Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"Sorry I'm late--my mom couldn't get her leg on."

Yes, our middle school's secretary hears this sometimes. And a few years ago I was an hour late for my job thanks to the temperamental pin-lock system securing my prosthesis.  And last summer during a week-long writing retreat at the Highlights Foundations' Pennsylvania farm, a critical kevlar string frayed and snapped. (My high-tech, hydraulic artificial limb depends on the equivalent of an O-ring.) I spent the rest of that week on crutches. One friend calls this version of me "the tripod."  

My boss wasn't sure what to say when I arrived after calling in late/legless. He looked at my feet. "Are you OK? Are you in pain?"

I explained it's more like when your car won't start. He glanced at me and hurried away. I felt bad for him. 

My leg is attached to a carbon fiber socket (with a custom finish pattern: this one is blue tiedye like tiger stripes) that covers my whole stump up to my hip and pelvic bones. Its's a Comfort-flex socket, and my weight rests on my ischial tuberosity (Note: vocabulary word & will be on the final) up the inside of my thigh rather than the thigh bone which can't  take pressure. I wear a gel-lined cover on my stump. A fitting on the end holds the screw attached to the Mighty Yet Breakable kevlar string, which threads through a hole in the base of the socket. As I stand up, my weight settles into the socket and I pull  the string until the mechanism cinches it  tight. (Pushing a button on the inside of the socket releases it.)

I've learned that having an excellent prosthetist is even more valuable than a good car mechanic. I've learned to keep lists of questions, get second opinions if I need to, and not settle for Close Enough. I usually leave my leg dressed in jeans and shoe when I take it off at night. It's easier to change shoes when the leg is off. The plastic foot covers the metal leaf-spring of the foot which is fairly rigid, hard to dress with the leather high-top riding shoes I usually wear. I can't travel without my shoehorn. I set off bells and whistles at scanning booths at airports and public buildings. I tell them I have a prosthesis before I trudge through the doorway. The alarms go off. I step aside, stand with my arms out and submit to wanding. It's annoying but I'm used to it.

Right after I got my first leg, my daughter  took me to Show & Tell at school. I wore shorts. The kids crowded around  and fired questions at me. Does it hurt?  Do you take it off? Can you get it wet? And, Can you do this?

I said, "I don't know." I found myself on hands and knees on the rug being ordered to attempt the practical movements of first graders, things the physical therapist never even mentioned. Sitting  different ways, crawling and kneeling, crouching and bending. The kids were curious and didn't care I was slow and awkward. Some things I could do, some I couldn't because the leg doesn't hold me when it's bent; it's like a hinge. But this gang of seven-year-olds studied and encouraged me in a way that was both tough and sympathetic. They liberated me to experiment.

After that, when I limped into the school I was often mobbed by kids. My daughter would triumphantly yank up my pants leg to shock the skeptics who hadn't yet seen Robo-Mom.

And the teachers have never complained about those occasional odd excuses for my daughter being late. I guess it's a fringe benefit.


  1. Great post - "my mom couldn't get her leg on" is SO much better than "my mom couldn't get the car started" or "I had to find my socks..."
    Love your blog!

    1. Thanks Sue. Even the hardcore teachers can't say much in reply. :)

  2. Hey Liz, I love reading your posts. This one brought back memories of my dad. He was a below the knee amputee after a blood clot settled in his foot. My dad had several prosthesis over the years. Every time he got a new one he had to have several fittings and occasionally he would get very bad sores. Every year for Christmas eve, eve we had an open house Dad use to sit at the bar and have fun with the ladies he would take his leg off and hand it out - kind of show and tell. He had everyone in stitches.

    1. That's cool, Sue. That's how I've felt about it but I had many years to work out the leg self-image thing while I had that crazy limp. Once I realized it wasn't ever my fault--and that my body was amazing for having adapted--I was fine. I've got a T-shirt that says "It's just a flesh wound" on one side and "I've had worse" on the other. My daughter & cousin gave it to me to wear at the hospital when I had the surgery. I like to wear it now when I go out in shorts. Thanks for sharing this about your dad!