In many ways, the relationship that the amputee develops with his or her prosthetist is more important than the one which was developed with the surgeon. It wasn't until after my amputation that I realized the minimal role the surgeon plays. My prosthetist has become my first line of defense against residual limb issues, and my surgeon is only contacted when all other remedies have been tried and have been deemed unsuccessful.
I was encouraged to research and to choose a prosthetist before my surgery, so I went on the Internet and located prosthetists in my area. I then asked several amputees in my area who they used, and if they were happy with the care that they were receiving. I was surprised how many amputees were not satisfied with their prosthetic care. With so many prosthetists in my area, I remain confused why an amputee would stay with prosthetists that they did not like, or whom they felt was providing inadequate care.
I have learned volumes since my amputation about prosthetics and prosthetists. I have discovered that all practices do not operate the same, and that there are vast variations among both the limbs that are manufactured and the care that is offered.
I sought an office where I was a person, not merely a patient. I remember calling my prosthetists office after my amputation to schedule my first appointment. Liz, the office receptionist, answered the phone. I immediately started crying and I couldn't talk. Without hesitating, she told me that it was going to be okay, and listened to me blurt out my name as I told her that I had an amputation. She immediately pulled Elliot out of a meeting and put him on the phone. I'm sure that she does not remember this act of gentle kindness, but I will never forget. This compassion and level of patient support is the underlying personality of this office.
It is important that an open line of communication exists between the practitioner and the amputee. In many ways, I view Elliot as my facilitator. I explain my dreams or my goals, and he provides me with the tools that I need to move forward. He never tells me that I shouldn't do something, or that I am unrealistic.
Although I didn't appreciate the information when initially explained to me, I now understand the importance of having my prosthetics manufactured and serviced "in house." When I need an adjustment or a repair on my limb, it is done immediately. I cannot imagine the inconvenience of having my leg shipped somewhere off site for a repair, leaving me without my limb for days or weeks on end. For me, that would be unacceptable!
Not only does the prosthetist need to remain open to the needs and desires of the amputee, I want him to remain current with new technology. I have been shocked and disheartened to discover how many prosthetists are against incorporating bionic technology into their limbs. Many prosthetists, especially those who have been in the field for a long time, have not received training on computerized limb components. Rather than learning new skills, they simply deny the opportunity to their patients.
I cringe when I hear an amputee tell me that their prosthetist won't let them try new technology, dismissing the bionic component as "unnecessary." In my experience, and in my opinion, it should be left to the amputee to judge whether or not a component works. After all, the amputee is the person wearing the device. I appreciate the prosthetist that says, "I don't know if this will work for you, but we can get one in and give it a try."
When I have an issue with the fit of my socket, typically I can be worked into the office schedule the same day. There is little more than can ruin an amputees day than an ill-fitting, uncomfortable socket. Elliot is able to understand my sometimes clumsy explanation of what I am feeling and will work on my leg until it is remedied.
I remember calling Elliot in a panic because my socket suddenly became unwearable. It was rubbing on the side of my stump, causing me to limb noticeably and it was painful to walk. I needed to get my leg adjusted immediately because a family trip to the "Wiggle World" amusement park was scheduled the next day. I couldn't bare disappointing Robby!
Elliot had me come into the office immediately and worked on my socket for several hours. He worked past the typical closing time because he valued my need to walk comfortably. He understood that an uncomfortable socket would ruin a family trip. He never complained about staying and worked until he found a remedy. Having a prosthetist that understands and values the needs of the individual is a true blessing!
I don't understand why an amputee would stay with a practitioner whom they felt was providing inadequate care. I hear stories of prosthetists dismissing the needs of the amputee or belittling the individual. One would never stay with a hair stylist who continually ruined my hair, so why stay with a prosthetist who is not providing with a comfortable and functional limb? It is okay to change a prosthetist if needs are not being met!
Choosing a prosthetist is a decision that should be carefully weighed. I looked for an individual who was compassionate, knowledgeable, innovative, accessible and equipped to manufacture and repair on site. Above all, having a working rapport with the professional is paramount. They should be part of the team, but the amputee should always be the leader. After all, we are the ones wearing the devices everyday, and ultimately we know what we need.