I went to RISE Prosthetics and Orthotics in Denver last month to serve as the prosthesis model for an article in the May/June issue of Amplitude magazine. The idea was for the writer to give a first-person account of what it’s like learning to walk using a prosthesis before undergoing a planned amputation. As a journalist, I’ve done these types of stories many times over the years—everything from rappelling down buildings to traveling deep underground.
With the help and gentle coaching of Glen Thompson, CPO, I tried learning to walk using a bent-knee prosthesis, a device designed to be worn by someone without an amputation to mimic some of the challenges people with amputations experience. The device has an opening in the back of the socket that allows the wearer’s lower leg to stick out from behind. As the user begins to walk the prosthesis below is designed to bear their weight.
Let me point out that spending less than an hour using that device while walking back and forth holding on to the parallel bars hardly makes me an expert—despite all the great pointers Glenn gave me. However, it does give a glimpse, albeit small, of what the new normal could be like for someone preparing for an amputation or learning to walk after an amputation.
One of the first thoughts that ran through my mind was hoping that being a model for this photo shoot would be the only way I’d ever have to experience this.
So many things would have to change—even something as simple as the time it took for me to get ready for this in-person interview and arrive at RISE.
I know how long it takes for me to get for ready as a person with two sound legs. But how much more time would it require as an amputee? I have a walk-in shower in my bedroom. How much more difficult would it be trying to step over the lip of a bathtub? Then an amputee would have to have assistance in the shower, such as bars on the walls and likely a bench to sit on.
Dressing and then donning a prosthesis would also require more time. Driving would be different too. Anyone who returns to driving after an amputation would most likely have to learn some of the mechanics all over again.
And what about climbing the stairs? I don’t use escalators unless there’s a mob in front of me, and I take elevators only when it’s absolutely necessary or I’m carrying luggage. There are two short sets of stairs in my house. I had to stop writing to count them—never mind that I go up and down them all the time. Now I know there’s eight stairs from the bedrooms to the main level and five stairs to the lower level and the garage. Not a lot for someone like me, but it might seem like a mountain to a new amputee. I climbed the stairs to RISE’s office on the second floor, taking them two at a time without even thinking about it, without realizing how difficult it would be for some amputees, the elderly, and others with mobility issues.
Though the pictures the photographer took made me look good and as though I was getting the hang of it, that’s far from the truth. This I know from the years I have covered the O&P profession—thank goodness it is a team approach to care from amputation, rehabilitation, and recovery.
To read the Amplitude story, visit Amplitude Magazine | Amputee Resources | Amputee Lifestyle | (livingwithamplitude.com).