My all-time favorite holiday gift was an Arts & Crafts kit from my Aunt Candy. On the outside, it looked like a plain shirt box from Macy’s. But inside, it shined with hope and promise. It was filled with sheets of construction paper, brightly colored tape, scraps of fabric, tubes of glitter, magic markers, and behold – even my own stapler! To my 9-year-old imagination, the possibilities were endless!!
I spent hours and hours at a little table in my bedroom, crafting away. I pasted and stapled, glued and glittered. I colored any item I could get my hands on. I learned to dye cotton balls with magic marker and make penny prints with glue. I even borrowed my dad’s movie camera, built scenes from construction paper, and filmed stop-frame animations. As a kid, I thought these skills would take me well into adulthood.
Of course as a grown-up, I did not end up working for Crayola…or Disney!
But I still dream of art projects.
Before I paint that picture, let me rewind 3 years. See, there was a time when I expected this prosthetic stuff to be an art. During my first weeks in the rehab hospital, I told anyone who’d listen, “I’m going to walk with a perfect gait. You won’t even be able to tell I’m wearing a prosthesis!” Overconfident? Ok, maybe. But back then, as a brand new amputee, I was sure that with practice, I could master the ART of walking.
I didn’t realize how many factors and variables there would be: feet, ankles, knees, suspension systems, liners, alignment, temperature, terrain, and pain – to name a few. I never imagined how sweat or shrinking could cause my limb to swing like a pendulum. I never guessed the importance of weight shifts and muscle strength. One day, I’d lift a bag of groceries; the next day, my nephew! The art of walking does take practice. But in many cases, it depends much more on SCIENCE.
Socket design, on the other hand, always seemed like a SCIENCE to me. But now I’m not so sure. Over the years, I’ve watched my prosthetist cast me for test sockets. I’ve observed how he modifies them slowly, one millimeter at a time. Prosthetists are experts in anatomy and physiology. They know all about physics and biomechanics. They drop laser lines like nobody’s business.
The thing is, my leg is a moving target. Walking may be a science, but walking comfortably is an ART.
As the clock ticks toward morning, I toss and turn in bed. I dream of Velcro and tape, valves and vacuum tubes. My mind drifts from moleskin, to silicone, to straight-up Band-Aids. Because when I get out of bed, my Arts & Crafts project — a.k.a. prosthetic socket — is waiting for me!
My nightstand looks like a scene from Wile E. Coyote’s workshop (minus the dynamite, although some days it would be handy!). I scan the array of equipment I now call my “Amputee Arts & Crafts Kit.”
It’s 6:15 a.m., and I’m about to design a solution for my latest skin irritations. With a tiny screwdriver, I loosen the bolts that hold the socket brim in place. I cut two pieces of moleskin. I rub sandpaper along the edge of the carbon fiber. Don’t try this at home….
When I’m finished taping and gluing and screwing and sanding, I don the socket once again. Take a few tentative steps. Not perfect, but not bad. I glance doubtfully at the table of art supplies. They’re not nearly as exciting as when I was 9.
Recently, sensing my struggles, my dad posed the question, “Do you think socket construction is more an ART or a SCIENCE?”
After 3 years as an amputee, I’m still not sure. The only thing I know for certain is that it’s a work in progress!
Are you an ARTIST or SCIENTIST? Got your own tools, tips, or techniques? Feel free to leave your sketches – or lab notes – below!
Follow my journey at www.my-1000-miles.blogspot.com