To Arm or No Arm

I was introduced to the world of prosthetics at 9 months old. I was a patient of the Shriner’s Hospital from 6 months till I was about 16 when I decided I was old enough to not go anymore. At 9 months old I was fitted with my first of many prosthetics, a body powered or better known as “hook,” arrrghhh ye matey’s.  As an adult I am still surprised  that they give children that young essentially a weapon that is attached to a limb that as babies and toddlers we like to flail around. My parents had glass top end tables and a coffee table in our living room, as I grew up I remember noticing the marks/grooves in them. I asked my mom where did these marks come from? “You” she replied.

Attack of the pirate baby is what the chapter of my infant and toddler years should be named… After the hook I advanced to the myoelectric prosthetic, which had an opening/closing action to allow a basic grasp. It was advanced for the time {remember early 1980’s}. I was just 2 years old when I began learning how to use it, I then became the youngest patient to use it functionally at that time. It’s a fairly simple device with 2 sensors on the inside of the socket which you activate by contracting your muscles, I call it wiggling my nub, LOL!

My parents were instructed on a “wearing schedule,” this meant how long each day I should wear it to build up tolerance. Let me tell you something, having never had a right hand/arm it’s weird to have something there, plus the weight of the prosthetic is nothing to joke about! I built up my tolerance and muscle strength in my right arm and wore it everyday to school from Kindergarten till about 6th grade. Though I did take it off during the school day and just lay it on my desk; that got some fun reactions (HAHA). The myoelectric was my primary prosthetic growing up but I still utilized my hook for various tasks including sports like mini golf and baseball.

The purpose of the myoelectic was to increase function and for cosmetic reasons, it looked close enough to real to pass when I had long sleeves on during the winter. I was more self conscious about my arm when I was a kid, I was the only one in my town/city that was missing their arm, besides a few old Vietnam Vets. I was definitely the only kid, so I did get attention good and bad. If I wanted to “blend in” that day the prosthetic helped. As far as function went, back then the hand only had 1 grip, a gross grasp, do I could hold something but not manipulate it, that wasn’t much of an increase in function considering I could do EVERYTHING with just 1 hand already. If fact there were tasks that I had to take my arm off in order to do! I continued to wear my prosthetic till my 10th grade year. As the years went on I stopped wearing it as I grew more comfortable with myself and saw the arm as more of a hindrance than a benefit to my life. In middle and high school I would wear it more for fun and entertainment as my friends and I realized it was a pretty good prop for jokes. So at 15 years old my last visit to the Shriner’s Hospital I turned in my myoelectric and expressed my thanks for everything they had done for me and my family and I was confident, functional and ready for life!

Fast forward 20 years, summer 2016, I found myself in a unique situation. Over the years, I never let anything hold me back, I was a wife, mother of 3 boys, COTA/L, had my own business etc, I did everything and maybe more than people with 2 hands. All of that took a huge toll on my ‘good arm,’ I had had pain in my left shoulder on and off for quite a few years till March of 2016 it was constant and interfering with my life. I had PT for several months which helped but the pain never went away. My next stop was an orthopedic surgeon….. My worst fear was about to be reality, I needed surgery and I needed it soon. I had torn 3 of my rotator cuff muscles, one completely through; had a huge bone spur that was cutting into one of the muscles and arthritis was already taking over my shoulder joint. My surgeon compared my MRI results to that of someone in their late 60’s-70’s, I was 34 at the time! As he began to explain the necessity of surgery I accepted I needed it, until he described what would happen after. I was going to be immobilized in a sling for 6-12 weeks, no active movement for 6 weeks, no lifting for 3 months and that would start out at only 5lbs, essentially 6+months before I would be able to even function 1/2 way to what I was and 1 year till I would be back to my previous strength and function…Ummm, hello have we met??? You know I have 1 hand right? What the H E double hockey sticks am I suppose to do??? I’m a mom to 3 boys one of which was only 18 months old, still in diapers, still attached to his mommy. How am I not going to pick him up, change him take care of his needs and the needs of my other kids. WHAT WAS I GOING TO DO?

I decided that I had to get a prosthesis, so I researched Prosthetic companies in my area and contacted several of them until I found the right one. I found Reach Prosthetic and Orthotics serving Hampton Roads, and they even had a female prosthetist! You might wonder why I wanted a female, well besides my children’s needs I had my own basic needs I would have to complete. And ladies you will understand that we have special situations that men don’t deal with in the bathroom… I’ll leave it at that. So I wanted a female to help bounce ideas off of and figure out solutions and I found it at Reach, with Danielle. Not only were they able to rush and complete my prosthesis in time for my surgery but they were extra caring and were there for whatever I needed!

During the construction of my new “robot hand” I got to see how far we have come since the last time I had worn a prosthesis! It was amazing the things it could do! I chose to use the ilimb quantum hand for my new prosthesis. It had everything I needed and was lightweight. It didn’t take me too long to figure out how to use it, the concept was still the same with the 2 seniors in the socket, there was just new technology in the hand itself which allowed me to change grips with certain movements. I felt a little more at ease knowing I had some sort of grasp once I was in the sling.

My surgery was successful, and rehab went as it was suppose to. It was definitely a very difficult time in my life, I’m not used to being incapable of doing anything, and being the patient while my husband and boys took care of me. During those weeks and months it truly was my worst nightmare come true but we survived and I am better because of it. I no longer have the pain in my shoulder, I’m back to my original strength and I know I need to take better care of myself especially my joints to prevent or slow down damage that can occur just from my daily life being 1 handed.

The end point of this is I believe that introducing prosthetics at a young age can be beneficial. It definitely helped me to have had the experience and knowledge of how to use a prosthetic before returning to them 20 years later; kind of like riding a bike, you don’t forget. I also believe that you shouldn’t force or overly encourage your child to use a prosthesis if they don’t want to. Those of us who are congenital {born} amputees are perfectly functional without a prosthesis, we are able to figure everything out in our own way!

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