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Susan Cotten

The Key to Living an Active Life is a Well-fitting Socket and a Foot and Knee That Do What You Need Them To Do

On November 20, 2008, at the age of 53, I was on my bicycle enjoying a crisp day. An uninsured driver of an SUV hit me, resulting in a broken neck (C2) and a leg injury. I was rushed to the ER where the docs “haloed” me and stabilized my leg. Because the halo wasn’t working as hoped, the docs did surgery on my neck two days after the accident. Three or four days later, I was released with an appointment card to see the trauma orthopedist a week or so later. (After my leg was stabilized, no one at the hospital touched it.) Long story short, over the next three years, I had 12 surgeries, one of which left me with MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ). In October of 2011 my new doc did surgery hoping to improve my quality to life. After surgery he told me the inside of my leg looked like a “Greek tragedy.” He said amputation above the knee would give me the best chance for a normal life. Three days later, my left leg was amputated.

I knew NOTHING about prosthetics, amputees, etc. I honestly thought, ok I’ll pick out a leg and everything will be back to normal. I had no idea that a “variety of body parts” was available. Nor did I realize that I wouldn’t be walking as soon as I got my leg.

I was fortunate that my insurance approved a microprocessor knee. Of course my leg is now five plus years old and has needed to be repaired several times. When an amputee’s leg is being repaired, if his prosthetist doesn’t have a “loaner” the amputee is without a leg until his is repaired and returned.

Now I’m 62 years old and pretty used to being an amputee. Unless I have open skin from a blister, I wear my prosthetic leg every day, all day. The one thing that strikes me is how difficult it is for me to get out of bed and put that leg on. It’s not physically or emotionally hard….but I really have to motivate myself. I’m never sure if it will be a good (comfortable) leg day or an okay leg day or a “this isn’t going to work” leg day.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that one’s quality of life is strongly dependent upon the skill and commitment of one’s prosthetist and the type and quality of one’s foot and knee.

There have been so many advances in prosthetics since my amputation. I hear about a leg that I could wear in the shower; a foot that would allow me to walk in my own (rocky) yard, a socket that is adjustable. But I have to remind myself that because it exists doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll ever get it. That’s completely dependent on my health insurance.