Getting my prosthesis replaced (2010), part 2: having the socket cast

So, this is a little in retrospect, but here it is!

The new socket is progressing well – a few weeks back I went in for my cast, which is always when things start to feel a bit more real! For me it’s all pretty uninteresting at this stage since it’s been a regular happening from when I was a kid, but I imagine it’d be a bit weird for someone new to being an amputee!

So for the uninitiated, here’s what generally happens – off go the trousers and replace with a weird off-white cotton unitard that goes down your real leg and over the stump. Tie the end off under the stump pirate-style, cut the shoulders on the unitard and tie it like a toga to tighten up on the correct side of the body, stand over some plastic sheeting and have cold, wet plaster wrapped around your stump πŸ˜‰ Having a good amount of balance helps for this bit, so I’m right at home since I’ve been an amputee since I was a baby.

Anywho, after a bit the wet plaster starts to set and turns from being cold and wet to warm. It’s kinda weird, but I’d hazard a guess it isn’t unlike having a cast put on your arm or leg after breaking a bone or something. Once it’s set, off comes the cast and you clean yourself up by brushing off the plaster. You’ll invariably get plaster seeping through to your underwear, so if you don’t want to ruin your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles undies, wear something expendable πŸ˜‰

Actually, particularly to the guys, I have a piece of golden advice – if you’re being cast over your stump, I’d recommend shaving or waxing your stump in prep, because when that cast comes off, all that hair’s coming with it.

Was it inappropriate to go into that kind of detail? Hopefully not. After all, you’re going to have to deal with it, so not talking about it won’t make it go away or anything πŸ˜›

Anywho, so that covers getting the cast done – next time I’ll be talking about the test socket stage. I’ll continue to update as we go, so just keep track of the 2010 New Prosthesis tag for all the posts related to this topic.

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Reading some local amputee blogs

I went hunting for some amputee blogs the other day and stumbled across two new ones I thought were interesting and wanted to share.

The first one is Ordinary Situations, and is written by a fellow Aussie who lost her leg at a young age and details a variety of topics, including some of the challenges/experiences she’s had as an amputee. Unless I’m having a crazy moment, we’ve actually spoken over e-mail before, but I didn’t realise she had a blog as well, otherwise I would have put it up in my link resources sooner! She’s tagged all her amputee/prosthesis stuff together as well, so it makes it easy to read up on what’s been happening with her. It looks like she’s done a me and has dropped off the blogosphere, so hopefully she’ll come back again soon for more posts!

The second one I’ve added is Active Amputee, a blog by a below-knee amputee living in Queensland who originally hails from Canada. I certainly wont hold his heritage against him though, as Wifey and I are fans of Canadians – not only are they polite international travelers and gave the world Degrassi Junior/High, but they also produce 80% of the world’s supply of maple syrup, possibly the greatest condiment in the world. Anywho, as the title suggests, Mike’s a very active above-knee amputee, and when he’s not sporting a shiny new prosthesis with a bright red Canadian maple leaf, he’s doing crazy things like climbing Kilimanjaro. His travel posts are also great, including the travel tips he’s put together.

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Back at training!

Well, kinda back at training – didn’t make it this week due to some leg stuff, but I did get back last week πŸ™‚

It was great to be back in the dojo and train with everyone after such a long break. The workout was fantastic, and being able to practice the two-person drills with other students was great – to help with muscle memory I’ve been practicing them solo while recovering from everything, and managed to form a couple of errors I’ve had to work on. Getting there though!

What’s throwing me a bit at the moment is some of the differences in executing some of the solo uke techniques. Compared to the relative/comparative linearity in Shotokan, performing the same techniques in Koryu Uchinadi is a little different, so it’s time to break old habits! The changes make sense in the spirit of the KU syllabus/philosophy and the links back to traditional Okinawan Kenpo suggest a definite Chinese influence on the techniques. I’m enjoying the use of kake-uke as well – this was taught at higher levels in Shotokan, but I’d had some exposure to it a good few years back when I was training in a Shotokan/Goju hybrid style, though the instruction and execution of the kake-uke wasn’t anywhere near as extensive as it is in KU.

We also did some other drills in class that I wasn’t all that proficient in, but with help from my fellow students, I got there in the end! It’s all learning, so it’s not such a bad thing to be humbled by new techniques and training with more experienced martial artists.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to train drills, combinations and go through some of the standards we use. I’m finding that the nature of KU is lending itself to doing some work on the boxing bag at home, so that’s been great as well. I’m looking at getting my form up to par, and once I get my new leg, I’ll look at posting a couple of videos showing how I perform some of these techniques for others to see, with an emphasis on how I compensate for techniques with my prosthesis. I’ve been meaning to get onto that all year, and I’m determined to get something up before x-mas!

