This is the final piece, part 3 (Part 1, Part 2), in a series describing Awkward Amputee Problems. The first two articles are geared more for those on crutches while part 3 is customized for prosthetic-wearing amputees. I hope that you can either a) relate to this article as an amputee and leave your stories in the comments, or b) laugh along with us and be educated!
If you aren’t an amputee please know this is a real thing. Most prosthetic legs attach via suction between the existing stump and the prosthesis. When air gets trapped, well, you can guess the result. I have had more than my share of awkward moments in quiet classrooms as I would go to sit or stand up (causing air fluctuation as the muscles changed shape), in grocery stores (which I would always blame a sister for with a disgusted look and shake of the head), and pretty much any location that I would NOT want people to think I had some sort of self control issue!
We all fall off!
I’ve seen other amputees have a leg fall off of a ski lift (the leg lands and skis a little before flopping over). I’ve seen people take a step and then realize their fake leg didn’t join the hurrah. Mine have fallen off while dancing, on a ladder, climbing a tree, riding a horse, off the edge of a boat, and I don’t mean to gloat! Humidity and moisture buildup is often the culprit. This happened in Jamaica to the point that I almost could not walk down the aisle to get married! Thankfully my dad concocted the perfect Plan B by offering (in complete solemnity) to push me down the aisle in a luggage cart. (For the record I dragged my sister into the bathroom and made her hold the dress around my head while I cried and fought for just enough suction to get me to the altar in some way, any way, besides a luggage cart!) Legs seem to have a mind of their own sometimes and know the exact moment to come – or not to come unglued. I have a girlfriend that was being mugged in NYC when her leg popped off. The mugger, utterly discombobulated, tried to pick up her leg and put it back on for her! I think if I had a dollar for each mortified look I’ve gotten when my leg has fallen off and the audience didn’t realize it was fake to begin with I think I would be going somewhere! (Not by walking, of course!)
Stop The Hop
Hopping has to be kept to a limit for all amputees. Knees, ankles, and hips must be preserved for the long haul. I don’t care what you see other amputees do, it isn’t good if you see them hopping around from point A to B. It also gets awkward as you gain body mass and parts after puberty, but that is its own set of stories. When you think about mobility, most do not understand just how many times each day they will take a single step either to the left, right, front, or back when reaching for things. Amputees are always twisting around and bending funny while reaching for things; in which context I will now introduce: The Hop. A little hop here and a little hop there can save us so much time and energy. How is this awkward? I don’t know, but two legged people become extremely distressed whenever an amputee takes a little hop. It’s as if the reality of immobility settles upon their brain in one cascading and debilitating swoop. They begin fumbling, stuttering, and completely frozen while processing “the hop” and how they can or should relate to it. This is a wonderful tool for getting out of any awkward conversation, by the way, as the two legged specimen struggles to regain coherence you have the leg up to change the subject.
Taking it off for comfort
There is nothing quite as awkward as wanting to be comfortable in a laid back setting, but not wanting to be the stinker. Legs stink, as in they make stinky socks and feet seem like a whiff of sunshine. Legs are full of sweat and bacteria-breeding elements so they have to be cleaned/disinfected every day or you walk around like the stinking gym bag on crack that you’ve become. In equal competition, however, is the difficulty in sitting through a movie or in an awkward chair for hours with an above knee prosthesis. It is like chilling in your Spanx, ain’t happening! Guys kind of relish the foul smells their bodies’ emit and proudly kick off their legs and shoes regardless of location, in hopes of bragging rights for the stench trophy. On the other hand, most women and girls feel the dutiful pressure to keep their stinky laundry leg to themselves and suffer silently. It can make for a long movie night, let me assure you!
What happens to your leg when you die?
Yeah, so there’s that. I think right now I have five legs in my house. Do I want to be buried with them? Or do I have to choose one to be buried with me, and in that case which one do I pick? My favorite? The best looking? The fastest? Do I take all of them like a Pharoah prepping for the afterlife? So many decisions! In my particular case there is the also the situation to factor in where I already have one foot occupying my grave (it is buried in a specific plot waiting for the rest of me). Something tells me it would be odd to have two or more legs buried all together, wouldn’t it? How would they pack my casket? I don’t want a bunch of feet in my face is what saying. My cousin inherited my great-grandfather’s old wooden legs but I can assure everyone that legs aren’t nearly as cool looking these days. And surely my nieces and nephews would not wish to be haunted by the footprints of my past when I’m gone. But if I am buried with a leg then in a thousand years some archeologist will dig me up and see my amputated leg and my decomposed self next to a shiny stomper that they will exhume for research of ancient millennials. I’m not sure how I feel about that. At the very least I will have to engrave my name in the leg so they don’t name me something odd like Otzi or Naia like they do the ice age bodies they find today.
