A limbless perspective
By Priscilla Sutton
You can access the original article here. There are lots of great comments, and if you have your own FAQs and stories be sure to join in the conversation!
Priscilla Sutton goes out on a limb to answer your questions.
I have been a below-knee amputee since 2005, when I had elective surgery to treat a worsening bone condition. Since then I have found that even my closest friends start questions with, “I hope you don’t mind me asking…” And I don’t. I was inspired to put together a list of the most common questions people ask me after reading Stella Young’s article The Wheel Perspective. In no particular order, here they are!
What happened to you? This is a pretty regular question, and I’m not sure what difference it makes to people. I had elective surgery and sometimes I feel that my story isn’t ‘traumatic’ enough for the people who ask. Although it was definitely traumatic enough for me at the time! One day I swear I am just going to say ‘I lost a bet’.
It’s ok to ask us what happened; most amputees are pretty open. But trust me – there are heaps more interesting questions to ask, and stories for us to share.
What did you do with your old leg? Some people seem to think that when you get out of hospital you get to take your leg home, in a jar. You don’t. But in my case, I did have my leg cremated.
When I called a funeral home to get a quote it was pretty funny. They thought it was a crank call! For the record, it was the same price as a cat, and it provided great closure for me. My leg and I had a big life together, so it was important for me to know where she ended up.
Can you feel your old leg? I can feel my amputated toes, but it doesn’t hurt. This is called phantom sensation, and it feels like I have mild pins and needles. I’m pretty lucky and don’t get phantom pain very often at all. I find that if I eat lots of sugary food (like at a kids’ birthday party) I get phantom pain and end up cursing cupcakes into the night.
Phantom pain is consuming and painful for many amputees. It is a very bizarre feeling, and hard to describe to others. There are lots of options to help manage phantom pain and sensation, from prescription drugs to mirror therapy. Personally I have found acupuncture, regular massage, walking heaps and eating less sugar are the things that have helped me over the past six years.
Where do you buy your leg from? My first leg came from a hospital prosthetic clinic, and when I was ready I moved onto a private clinic. Prosthetics are custom made, starting with a plaster cast of your stump.
Sometimes I see legs for sale on eBay with a seller stating “great condition, still ok to wear”. But it is impossible to wear someone else’s prosthetic, as they are custom made.
Are prosthetics expensive? They sure are. In Australia we are really lucky, and there is a ‘free artificial limb scheme’ run by each state and territory for eligible residents.
How many legs do you have? I have two prosthetic legs. The limb scheme pays for one, which is my sports leg, and I pay for another one. Think about it like shoes, if you only have one pair and they get wet or tear, it’s pretty good to have a back up. I’m quite lucky that I can afford to pay for a second leg. Most people have just one, and then go back to crutches or a wheelchair if something goes wrong.
Does it hurt to wear a prosthetic leg? When you get a new leg it can be an emotional experience, and sometimes painful. Over time you get to know your body, and also your Prosthetist (the person who makes your leg), and this helps make it all easier. If the prosthetic is fitted properly, you look after your stump and exercise your muscles regularly, walking is easy.
Can I touch your leg? I don’t mind if people ask to touch my prosthetic, I don’t find it intrusive at all. Especially with kids – I think it’s good for them to touch a prosthetic and not be scared. But that isn’t an open invitation to feel me up on the train, or to touch any amputee on the street. It is a part of our body – keep that in mind.
Has your leg ever fallen off? Yes, twice. When you’re a new amputee your stump shrinks dramatically during the first year, and sometimes you have to wear a leg that is too big for you while you get a new socket (the bit your stump goes into) made.
The first time was on a very hot summer’s day in Brisbane, I was crossing Ann Street in the Valley and suddenly I could feel my leg starting to slide off. I had to hop the last few meters to the footpath with my leg in my arms. The second time I was at the gym; I was on an exercise bike and pretty sweaty. My leg just slid off and landed on the ground beside me. Mortified doesn’t even come close to how I felt.
Since then, I’ve gotten a new type of socket, and I am happy to report that my leg has never fallen off again!
Can you run? I sure can. But not all amputees can run, and not all amputees want to run. There are different feet that suit different amputees, and some are best for walking, and others are good for sports and running.
Do you sleep with your leg on? No, unless I’m really drunk! Prosthetics are comfortable to walk on, but pretty annoying to leave on, even for a quick nap. Think about them like shoes – how it’s quite nice to come home and kick your shoes off, and you definitely don’t wear your shoes to bed. Unless you’re drunk.
Do you have sex with your leg on? No, refer above.
How lucky, you only have to buy one shoe! This is the weirdest comment, and you’d be surprised how often people say it! Even though one of my legs is a prosthetic, I do quite like the look of wearing two shoes that match.
Do you wear high heels? No, and only because I prefer the look of flats. You can get feet that allow you to wear heels, and there are a few hot-to-trot amputees, like Aimee Mullins and Viktoria Modesta, who wear six-inch heels like champions!
Do you have one of those scoopy legs? You mean the ‘cheetah’ sprinting leg that Paralympians use, don’t you? And no, I don’t. They are pretty rare outside of the sporting world, and that’s mostly because they are reallyexpensive.
You can’t park there!!! Yes, I can! I have a ‘red’ disability parking sticker which I can use for off-street disability parking, like at shopping centres. If someone has a sticker and is parking there but looks ‘normal’, don’t yell at them – you don’t know the how, what, where and why.
Do you get half priced pedicures? Yeah, of course!
Did you know Wil Anderson has one leg? Actually, Wil still has both of his legs, but Adam Hills – the other ABC comedian – is an amputee. Don’t worry, people mix them up all the time.
Finally, I am a below-knee amputee. Above-knee amputees and arm amputees all have different experiences and questions to answer. If you’re an amputee, join in the conversation below and share your experiences with us!
Priscilla Sutton is the founder and curator of Spare Parts, an exhibition that brings together diverse artists all using pre-loved prosthetics as their canvas. The exhibition started in Brisbane, where Priscilla is based, and is being held next in London from 25 August to 9 September 2012.