Adjusting to a bionic leg

March 2016

In September 2015, I was fitted with a temporary prosthesis. It is quite a complicated contraption, consisting of a harness that straps around my waist and hips holding a plastic socket into which the stump fits, with a titanium knee and lower leg. We figured out how much it weighs by the simple expedient of weighing me with it on and then with it off. The difference? Seven pounds. Putting it on takes almost 15 minutes, but at least taking it off is much easier, only a minute or two.

Learning to walk again has been an eye-opener. I had no idea how difficult it was going to be! Fortunately, the rehab centre has an In-Patient program where the physiotherapist works with us every day to help develop good technique, so I went back in for two weeks for that – very helpful. Even something as seemingly simple as turning a corner or sitting down is a major operation for which there is a right way and wrong way to do it. The key at all times is to be safe.

Now I’m in the Out-Patient program at the Mobility Clinic, two mornings a week with physio and OT, practicing my gait and learning how to manage stairs, use a rollator rather than a walker and, most important, get up after falling. Meanwhile I practice at home by doing endless circuits of the house – thank goodness we have a bungalow, for stairs are still a problem. I once bumped my way down to the basement on my bum and back up the same way, just to know I could do it in an emergency, but I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it. It is getting easier to do things like cook, bake, wash dishes, etc., with the leg on. These days I average wearing it for nine or ten hours a day.

The new leg has its advantages: for example, the plastic socket makes a perfect music stand while I’m playing the harp. And it is ideal for resting a book or a laptop. Wearing it requires a little wardrobe juggling, since tight trousers are out, because of the heavy plastic socket covering the thigh and the harness around the hips, but long wide skirts are definitely in.

What was good about the whole experience? The people I met along the way were wonderful – the doctors and nurses, the rehab team, my roommates. I learned a lot from everyone, especially from patients who were in far worse shape than me but were philosophical and even cheerful about it. I found I had greater reserves of patience than I would have thought, although there were definitely moments when it all became too much for me. That’s when I really needed the Serenity Prayer… Being a “one-legged wonder”, as a friend calls me, gives a whole new meaning to “putting your best foot forward”.

A few years ago I published my memoirs, entitled, ironically, “Slowing Down to a Gallop”. There may well be a sequel down the road – it will probably be called something like “So Far, So Good…”.

 

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