Personal lubricant needs to stay personal
Most amputees need to use personal lubricant, but not for the reason you may think. Prosthetics cause rubbing and bleeding, sores and cuts. The location where skin makes contact with the device has to be broken in and toughened up after the most minor of adjustments or weight fluctuations. New legs leave my stump looking fresher’n a piece of meat. I have found the best possible remedy for this is 100% silicone personal lubricant. Rest assured, this was recommended by a prosthetist rather than my own trial and error. (I did not seek to learn just how he figured it out.) It seemed like logical advice so off to the store I went. All was well and good in my mind until I got up to the counter with my prosthesis supply list: disinfecting alcohol, personal lubricant, vaseline, clothespins (for drying liners), and ibuprofen. It seemed any attempt at an explanation would come off guilty, so I scuttled off after mumbling something about having a good day under my breath and hoped that the cashier and I shared no common acquaintances. Thank goodness for Amazon, is all I’m saying.
You really don’t take off your shoes
Shoe shopping is a freakin’ nightmare for prosthetic users and yes I just used that word, freakin’! It is a disaster! One more time? Horrible! The ankle on most fake legs does NOT move which means shoes do NOT go on. Any boot or shoe that goes above the ankle, like those cool 1990’s high top sneakers, forget about it! Trying on ten or more pairs in a store was an afternoon of misery along with no guarantee of getting the original shoe back on before leaving. There have been walks across parking lots with one bare foot, is what I’m saying. It was right about the same time those high tops came out that it became trendy to have people take their shoes off at the door. Going barefoot changed the height and alignment of my leg making my gait awkward and my back hurt. I would slip and slide around a friend’s house falling and sometimes breaking objects because I had zero traction at the end of my stick. Then after creating so much awkwardness I could never get my shoe back on to go home! I’ve had my fair share of experiences with friends’ moms straddling my leg facing away from me and beating my shoe on, my mother and father doing the same, and me having to take the whole leg off to sit on it and beat the shoe on. The rear view of kind matrons straddling my leg grew so awkwardly intimate after a while, not to mention the hundreds of little shoe horns we have collectively broken!
Seafood is a staple in my family. We LOVE seafood and it never really affected me until I was a teenager but I realized very quickly one morning that salty food would cause water retainment, meaning my leg would not fit. Some amputees wrap their stumps overnight to prevent swelling. I’m cut high enough that wrapping at night means unwrapping for middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. No thank you. My remedy was to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, and strap ‘er on extra early in the morning to give the swelling time to cease. My tardiness or bailing out of chores on those occasions, I’m sure, came off a little like the “dog ate my homework” excuse.
Getting into the pool
Have you ever watched a documentary of penguins? They all kind of scuttle-hop in a limited way over to the edge of their iceberg islands, or whatever snowy mass they are on, and then one at a time kind of take a hop and plunge head first into the deep water where they are finally freed to move unrestrained. It is quite comical and even impressive to watch. Well back when I used to travel with a lot of amputees we would always head to the hotel pool together. All twenty or thirty of us would stroll to the pool area and pick chairs, drop legs, then hop on over to the edge. With another hop and plunge we would drop on in. It was like watching the penguins! While it felt perfectly natural to us, the moms calling their kids out with horrified stares, and the disgusted grandma’s scurrying out of the water reflected that apparently not everyone enjoyed penguin documentaries.
In my more recent years I found that with technology a prosthesis needs to be charged up for the knee to work. Legs are no longer simply mechanical, and this improvement gives more stability when navigating elevation, steps, and terrain. But if you have ever forgotten to charge your cell phone you know where I am going with this. Running dead means you walk “stiff legged”, returning to the era of pirates on the high seas, until re-engaging with the three pronged wonder of an outlet. Finishing a work shift with no bend, supermarket trip with no dip, or cleaning the house on the stiff will surely leave me miffed.
What in the world do you tell a stranger that asks you out on a date and has no idea that you have one leg?! Surely just telling them upfront is inviting rejection or at the very least a record breaking cop-out. Not sure how to handle these situations I never accepted, instead opting to laugh and walk away like I was playing hard-to-get. Being mysterious seemed so much easier than being rejected. As a married woman, however, I think if I had to return to those days again I would be up for a little more fun with those shallow hal’s and and torture them a little!