For the first time since becoming an amputee I have felt defeat. After planning and waiting three months for my definitive leg, I didn’t even wear it for twenty-four hours before it caused stump troubles. That’s right – the prosthetic leg that has been perceived by so many since my amputation as the cure to all my problems, has actually caused problems. My awesome new leg that I was so excited about has cause bruising and blistering, returning me to 100% dependency on my crutches for a few weeks.
I have yet to feel what a well-fitting socket is like. When I received my temporary leg in December it fit perfectly for about a week, however the stump was too painful to appreciate it. By two weeks I was already layering 9 ply of socks. By the time my stump had toughened up and the leg became tolerable to bear weight with, I was up to 12 ply of sock. By April I was up to 15 plus ply, and by the time I received the new leg I had been wearing 22 ply of sock for months . So, while I was wearing the leg for a good amount of time and walking well with it, I never really experienced a comfortable well-fitting socket. It went from being a painful new experience to a bulky contraption that gave me the ability to walk on two legs.
In mid-April the process of getting a definitive leg began. It started with seeing a rehabilitation doctor to get a prescription. Next was the physical therapy evaluation to prove I was a highly active amputee, then the casting for the custom liner, followed by weeks of waiting for the liner to be made. After this came the casting for the new socket, followed by the fittings. While all this was going on I was searching for the perfect foot to match my lifestyle. Finally, three months in the making, I was wearing my new leg home.
During the three months of planning and building the leg I had conjured up in my mind the imaging of the perfect leg. The elevated vacuum system socket was going to feel like a bedroom slipper. The foot built for high impact was going roll through each step like a dream, and the icing on the cake would be having it all wrapped up in a cool carbon black package.
When leg day finally came I couldn’t wait to see and feel my super cool carbon black leg. As I walked into the fitting room there it was, everything I had hoped for. I put the leg on, stood up and began pacing back and forth across the room. While the socket had some discomfort, it fit well around the stump, making it a lot less bulky than the old leg and feeling more a part of my body. After a few minutes my prosthetist said “Let’s go out and walk in the hall.” As soon as I stepped into the hall and saw the long empty corridor I took off running. Not fast, but nevertheless running. I must have run up and down that hall 12 times. It felt amazing! And while there was certainly discomfort to the stump, the new foot was everything I had hoped for. It was alive and gave me feedback that made it possible to do some running.
I left the office ecstatic about the leg. I couldn’t wait to show it off and see what it was capable of doing. It was late in the day on a Thursday and by the time I removed the leg at around 9 pm I had a faint, large red hickey-like marking on the bottom of my stump. Due to the stump hickey I took it easy on Friday, only wearing the leg for a short time. On Saturday morning I was ready to give the new leg its test for riding my bike. I donned the leg and walked around the house a bit to work out some discomfort, and then I was ready to ride. Once on the bike, the new foot didn’t disappoint. The motion of pedaling was much more fluid and natural than with the temporary leg. Also, the new socket has an elevated vacuum system, which means that as you walk there is a pump that sucks the air out of the socket, holding it securely onto the stump. As I rode I could feel the pump working. In a strange sort of way, it actually felt nice. It was like a stump massage with every pedal. I rode about 8 or 9 miles before returning home. As I stood and applied weight to the leg there was pain, but nothing more than I feel after any other bike ride. The rest of the day I did some light yard work and then did some pool maintenance. While working around the pool I began to experience some pretty significant pain, to the point where I barely made it inside to take the leg off. I removed the leg and then removed the new custom liner. To my surprise, not only did I have a large red bruise on the bottom of my stump, but within the bruise were several blisters. I counted 12, but my wife confirmed that there were in fact many more than that.
I felt so defeated; my new super-cool leg had let me down. Not only did I feel completely beaten, but I couldn’t believe I was so stupid to not realize that something was wrong before the stump got that bad. Plain and simple, I was so excited to see what the new leg could do that I was pushing the limits. Instead of paying attention to what I was feeling, I was too focused on proving I was unstoppable and wanting the leg to be perfect. I should have been taking it easy breaking the new socket in and constantly monitoring the skin on the stump. Instead, what had happen was that while biking, the pump was constantly trying to pull the end of the stump down into the socket, causing a sucking effect on the skin. This in turn caused the end of the stump to bruise. If I had checked the stump directly after the bike ride the bruise would have most likely been the only issue, but as I continued to walk the blisters formed. For the first time since being an amputee I felt defeated. Maybe I do have limits?
Truthfully my feeling of defeat came from not being able to storm the track immediately to begin training for running a 5K. I had my heart set on running. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I want to run. It seems ridiculous because I wasn’t a runner when I had two healthy legs, so why would I want to run as an amputee? I don’t know the answer to that; all I know is that I have this great desire to run. I guess it is a case of you always want what you can’t have. Maybe it’s just the need to feel that freedom. I don’t know; all I know is I’ve got to run. Now, once again, running seemed like nothing more than a dream.
The next two weeks were spent one-legged to heal the bruise and blisters. Much to my surprise I had become much more dependent on my prosthesis than I thought. This surprised me due to all the physical activities and gym workouts I do without the leg. While in the gym it is normal for me to be one-legged; in fact, I have become accustomed to working out on one leg. Outside the gym though, I have very much come to be dependent on the prosthesis for my daily life.
This whole thing has been frustrating and difficult to deal with. However, I have chosen to use it as a learning experience. The biggest thing I have learned is that I will continue my workouts as I have done for the past ten months. My ability to be fully capable one-legged without the prosthesis paid off. Skin problems on the stump is a very typical amputee issue and when it occurs I want to be able to continue on with my active life while the stump heals. While more difficult and with plenty of inconvenience, I haven’t missed a beat while the stump healed. Two days later I crutched all around a large college campus with my son on a college tour and didn’t give it a thought. I have also learned that when getting a new socket, I need to slow down and break it in. That doesn’t mean I have limits. Rather, I just had to refocus on the fact that I am a very capable one-legged guy. I put training for running on the back burner and have been focusing on doing higher box jumps one-legged. Lastly, I learned that a prosthetic leg is a wonderful thing that I have come to depend on for my everyday life, but I possess the power to have or not have limitations, not the prosthesis.
I will still run that 5K. I just have to realize that while I don’t want to have limits, sometimes in life other things can cause temporary limits. First I need to get accustomed to the new leg socket. In time it will allow me to give the foot a real test. If not, we will need to look into other options for sockets. There will be no giving up!
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