When the visiting prosthetist finally came to Guam, I was very excited to get the process started. My parents and I had no idea what to expect. I had never met an amputee prior to becoming one. We showed up at the Skilled Nursing Facility and checked in. I met a few other amputees who had prosthetics, but were not walking with them. Not a good sign, but since I didn’t know any better it didn’t come across as odd. When it was finally my turn, the prosthetist took one look at me and said I’d need to go to their facility in Hawaii. Hooray! A trip!
The prosthetist on Guam had told us to expect the fitting process to take about a month. When I told my boss, she immediately offered to let me stay in a vacant, furnished condo that a good friend of hers owns. That helped out greatly so we wouldn’t have to spend the money on a hotel. The condo was located in Makaha Valley on the Northwest side of Hawaii. It takes about an hour to drive there from Waikiki and a little longer from the airport. It was a nice scenic drive and we got to experience a different part of Hawaii, a part of Hawaii that the tourist industry doesn’t want you to see. Drive a little further north on the western seaside and you start passing a vast homeless encampment on the beach, sheltered under the trees. We were shocked to see all those tents that seemed to stretch for a good half a mile. Makaha Valley was a different place than the picturesque beaches that you normally associate with Hawaii. It was a little bit like Guam.
At the prosthetic office we met Randy, the prosthetist who would be working on my fitting. He was a nice guy. They first start by taking a mold of your residual limbs. They do this with a type of fabric and plaster that once wet, sets in a matter of minutes. They take that mold and fill it with plaster to create a model of your limb. That takes a few days to dry. While it was drying we had a chance to explore the island. It was a good time hanging out with my parents around Hawaii. We went to the flea market around the stadium, visited an aquarium, shopped at Hickam AFB, and even got to meet a Guam friend’s sister.
When we went back to try on the finished legs I was super excited. I put them on and with some guidance from Randy, I stood up. Whoa. Something was not right, I was way taller than my dad! There were some adjustments that needed to be made to the sockets. The sockets are the part of the prosthetic that allow it to attach to the residual limb. There are different types of sockets or suspension systems as they’re known in prosthetic terminology. The types that I had been given were a pin-lock system whereby you roll a liner onto your limb and the end of that liner has a screw-like device that locks into a, well, a lock. I included a picture below. That was what they decided to use for my above knee side–the left side where the femur had to be cut. That will always be my easy-to-fit side. For my right side, or knee disarticulation side (KD), I received a suspension system that wasn’t exactly suction (another, popular type of suspension). Because the KD side had a complete femur and the ends of the femur had bony protuberances, or condyles, they used those condyles as a sort of latch for the socket to hang on to. I’d learn later on that no prosthetic clinic does that. When I told them it was a bit uncomfortable, they told me that I’d have to get used to it. I’d also learn later on that no prosthetic clinic should ever tell you that. I left that day feeling depressed and disappointed.
The fact is I never learned to walk in their setup because it was near impossible for a bilateral above knee amputee to expect to walk they way they’d designed it. I’d learn also that it’s also near impossible for a bilateral amputee to walk on full-length prosthetics right after a traumatic amputation. I realized that this clinic that visits Guam was used to working on below the knee amputees who mostly lost limbs as a result from diabetes. Guam has the highest incidence of diabetes II in the USA. The clinic had never worked on a bilateral above the knee amputee who happened to be super active before losing their limbs. They had no idea what they were doing when trying to fit me, but they gave it their best shot.
View from the condo
A friend’s sister who visited us
Pin-lock system or narwhale as I’d come to call it