People often ask me, "What does it feel like to walk with a prosthetic?" It is a normal curiosity, and a question I myself posed before I became an amputee. It was only after I started to walk on my prosthetic leg did I realize that it is nearly impossible to describe.
How do you describe sensations that have never been felt by the listener? In many ways, it is akin to trying to describe colors to a blind man, or Chopin to the deaf individual. Because this is a common question by both the new amputee and their loved ones, I always do my best to provide an accurate description.
When I first put on my IPOP (Immediate Post Operative Device) after my amputation and tried to stand, I vividly remember crying. I was terrified that I was never going to learn to balance on a prosthetic leg. I was convinced that I was going to be resigned to a wheelchair or to crutches for life.
During that first experience, it felt as if I was trying to balance on a tennis ball. I could not find my center and struggled to stay erect. The more I tried to balance, the more difficult it became. In many ways, my anxiety resulted in tension and failure.
Learning to relax is easier said than done. Between the surgical pain and the physical and psychological effects of limb loss, stress and tension are commonplace. Eventually, I removed the pressure I was placing upon myself. I decided that I would try a little every day, and eventually I would succeed.
My going slow, easy-does-it plan worked. By the time I was able to be fit with my first prosthetic, I had developed a relatively strong sense of balance. So, what was my first impression when I put on my prosthetic?
I was shocked with how heavy the leg felt. As the suction sock was rolled up, it felt as if a log was being strapped to my newly formed residual limb. I wasn't expecting the leg to feel so heavy after it was "strapped on." Luckily, my prosthetist was correct, and the weight wasn't an issue once I became mobile.
I imagined that walking on a prosthetic would feel similar to walking with a plaster cast. I was wrong. Although I am sure that every amputee perceives the sensations in a different manner, my first experience with a prosthetic leg felt more like I was walking with a heavy ice skate.
When your foot is in an ice skate, your ankle has little if any mobility. I had to rely upon my other leg muscles to balance because my ankle was unresponsive (due to it being amputated) just as it would have been unresponsive when confined in a skate. In addition to being difficult to balance, skates can feel both foreign and heavy. All of these sensation were prevalent during my first experiences with my prosthetic.
With practice I have learned how to walk with my prosthetic. I am sure that every amputee has a different answer to the "what does it feel like" question. In any case, I hope that my description is helpful to those who are curious.