Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Prosthetist-In-Training

After 2000 miles, you wouldn't think there'd be new beginnings.  But it's that time of year...

Mile Marker 2015:

In a quiet corner of a small suburban Starbucks, sits a high school senior with a mind for prosthetics.

Megan and I have connected through coincidence.  One of her teachers works for my mom's agency on weekends.  Megan expressed interest in prosthetics; her teacher told her about me.  And after a long string of e-mails, we finally meet.  Here, at Mile 2015!

Megan tells me her interest was sparked way back in first grade when she first heard about "the war."  By this, she means the War on Terror.  (Boy, do I feel old!)   Later, she found out about the Wounded Warrior Project.  Now she's taking advanced physics and applying to colleges with prosthetic programs.

It's obvious she's done her research.  She's already visited the prosthetics and orthotics lab at the University of Pittsburgh.  She has also called local prosthetic offices, trying to set up observations.  Yet remarkably, this is the FIRST TIME she's actually meeting an amputee who uses a prosthesis!

I give her a little intro to me and my Genium.  I tell her about its fancy tools -- its accelerometer and gyroscope, which sense my speed and the knee's angle in space.

Then I show her the remote control.  Between 2 Starbucks armchairs, I go through the Genium's various modes:

Basic Mode:  for walking, which adjusts on hills and stairs, and catches me if I stumble.

Cycling Mode:  which swings freely without any resistance at all so I can pedal a bike.

Inline Skating Mode:  which swings freely to a point, and then locks the knee so I can push-off on skates.

Yoga Mode:  which makes the knee "sticky" enough to hold my weight for yoga poses.

And Extended Standing Mode:  which locks the knee straight.

We discuss everything from surgery, to gait belts, to socket design.  Since I'm wearing shorts, I pull off the whole system.  I demonstrate how the liner, sheath, and socket fit together.  And how a vacuum keeps it all fastened.  Or in some cases, doesn't!

I slide my hand from bottom to top, from the ankle of the Genium to the carbon fiber of my socket.  Then I offer, in my opinion, the most important prosthetic rule.  "It doesn't matter how great your leg is," I tell her, "if the socket doesn't fit."

When we've covered everything I can think of,  Megan pulls out her own piece of paper.  "I hope you don't think this is weird..." she says, unfolding it.  "I wrote down some questions."

The paper is filled with information.  She has not only read my entire blog, she's taken notes!

I don't think it's weird.  I'm actually IMPRESSED.

An hour later, we've downed 2 Frappuccinos and discussed my entire story.  We've even discovered we have the same birthday!  (Which might explain our shared affinity for note-taking!)

"Are you overwhelmed?"  I ask her.  "Have I totally scared you away from prosthetics?"

"No," Megan says.  "I'm even MORE interested now!"


Mile Marker 2022:

Good thing.

Because a few days later, Prosthetist Tim calls to say my new liner is in.  I e-mail Megan, and she agrees to come along for the ride.  Her first observation!

She gets more than she bargained for.

Cutting edge -- and very exciting!
Tim brings out the new liner.  While past liners have irritated the incision and skin graft on my leg, this one allows us to place the vacuum seal at different heights to avoid the problem areas.   Plus, with the extra space it leaves at the bottom, Tim thinks he'll be able to cushion the socket to protect the end of my femur.  Yippee!

The liner fits well, so I hop into the casting room.  Literally.

Megan follows.

We both watch as Tim winds a sheet of green plastic wrap around my little leg, up over my shorts, and around my waist.





They're all the rage!

Then I don a pair of casting shorts which would look better on a Dr. Seuss character.




Finally, I stand as still as I can.  Tim dunks strips of plaster into a bucket of water.  He presses each piece, one-by-one, around my residual limb and under my ischium (or "butt bone") to capture its shape.

As Tim works, he provides ongoing commentary for Megan.  (Well, how do you think I learned so much about prosthetics?  He's MY teacher too!)

We wait a few seconds for the cast to dry.  Then Tim cuts the whole thing off, casting shorts and all.  He'll use the shape to make a mold for a clear "test socket."  That's the starting point for a new socket.

At the end of the appointment, Megan and I leave energized.  She has unofficially begun her prosthetic training.  In fact, she's probably learned more today than they'll cover during the first week of Prosthetics 101.

As for me, I'm optimistic about yet another new beginning --  one that might find me just the right combination of reliability and comfort.

Also it's September.  The perfect time to start something new.

Here's to a great school year!


Thanks to "Prosthetist-In-Training" Megan for the photos from this post, and for keeping me company during the last few miles :)

3 comments:

  1. One of my favorites of all your posts. Way to go, Megan!

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  2. Rebecca, Thank you so much for this blog post! I really enjoyed reading it :) I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me and taking me to meet Tim and letting me observe one of your appointments. It was definitely one of the coolest things I have ever seen! -Megan

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  3. Love the casting shorts :) Keeping my fingers crossed that this liner works well for you. September is a good month for new beginnings.

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