In my lifetime it feels like I’ve had more legs than a Broadway chorus line. Every four or five years I have a new leg made. People are often surprised that prosthetic legs are replaced this often, but our bodies change constantly, plastic and wood wear out and technology advances.
I don’t like getting new legs made. The process is always challenging for me. Most prosthetic legs are made in about a month or two, but not mine. Making a leg for me takes about four to six months. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been hard to fit – which requires that I keep going back to the prosthetist, usually weekly, to adjust the socket or the alignment to get it just right. I grow to dread these appointments and get sick of taking my leg on and off. Toward the end of the process I avoid them like the plague, so tired do I get of “wasting my time.”
It’s surprising how different each leg is. Everything is different, especially the small things from getting in and out of the car to sitting on the toilet to how my clothes fit. No two legs are alike and it takes time for my brain to make all the new pathways a new leg requires.
Each time I get a new leg, letting go of the previous one is hard. Even though it’s time to retire the old leg, usually because it doesn’t fit well anymore, saying goodbye is reminiscent of losing my real leg. Grief bubbles to the surface in its myriad of ways: sadness, anger, and finally acceptance.
After a particularly adventurous five years in my late twenties, before I tucked a retiring leg that carried me through those adventures into the back of my closet, I got out my markers and my calendar. I reviewed all the fun times I had with that leg and drew pictures all over it: kayak trips, backpacking trips, skiing, and all the other landmarks that punctuated my steps with that leg. The pictures eventually wore off, but the memories remained.
Getting my current leg made took two years because Tom, my prosthetist at Cornerstone Prosthetics, was sure that my hip and lower back pain would be alleviated if I changed to the new style of socket. In his attempt to make it fit correctly, Tom made two or three different sockets to fit my residual limb. He was so accommodating to my needs, always making adjustments, twice a week if he had to. Fitting a socket is an art, and for my residual limb any socket is a masterpiece. He waited for me to give up on the new socket before he made me a yet another(the fourth!)in the style of socket I am used to.
I went in for another adjustment today because my residual limb has changed even more because of my daily mile walks. As I rode the elevator up to his office, I thought of the folks in developing countries and how grateful they likely are to be fitted for a leg. A prosthetic limb makes the difference between going to school or not, having a job or not, being an active, contributing member of one’s community or not. Today, when I went to see Tom, I didn’t do filled with dread at the process; I went in grateful that he’s there, he’s present, and so incredibly accommodating.
Sometimes I just need perspective. Then I quit whining.