Tricks of the Trade

If you told me all I’d learn as a new amputee, I wouldn’t have believed you.  It would have been like sending a kindergartner straight to Calculus class.   I just didn’t have the tools to succeed. 

Now, three years later, I’m a seasoned socket-wearer, a well-trained walker, a balanced biker, and a (somewhat) solid inline skater.  I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’m familiar with most of the lingo.  I can tell distal from proximal, transfemoral from transtibial.  I know which lotions will heal which blisters.  And, much to my prosthetist’s dismay, I’m a whiz with an Allen wrench!

Most of this knowledge, I’ve gained from other amputees.  I didn’t realize it at first, but we’re part of a pretty unique club.  We openly share trials and tribulations.  We welcome new members with tricks of the trade.

A few leg adjustments to my Genium before hitting the trail

Have you ever re-fit your leg 4 times in one morning?   Is your “butt bone” a topic of daily conversation?  Do you have “good leg” vs. “bad leg” days?

If so, I guess you’re a member, too.

Perhaps you keep a coffee maker in your bedroom so you don’t have to venture down the stairs on crutches.  Maybe you choose to carry a backpack instead of a purse.  Or cross the street so the slope of the sidewalk favors your prosthesis.  The tricks of the trade are endless.  It’s like our unofficial club motto:  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I’ve joined an amputee support group.  I hang out with amputees at the rehab gym.  I e-mail amputee friends on a regular basis.  I watch amputees walk when I go to the prosthetist.  In every case, they turn me on to new options.  They teach me to look at life as a learning experience instead of what I can’t – or shouldn’t – do.

I love to go hiking, but in my two years as an amputee, I’ve found the footwork difficult.  In the beginning, I’d slip and stumble along the trail, an inner dialogue running through my head:  Why am I doing this?  A person with a broken leg wouldn’t go hiking.  A person on crutches wouldn’t go hiking…

And then in response, I’d tell myself:  But this is different.  This is FOREVER.

Hiking with my brother Mark, his dog Jack, and a trusty walking stick!

So I’d continue on.  I’d grip my brother’s arm to steady myself.  I’d hang onto my friends’ backpacks.  I’d brace myself as my brother’s dog Jack plowed by me.  I tried not to fall.  With experience, I learned to search the trail for walking sticks.  The muddy branches would help keep me off the ground.

Just last week, I discovered a new trick – an aluminum pair of “trekking poles.”  They’re really just store-bought walking sticks, but they adjust to my height and have springs that absorb shock.  They propel me up hills, guide me over rocky descents, and keep me balanced over fallen logs.  With the trekking poles, I can keep up with my hiking buddies.   I even look like a hiker!

Trying out my new trekking poles

But trails, like life, are unpredictable.  Without warning, we reach a boulder that marks a two-foot drop to the dry, stony path below.  My friends simply extend their legs and hop down playfully.  I freeze, one pole in each hand, examining my options.  First, I lift my Genium over the edge of the rock, as if dipping my toe off a cliff.  It just hangs in the air; the ground is too far.  Then I face the opposite direction, lowering my right leg instead.  But that feels even less stable.  Finally, I set my trekking poles down in the sand.  Ilower my body into a sitting position.  Using both hands, both feet, and the seat of my pants, I crab-walk down the incline.  Ahhh….Success!

I dust myself off.  File this trick away for next time.

Yes, obstacles are everywhere — but then again, so are determined amputees.

Welcome to the club.  What are YOUR tricks of the trade?

Rebecca wears an Ottobock Genium.

To find a support group in your area ask your prosthetist, local hospital or visit the Amputee Coalition for more info.

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