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.
Friday was the day. I got my new arm! August 17, 2012, will go down in history, the history of my life, anyway.
At first glance, I was both pleased and a bit disappointed with the appearance of my arm. The forearm cable had been buried in the lamination and looked beautifully smooth under the cosmetic glove. Only a small section of the cable was visible, the part where the cable came out of the forearm, crossed the wrist, and entered the hand. The disappointing thing was the big bump it created at the wrist. I asked my prosthetist Brian, “Can you notch out a place for the cable in the wrist so it won’t just lie on top of it?” He was able to do so and the bump disappeared.
I opened and closed the hand—silence—no more squeaking. I tried out the hand grip by holding a piece of paper while using the Ergo Elbow to raise the forearm—I didn’t drop it—success!
Brian had ordered a larger cosmetic glove to fit looser on the forearm, allowing me to rotate the hand at the wrist into a position for typing. But as is often the case, when you fix one thing, it messes up something else…
The larger glove left an area near the thumb that looked sunken in. I asked Brian if he could stuff it somehow. He filled the empty spot with felt and it looked very natural.
Pleased, I put on the arm and began to operate it. Now the hand wouldn’t shut all the way! The felt was blocking free movement of the inner parts. The BioTech Team went back to work and corrected the problem.
When I tested the hand again, it shut nicely. However, for some unexplained reason, the grip had loosened. It would have been funny at that point if I hadn’t already been sitting there for four hours. The team of prosthetists patiently disassembled the hand one more time and retightened the grip.
I have been wearing my new arm for two days now. I fully expected a bit of pain and skin irritation, normal to “breaking in” a prosthesis. You know what? I haven’t experienced any. I’m amazed. My specific prayer was that my arm would work great, feel great, and look great. And it does!
But God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Psalm 66:19 (NIV)
Author’s Note: A special family member called to say he wants to pay for my prosthesis. I told him I don’t need him to do that. He said, “I know you don’t need me to do that, but I want to do that.” I’m speechless. I hope God blesses him BIG.
I’m glad you’ve hung in there with me through this long and tedious process! Here’s the July update…
On July 6thI drove the eighty miles to BioTech for a mid-morning appointment. I was amazed to see the transformation of my new arm in only fifteen days! (You’ll need to compare the “Bionic Woman- Part 3” picture to the one below for any of this to make sense.)
The transparent test socket was replaced with the permanent laminated one.
The cables on the upper arm were skillfully buried in the lamination.
The white elastic test harness was replaced with a skin-colored polyester-fiber harness.
The forearm cable was changed to enter on the topside of the hand rather than the underside of the hand to provide a smoother pull.
The Otto Bock hand was replaced by a Hosmer hand. I wanted a tighter grip and the inner mechanisms of the Hosmer hand allowed for adjustment of grip strength. This change was not externally visible.
July 6th Visit
I looked the arm over carefully for several minutes before slipping it on. “Nice!” I thought. “I just might get to wear this home today.” But as I began to open and close the hand, and lock and unlock the elbow, some minor problems surfaced. I wasn’t disappointed really. Tweaking is an expected part of the process.
A special cable needed to be ordered for the forearm.
The ring on the harness (see the picture) had to be covered with padding—when I operated the arm, the straps moved on the ring and pinched my skin between them. Ouch!
The lamination on the upper arm left a narrow circle of silver exposed above the elbow. I asked if it could be painted a skin tone. Brian, my prosthetist, said they could mix the tint that they used in the lamination with some epoxy and paint it for me.
On July 20th I returned to Birmingham once again. The BioTech Team had resolved every problem above! And while I was there…different ones appeared.
The hand squeaked when I opened and closed it. I can live with a lot of things, but squeaking isn’t one of them.
The grip still wasn’t strong enough. When I used my Ergo Elbow to raise the forearm, the hand involuntarily opened. This caused me to drop things.
A cosmetic glove goes over the hand and forearm to make them look real. The glove was too tight and prevented me from rotating the hand at the wrist. I need to rotate my hand to a different position when I type.
I wasn’t happy with the way the forearm looked bumpy under the cosmetic glove. Brian said they could try to bury the forearm cable.
Cosmetic glove that covers hand and forearm
So I still haven’t brought my new body part home. But that’s ok. All it should take is a few more tweaks…and a few more tweaks…and a few more tweaks…
But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 1 Corinthians 12:18 (NIV)