Friday, May 16, 2014
A New Set of Legs...Maybe
Now, to understand why my leg has been uncomfortable, you need to understand that residual limbs change size by actually shrinking when inside the prosthetic socket. Because I am so active, that happens a lot on my left leg, which leads to my prosthetic feeling very loose and eventually slipping off a little bit while I'm walking. The solution is to remove the limb, peel back the flexible plastic inner socket, and shove a thin piece of cardboard, or thick paper, or a thin road map, etc. down in between inner socket and the rigid external carbon fiber socket. This tightens things up enough that you can get suction again and the leg feels stable for walking. Last summer I had a lot of issues with my leg shrinking and, ultimately, I left those extra pieces of filler...prosthetic shims, if you will...in place and never removed them.
It had been over a year since my last appointment with him, but he was still able to fit me in right away. After taking a close look at my leg he determined that over the winter my leg had increased in size to a point that it wasn't reaching the bottom of the socket and, as a result, the suction was causing blood to pool at the bottom of my residual limb. It feels like the worst bruise I've ever had but after I removed the filler, and was making contact with the bottom of the socket again, I realized that there is no pain at all while I'm wearing the leg. Plus, as the past few weeks have gone by, the bruised appearance has started to improve, and when I'm not wearing the leg it only hurts when I put pressure on the end of my limb.
While visiting with my Prosthetist we spoke about the fact that my C-Legs are now about seven years old and that it might be time to try something new. We spoke about the advancements that have taken place in prosthetic technology during that time and what is available for "clients" like me. I was surprised to learn that they are now able to trace the nerve endings and surgically implant blue tooth sensors that then send the signal from your nervous system out to the prosthetic knees and ankles! It's not truly functional mainstream technology yet, but prosthetics that respond to thought control are not as far into the future as I once thought!
Until that future comes to pass, I need to be comfortable moving forward step by step instead of by leaps and bounds. What path those steps will take me on in the future is still a little cloudy, but one possibility might be with a new set of prosthetics called Power Knees. I have to go through an application process to get the opportunity to take the power knees out for a "test-drive", which I'm just now starting to explore.
The C-Legs that I use have a microprocessor that senses how my weight is distributed, what angles I'm walking on, if I'm on flat or uneven surfaces, etc. and adjusts the hydraulics in the knee accordingly to give me added stability while I walk. I consider it to be a fairly passive system, as my only awareness of it working is that I don't fall very often and, when I stumble, I usually am able to catch myself. The Power Knees, on the other hand, would be an active robotic limb.
The Power Knees actually have motors that would take over for me once I started moving. This would help me save energy and oxygen, which could open a whole new set of doors on activities I thought I wouldn't ever be able to do easily again. And when I say activities, keep in mind that I'm talking about the things I used to take for granted, like being able to stand up from a chair without using my upper body to lift myself up, or walking up a flight of steps without worrying that I'm going to pull the railing out of the wall (which once happened at a friend's house...it's quite embarrassing to hand a friend the railing from the wall of their stairway). My Prosthetist even thinks that the Power Knees could eventually lead to the ability to walk unassisted, without the crutches.
So, I'm trying hard not to let my expectations get too high. I know that the Power Knees won't be anything close to having real legs and being able to climb trees and swim and jump fences, but I'm hoping they will help restore my balance, spare my shoulders and back some wear and tear, and maybe make it easier for me to risk stepping out onto a dance floor. Even if they don't turn out to be the science fiction miracles that they sound like, I'm just excited that I might get to test them out. So please keep your fingers crossed and, if you can spare some positive energy and prayers, please focus on my acceptance as a candidate for Ossur's Power Knees.