a friend to put the trombone together for him; or he would remove his prostheses and screw it together with his stumps. In this latter case he would, of course, have to put his artificial arms back on to play the instrument. It was evident that Bud enjoyed the trombone. However, he still retained a strong desire to play the trumpet.

This year, at age 14, Bud insisted he would either play the trumpet or quit the band, so his mother said she would rent a trumpet and give him two months to catch up with the band. He asked her, "If I give you another Doc Severinson in two months, will you buy me a trumpet?" and she agreed.

By the end of his first week on the trumpet Bud was already playing "When the Saints Go Marching In" and other favorite songs by ear and was starting to read trumpet music. In two months' time he had more than caught up with the other trumpet players in the school band.

When Bud brought his trumpet and played it for me I asked him, "Why didn't you tell us how you were going to play it?" and he replied patiently, "Nobody would have listened to me."-A very good lesson for us all! His mother and I were mistaken in thinking he would need to hold the trumpet with his left hook and play it with his right hook, giving him only the two (prosthetic) fingers with which to depress the three valves.

Instead, he props the bell of the trumpet on his leg and depresses the valves with both of his stumps, as shown in Fig. 2 . This enables him to depress any combination of the three valves. He says the only time he needs to use both stumps is when he wants to depress valve 1 and 3, leaving the middle one up. Otherwise, he can depress one, two, or even all three valves at once with his right stump and hold the trumpet up with his left stump.

When the band teacher wondered if Bud would be able to play sixteenth notes this way, Bud said "Doesn't he think I can move my arms that fast?" Bud certainly moves his arms that fast to play sixteenth notes with his stumps on the piano, so his mother and I now have no doubts about his ability as a trumpet player also. We have both learned a valuable lesson and agree that we will never again say "You can't do that" to an amputee.

Bud is enjoying playing trumpet in the school band this year. He also enjoys playing the piano and harmonica in a little jazz band. He is shown playing the piano with his prosthetic hooks and with his stumps in the educational videotape, "Piano-Fun and Fantastic With Problem Hands," which is available from the University of Colorado Bureau of Audiovisual Instruction, as described in the April 1974 issue of ICIB.

Boulder, Colorado