An Inflatable Miracle, Bars Being Set and the First Steps of a New Journey.
After weeks of lying in bed, the freedom of getting in a wheelchair had been one of the greatest feelings I’d had in a very long time. However, this had simply been a stepping stone, something to keep me moving forwards until I was ready for what came next.
Finally, my stump was healing, I had gotten more of my strength back and the physio’s and cardiologists were all happy with how my recovery was going.
It was time to get walking.
The look on the face of my physiotherapist as she walked into my room was that unique mixture of smugness and pride which comes from knowing that you’re about to give someone the news they have been waiting weeks for.
She practically skipped through the ward, holding what looked at first like some kind of inflatable pillow. I was informed however that it was not a pillow but in fact the thing that would get me back up on my feet… foot.
A PPAM Aid (Pneumatic Post Amputation Mobility Aid), is made up of two parts. One is an inflatable tube which is fitted around the residual limb and pumped up, creating a soft support for the stump. The second is a metal “leg” into which the inflated tube slides. It allows new amputees to get used to the movements and pressure required when walking with a prosthesis but with significantly reduced risk of damaging the stump.
It is also used to assess an amputees ability to use a prosthesis, which up to this point had been a niggling worry in the back of all of our heads.
Would I even be able to wear a prosthetic leg?
First things first, they needed me to try it on and make sure it was going to actually fit before wheeling me all the way down to the gym.
So, sat on the side of my bed, I slid the deflated tube of rubber onto my stump and the physio inflated it.
It need not be said just how weird this must have looked to the nurse who walked into my room halfway through the process. There was definitely a brief moment where her brain froze as she tried to figure out what she was seeing.
Components of the PPAM Aid.
Walking On Air
Fortunately, the now comically large rubber tube was fitting me well enough that we could head off to the gym and try it out.
Now, I want you to stop imagining a gym filled with weights, benches and machines for lifting and instead picture a large open space with safety mats, bars for walking between and a few very light dumbbells.
Remember, this was a hospital that dealt with a large number of patients with heart issues. Bulging blood vessels were not something to strive for in this room.
The physio wheeled me up to a set of bars and had me stand between them, making it clear that I was to keep both hands on the bars at all times. Any thoughts of messing about and going hands-free were dashed when she described the state of the last person to fall whilst using them.
The second component of the PPAM Aid, a vaguely leg shaped metal contraption, was brought over to me.
I manoeuvred my way over the top of it and inserted my stump (complete with previously inflated rubber tube) into the frame.
It has to be said, as this was going on, it would have been easy to imagine it was all a practical joke being played by the physio and I was half expecting a camera crew to burst out of one of the cupboards yelling “WE GOT YOU!” before presenting me the actual leg with which I would be practising.
Alas, that was not the case.
The first thing the physio said to me was that she didn’t expect me to be quite so tall. Which is amusing when you consider that I’m only 5’8″ but I suppose she’d only ever seen me in a bed or a wheelchair.
After a moment finding my balance, she smiled and held her hands out to reassure me before saying;
“Go on, take a step”.
One Foot In Front Of… Oh Wait.
And that is just what I did.
I leaned forwards, lifted my left leg and let the curved foot of the PAAM Aid roll me forwards.
There was a tightness to the rubber tube now that all of my weight was on it even with the soft cushioning and I certainly felt a mild discomfort in the stump. Not to mention the uneasiness of raising my left leg without having a pair of crutches in my hands.
All of that paled into insignificance however in comparison to the emotions that hit me when I took that first step. I had expected to be excited, happy and probably a little nervous but to this day, I can find no word to describe what I felt in that moment.
There were tears later in the day, once I had gotten back to the ward. It was then that enormity of taking my first steps as an amputee finally hit me.
However, in the gym I had managed to hold most of it in and other than getting a little shaky, the whole process went as smoothly as we could have hoped.
I walked forwards and backwards along the bars as many times as my physio would allow as she hovered only inches away from me.
Once back in my wheelchair, I became aware of some strange aches and pains which would increase over the day but it is with absolute honesty that I can say it didn’t bother me in the slightest.
I would walk again.
From this point there was no longer “if”, only “when”.
- Life is a series of steps, some are smaller than others.
Every other part of the journey from my amputation to walking again seemed now insignificant after taking those first few steps. There is no doubt that donning that blow up rubber tube was one of the more important moments when it came to me learning to walk again.
I feel it is important though to not brush aside all of the smaller moments that lead to it.
The physios ensuring that my posture in bed was correct.
Building up strength and stamina in the wheelchair.
Developing the confidence to stand upright with the crutches.
And so many more.
Our lives are full of defining moments that are easy to pick from our crowded memories but dig a little deeper and you will discover some of the more hidden moments that were just as crucial.
Obligatory Blog Quote
“It would be far too easy to go for the obvious quote here. I’m not doing it.”Me, to myself, thinking about astronauts.