New Arm- Part 2 (Designing the Arm)

For those who might be interested, I invite you to walk with me through the tedious process of getting a new prosthetic arm. I’m journaling the steps and my experiences along the way. You can interact with me by sharing thoughts and comments, if you wish.

I know my life motto is “Never Say I Can’t,” but I’m going to open up and be totally honest with you right now. There are two things I can’t do. First, I can’t clap. I wish I could clap. I can put my hands together and pretend to clap with others in an audience, but it doesn’t make a sound. Sometimes I clap my right hand on my leg or borrow a family member’s hand to clap against. And second, I can’t scratch my right arm. Rubbing up against a door jamb works pretty well, or directing my husband where to scratch. But thanks to prosthetics, I can do everything else.

On 5/30/16, Fourroux Prosthetics called to tell me my body parts had arrived. Normally shipment doesn’t take a month, but a merger between two major prosthetics manufacturers (Hosmer and Fillauer) slowed the delivery.

On 6/8/16, I met with Adan (Prosthetist) and Caitlin (Prosthetic Resident) to design my new arm. Eli (Intern) and Brad (Fabrication Manager) were also on hand to help. (These are the people I am referring to throughout this post when I say “they.”) It was a long seven-hour appointment, but it was the best day I’ve ever experienced in a prosthetics facility. They allowed me to hang out in the lab and watch the entire process! I’ve worn a prosthesis for 54 years and this is the first time I’ve gotten to see how one is made.

UPPER ARM:

  • Adan made a plaster cast of my upper left arm.

Cast

  • They poured plaster in it to create a mold.

Mold 1Mold 2

  • They heated a heavy plastic sheet in an oven and laid it over the mold to create the test socket.

                           6-17-16 138Plastic

  • Once cooled, Eli removed the plaster mold from inside the test socket.

Remove Mold

  • Adan worked with me to get the test socket to fit just right. He heated problem spots with a propane torch to make them flexible. Then he reshaped them with his hands. He cooled the spots with an air compressor before having me retry the test socket. They cut back areas of the test socket from under my arm and from the “wings” on the top front and top back until it was comfortable. They flared out the edges to prevent skin contact with blunt edges. This tweaking endeavor took approximately twenty tries. This part of the arm design is stressful for me because I have to decide when it is just right. Then it gets laminated and I am locked in forever! 🙂

                           Test Socket 1Test Socket 2Test Socket 3

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New Arm- Part 1 (Picking Out Body Parts)

For those who might be interested, I invite you to walk with me through the tedious process of getting a new prosthetic arm. I’ll journal the steps and my experiences along the way. You can interact with me by sharing thoughts and comments, if you wish.

There are some advantages to having one arm. I only need one mitten—if I lose one, I have a spare. Manicures are fifty percent off. I can remove my arm before stepping on the scales. I get to pick out my own body parts.

Though I got a new prosthetic arm in 2012, it has become uncomfortable and even painful in the past five months. (This has never happened to me before!) An ill-fitting socket, the part that my existing upper arm slips into, can cause pain in the arm, shoulder, neck, and/or back. A socket’s fit can change over time with variances in muscle, skin, or weight. Perhaps I’m gaining muscle tone because of my new treadmill (or perhaps things are shifting because I’m 55). Whatever the reason, I find myself by evening wanting to shout, “GET IT OFF!” Again, this is a first for me. I have always worn my prosthetic arm from morning to bedtime with little thought about it all day long.

On 3/3/16, I went to “the body shop.” That’s what I like to call it. I met with Adan, one of the great prosthetists at Fourroux Prosthetics in Huntsville, Alabama. We talked about my need for a new arm and looked online at options available for upper-arm sockets, elbows, forearms, wrists, and hands. We discussed ways to decrease the weight of an arm, as the pounds hanging on my shoulder seem to bother me more now than when I was younger. We crafted a design that I feel will give me relief and offer improvements over my present prosthesis.

Arm made in 2012

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Bionic Woman- Part 2 (The Decision)

At last, after four weeks of wrestling with the options, I have made a decision. At 9 a.m. tomorrow morning I am calling BioTech to order my new arm!

I received such great input, information, and encouragement from so many people. I got emails, Facebook comments and messages, tweets, and even a few phone calls. Some friends batted the options back and forth with me in person, helping me think through everything thoroughly. I’m very grateful.

Hearing from two prosthetists (those who make prostheses) and several fellow prosthesis-wearers, I gathered these influential facts about the myoelectric arm:

  1. The cost is higher than I originally estimated—$33,000 instead of $25,000.
  2. It is heavy, possibly up to double the weight of my present body-powered (cable-operated) arm.
  3. It is likely to break down more often than my present arm-type. This is a huge consideration as I have to drive eighty miles one way and use a personal day from work for each repair.
  4. Parts and repairs are more expensive, too. My insurance only covers $2500 per year. On a $33,000 arm, that probably wouldn’t fix one finger.
  5. The suction socket, that would hold the arm on and allow me to get rid of the harness across my back, is tight…very tight. I don’t do tight. I can’t stand the feeling of tight clothes. Spandex suffocates me.
  6. Batteries have to be recharged often. One wearer commented, “When the battery dies, you basically have a door stop.”

Based on these facts, among others, I am going with a body-powered arm. I look forward to the cosmetic improvements now available, such as flesh-colored bolts and cables buried out of sight. I am also getting a new type of elbow—the Ergo Elbow. It has an internal balance system that will make lifting the forearm easier.

It is fun for me to share this adventure with you! I will keep you posted. And a special shout-out goes to the team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Mrs. J.’s students in Indianapolis who are following the process.

 

Refuse good advice and watch your plans fail; take good counsel and watch them succeed. Proverbs 15:22 (MSG)

1962- Got my first prosthesis on my first birthday!