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 4 (Final Tweaks)

I’m glad you’ve hung in there with me through this long and tedious process! Here’s the July update…

On July 6th I 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)

Bionic Woman- Part 3 (The Skeleton)

I am one step closer to getting my new prosthetic arm. On Thursday, June 21st, I went for a “test socket fitting” at BioTech. Using the cast made of my existing upper arm during the April visit, they had created a transparent socket for me to try on at this visit. It was attached to my new Ergo Elbow and prosthetic hand, both purchased from the German manufacturer Otto Bock. The arm was fully operational with cables and harness. It was the skeleton of my new prosthesis, without all of the outside cosmetic features.

“Today you need to determine if you like how the arm feels and works,” my prosthetist Brian explained. “We can make any needed adjustments easily at this point.”

I was a bit anxious, knowing the importance of this step in the process.

First, I focused on the socket. Was it too tight anywhere? Was it too loose anywhere? Did it hurt anywhere? Did the socket hug my upper arm closely enough to give me good control of arm movements? The transparency of the socket allowed Brian and me to see if the fit looked good, helping me answer these questions. We settled on a few minor adjustments and were very pleased with the fit.

Second, I tried out the Ergo Elbow. I think I’m going to like it. It requires a different body movement than my present elbow. Now, I lift my forearm via a cable. With the new elbow, I will slightly swing my arm forward and the interior balance system will raise the forearm. Pretty cool! And as an added bonus, all of the hardware is skin-colored rather than silver.

Third, Brian and I decided what type of harness would be best and what routing for the cabling would be most efficient. We’re both pros at this process so it didn’t take long; Brian has fourteen years of experience and I have fifty-one.

Amazingly, I was in and out in about ninety minutes. I had plenty of day left to head to the Summit Shopping Center in Birmingham and look for a dress for my daughter’s upcoming wedding. For lunch I treated myself to Asian lettuce wraps and banana cream cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory. Life is good.

My next appointment is two days away. I think I will come home with my new arm. I’ll be sure to let you know.


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6 (NIV)