Tuesday, April 10, 2012

You Say Prosthetist

I made a conscious choice at a fork in the road on my way to amputee-hood. This was at the pronunciation of the word "prosthetist."

I like words: they're the medium I've clung to and invested in, self-taught as I am. I've collected them, tried to spell them right, and annoy my daughter by insisting "LOOK IT UP!" when she asks what one means. (And with Google around this is way too easy. When I was a kid we looked up vocab words in old-fashioned paper books called dictionaries. And it was uphill both ways.)
This is the language of a journey into elective amputee-ism. My auto-fused knee from the untreated osteomyelitis (bacterial bone infection) thirty years before was called an ankylosed joint. The surgery I was offered by doctors--to break and fuse it straight to give me a stiff, organic peg-leg--is called arthrodesis. The amputation I opted for is transfemoral, or above-knee: AK, or AKA, as in above-knee amputee. (As opposed to BK = below-knee, or "baloney amputee" as my daughter says, or as we snotty knee-less ones sniff, "Flesh-wound.")

So I began to talk to prosthetists, the folk who make the prosthesis (pl. prostheses). I just wasn't sure how to pronounce their job title. You can accent the second syllable, prosTHETist, which sounds like prosTHEsis. Or you can say PROS-thetist, which isn't too bad but seems to take longer, and I've lost most of my physical quickness but I can damn sure make up for it by talking fast.

Or you can say PROStheTIST, which mid-word, sounds to me like the target word is prostitute. As in, "I have to go see a PROS...theTIST tomorrow..." I've said this. I've seen (OK, maybe imagined) my friends' startled eyes widen, at least momentarily. I might be a little oversensitive. 

When it was decision time, mine wasn't even close. I say prosTHETist.

Here's a peek inside the lair of the fabled prosthetist. I've worked with several in five years, all with different approaches, but the rooms look the same. A chair to sit in while you put on and then take off (and put on, and take off, and put on...) said fake leg as it is adjusted. A mirror to force you to see how much weight you've gained since you lost that two-legged quickness. Parallel bars in case you want to do a little gymnastic routine, or maybe just not fall of the new leg. (Pronounce their job however you will, prosthetists as a whole get really excited and unhappy when you fall down.) Note the little wrench on the stool. The stool has wheels so the prosTHETist can zip around the linoleum and swoop in to tighten or loosen one of a million tiny fittings while scrutinizing your gait with the intensity of a good farrier.

This photo was taken by my older daughter at my first socket fitting five years ago this month. The socket was a step in the fitting process, and I don't think there was even a knee on that leg, just a pylon. I'd spent thirty years limping on a fused leg bent at a weird angle slightly straighter than 90 degrees; not a day of that time passed without my wondering, imagining, envying, and yearning to stand up straight. I emailed the picture to everyone. A friend who's known me for twenty-plus years and survived a lot of mutual horse adventures declared, "That's a new pony smile."

For me it was a toss-up: which was more amazing, that I could finally stand up straight? Or that my daughter could take such a photo with a phone??

You can decide for yourself how to pronounce the name of the dude or chick who makes fake limbs. But first get cracking on those vocab words. They'll all be on the final.


  1. Free Dictonary.com:

    Prosthetist - an expert in prosthetics
    (both words are underlined for spell check)

    pros·thet·ics (prs-thtks)

    The branch of medicine or surgery that deals with the production and application of artificial body parts.
    prosthe·tist (prsth-tst) n.

    As a daughter of a BK amputee, Dad was on the flesh wound end of the spectrum. I will have to say he had a horrific time finding the right "Guy" to get the fit he was comfortable with for his "leg" as he called it. After several trials and different legs he was finally able to get the right one. Because he had all his weight on his "stump", he had to wear special gel socks, nylon socks and cotton socks. After many years he finally was able to find the right formula of socks and prosthesis. Occasionally he would get a sore from sweating or rubbing, that would start a whole new issue. Until the day he died he kept his leg at the side of his bed - it was more than a way to get around for him - it gave him freedom and made him unique, he never ever felt sorry for himself. I miss him dearly.

  2. Yes--the right prosthetist is key. I know a lot of BK amps who have increased trouble because of the direct pressure on weight-bearing bones. (We Ak's just sneer about flesh-wounds because we're desperately jealous they got to keep their knee.) Managing any stump is a full time occupation. Socket fit can vary even from day to day.

    Wish I could meet your dad. He sounds like he was a strong & wonderful person. (I keep my leg next to my bed too.) Thanks, Sue.