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Should amputees be allowed to compete with other martial artists?

I got an e-mail over the weekend from Eric Dexheimer, a reporter over at The Statesman, who was doing some research for an interesting article about an above-knee amputee MMA fighter, Jorge De Leon. The twist to the story is that despite covering his prosthesis with a protective foam and being physically fit for the event, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation fined the event organiser $5,500 and disqualified the event. To quote from Eric’s piece:

The official crime was that De Leon had broken a rule prohibiting fighters from wearing “metal, straps, buckles, necklaces, jewelry or other objects (including piercings) that may cause injury to either fighter.” “The leg would fall under ‘other object,’ ” explained Susan Stanford, a spokeswoman for the agency.

So, the question I rolled around in my head was – should amputees be allowed to compete with other martial artists?

The above is an interesting scenario – on the one hand, I think it’s awesome that he’s gone ahead and participated in an MMA match despite his disability, and feel quite strongly that he shouldn’t have been disqualified. On the other hand, knowing how much potential damage a prostheesis can inflict on a person, particularly some of the edges and parts relating to the knee, supporting titanium pole and so forth, I can see that there may be grounds in terms of safety of the prosthesis during a match.

In some ways, I’d argue that there simply being a prosthesis isn’t unsafe per se. The prosthesis is merely a tool that can used and manipulated as a weapon, no different to a knee, fist, elbow, etc. In fact, due to the greater degree of movement and kinetic energy that can be harnessed, it could be argued that these natural extensions of the body are no less safe than a prosthesis, it all comes down to the use thereof. For example, if I were to strike with a roundhouse kick, my prosthesis would likely cause a significant impact – however, due to the way kinetic energy can be manipulated via muscle and hard bone, I imagine that a roundhouse kick by a seasoned martial artist would arguably have greater impact. I have compared my kicking techniques to my instructors and other experienced martial artists I have trained with, and I would actually believe their strikes are actually more powerful than something I can generate. This is reflected in Eric’s article, noting that experienced athletic prosthetist Jan Stokosa found that while sparring with below-amputee Ron Mann, it was his real leg that caused greater impact compared to his prosthesis.

One of the disadvantages of a prosthesis compared to fully-functional limbs is that we don’t have the same degree of control compared to a physical leg owing to the lack of muscles, and this lack of control could well be grounds for arguing issues against its use (i.e. unintentional damage or injury due to the relative instability of the leg). Mind, contrary to that, I’ve seen some pretty scrappy MMA bouts, and I don’t think controlled striking is necessarily a universal component that all participants believe in; this does make sense in the spirit of MMA though, given its potential to simulate “real” combat, rather than point-based or light contact sparring quite common amongst “traditional” martial arts styles in the West. Mind, I certainly wouldn’t have the balls to compete in an MMA match, looks too full-on for my sensibilities!

As a point of comparison, if it’s relevant, whenever I spar with other martial artists I do two things – first up, I give them advanced warning to watch how they strike in case they unintentionally hurt themselves on the prosthesis. Secondly, I make it a habit not to actually strike using my prosthesis during sparring – this is more in line with my philosophy that I don’t believe I can control the leg to such a degree that I can guarantee there won’t be unnecessary impact to my sparring partner.

But MMA is arguably quite different to a lot of sparring I would do in class – if your body has a natural advantage (athletic, muscular, experience), does the presence of a prosthesis make much of a difference to the spirit of a match if it’s considered simply a function of the body, akin to the aforementioned attributes? When grappling arts like Brazilian Jujutsu were introduced into MMA competitions and proved an effective (and arguably essential) part of a combatants’ repertoire, the style wasn’t banned – rather, participants had to learn how the system worked and how to counter it. In that sense, is the presence of a prosthesis any different?

As an amputee, I can assure you that whilst there may be advantages to having a prosthesis during such a match, there are also a huge amount of disadvantages – balance, limited control, lactic acid buildup in the stump, incredible amount of energy expenditure to move/use the limb compared to an able-bodied competitor. The question is – do the disadvantages even out the advantages?

There’s also the fact that there aren’t many opportunities for amputee martial artists to be recognised and compete if they wish – I would be absolutely thrilled if karate or something similar would get introduced at a Paralympic level, as the only martial art currently available is judo, and participation is based on the basis of your eyesight-related disability. There is no avenue for amputees to compete.

I’m pretty on the fence with this one, hence why I’ve jumped back and forth on either side of the argument… I know it may be a little convoluted, but hopefully I’ve helped stimulate some discussion on the situation.

On a final note, for those interested in reading more about Ron Mann, check out the following sites:

He has also run some workshops and competitions at the Extremity Games – according to the website, the next one is happening next month in Texas. It’s definitely an event I’d love to go to, but putting aside the money factor (gotta love those Australian mortgages!), I’d want to get into more shape before thinking about heading over there to compete πŸ˜‰

Huge props to Eric on his excellent report on this issue and for getting in touch – I just wish I checked my mail a little earlier so my response could have been more useful! I highly recommend you check it out to get the full story, it makes for a great read:

Not going down without a fight on his prosthetic leg: Agency says war vet’s bout broke law as technology and martial arts converge.

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Catching up on what’s been happening

I thought I’d make my first proper post a bit of a catchup on what’s been happening with me over the last couple of months πŸ™‚

I’ve been training on and off since mid-late November due to a handful of injuries that have been rolling my way, probably the most persistent of which has been my stump’s ongoing issues since November. It actually started after I took our dog out for a walk after Wifey and I caught up with my brother and sister-in-law for a weekender, and ended up mangling the back of my stump. This wasn’t a biggie at first because I thought I’d just done some minor surface damage to the stump, but it ended up turning out to be more serious and on-going than I first imagined.

What ended up happening only started to get resolved maybe a month ago – what had happened was to do with some foam padding added to what’s called the “seat” of the prosthesis. This is the part of the socket that comes up to the base of your arse cheek and forms a foundation to hold your weight when you walk – by doing this, it means the weight and pressure of your body is spready out on your bum (which is handy, because it’s cushiony and generally has a large surface area!) and along the bottom of your stump, which can only physically take so much repeated pressure/impacts before struggling to hold your weight.

Anywho, because I’m pretty active, a while back my specialist put some tough foam-like padding (only a few mm thick) along the back of the seat of the prosthesis to soften the cutting-like impact walking was having on my socket liner. This is a good thing btw, more cushion = less direct impact. The issue was that a while ago, part of the foam padding broke off and I ignored it, because at first it wasn’t making a difference. However, after that long walk with our dog it happened to grind away so much skin that it caused an open wound (at the time though, I didn’t realise the extent of the damage). Roll on to December and I had two weeks off work over the x-mas break, which was great for my leg because I kept the prosthesis off for the most part. However, jumping back into work and all the goodies that comes with my work ethic, and again I had problems with my leg. It was getting very, very frustrating!

My lightbulb moment came in February – after getting into my socket and feeling the familiar soreness on the back of my stump, I put my finger between the liner and the socket where the pain was comgin from and took a look, and the exact spot where the sore happened to be was on the torn edge of the foam backing! Following this revelation, I made an appointment and had my specialist remove the offending material and replace it. The effect was immediate, and for the first time in months, my stump is slowly healing itself.

So, because of this in particular, training has been really erratic – I’ve only done a handful of classes this year so far, and am nowhere ready to grade next month (I also missed out the December grading due to the issues knocking me out solidly from November 2009 until the new year, so that’s two in a row as we generally hold gradings quaretly throughout the year), so I’ve been working on training at about 80% so as not to damage the stump. I’ve managed to do classes for the last two weeks without too much trouble, and for the last three weeks I’ve been able to finally get back into the yard as well and work on revamping the garden. Things are definitely looking up!

So, I’m at a good place at the moment. Over the course of my break form training, I also took the opportunity to do some reading on martial arts – I read Patrick and Yuriko McCarthy’s translated works on Gichin Funakoshi and Motobu Choki (regulars will know I’ve mentioned him when referring to Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo-jutsu and the International Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Research Society in the past – you can check out their website here, and read more on the books themselves here), finally read Tom Cleary’s translation of Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings (more info on the translation is at Musashi Miyamoto.com) and a translation of the Hagakure (can’t recall the translator for this one) – Wifey actually bought me those last two as a gift, isn’t she awesome? Down the road I’m planning on writing up something on my impressions of these books so that others interested in them can see some of my thoughts on them, being inspired by the martial arts book reviews section on Black Belt Mama’s website.

There’s been some other stuff happening as well on the injury front, but I’ll save that for another post in order to keep this one a little more focused!

Anywho, expect more regular updates form now on, I promise!

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