The Milwaukee Brace
On Saturday I went shopping to buy more clothes that would fit over
my brace. I got some larger sized pants and a couple of pairs of shorts.
My tops all seemed to fit over the brace and so I didn’t have to buy any
just then. The more normal things I did wearing my brace the less I was
aware I had it on. Doing things that I normally did bending were
becoming more natural with the new techniques I found. Dan picked me up
for dinner that night.
“Do you mind if we make a quick stop at my shop? You may remember the
pair of hooks I showed you that were for a woman about your age. She
called me and told me that one of her elbow joints was acting up. It
occasionally would not lock and then she can’t open her hook.”
“Sure, I would like to meet her,” I replied.
Dan and I got to the shop a few minutes before Ann and her husband
arrived. I was a bit stunned when she came in. I could see her two hooks
showing below the blue sweater she was wearing.
“Hi Ann, this is Kim, my girlfriend. Do you mind if she helps us?”
“Not at all,” Ann replied. We headed into the shop proper.
“Kim, would you mind helping Ann get her sweater off?” Dan asked.
I helped Ann off with her top. I could now see all of her prosthesis.
I couldn’t imagine living without arms and using hooks. She seemed
perfectly at ease though. Dan tinkered with her left elbow joint.
“I will need you to take off your prosthesis,” Dan said.
Dan held the harness while Ann slipped her stumps out of the sockets.
I could then see just how short her arms were. Each arm ended at what I
guessed was slightly above the midpoint between her shoulders and where
I estimated her elbows to be. She had on some kind of socks over her
stumps. I figured these were to make it more comfortable to have her
stumps inside the sockets. She wiggled her stumps around a little.
“Kim, would you mind helping me change my stump socks?” Ann asked.
“Of course not,” I replied.
“ I have a clean pair in my purse.”
After I got the clean stump socks I pulled off the two socks she was
wearing. This revealed her two bare stumps. I could see the scarring
where the stumps had been stitched after amputation.
“Well this is what my arms look like now. Not too useful. Without my
hooks I am really pretty helpless,” Ann said. “I see you have some kind
of brace on.”
“It’s a Milwaukee brace for a spinal problem I have. I wear it 23
hours a day.”
“Oh God, that must be uncomfortable,” Ann said.
“Well it must be difficult for you as well not having arms,” I
“I have had hooks for so many years I have forgotten what it’s like
to have arms and hands. I don’t mind. I can’t do everything I would like
to do, but I can do enough. My husband needs to do things like shave my
legs and bathe me. He also dresses me. There is no way I can put on a
bra or any kind of top that goes over my head. I can pull up my panties
and a skirt or pants though. I can do my own makeup with my hooks.”
“How come you don’t have those artificial hands that I have seen?” I
“Oh I tried them, but they may look nice, but hooks are so much
better for doing things. I know they don’t look good, but I really don’t
care about that anymore. I just want to be able to do things,” Ann
“Do you wear your hooks all the time?” I asked.
“Well most of the time when I am not sleeping. I don’t sleep in my
hooks. Without my hooks I am really helpless. I can do some simple
things with my toes, but since I hardly ever do I am not very good at
it. Sometimes after dinner I take my hooks off. My husband does what I
can’t do then. If I want a drink her gets it with a straw,” Ann
explained. “You said you wear your brace 23 hours a day. You mean you
sleep in it?”
“Oh yes. I only take it off to bathe in the morning or if I change
clothing. It’s usually only off for less than an hour total a day. IU
had to get used to sleeping. That’s not easy. Not being able to ever
bend at the waist is the biggest problem.”
“That ring around your neck can’t be fun,” Ann said.
“Oh yeah. The neck ring is a pain. If I didn’t have the damn neck
ring people would hardly notice I had a brace on.”
“Well the best I can do is wear a real long sleeved top and let the
sleeves hide my hooks. Of course the moment I do something with one of
my hooks the game is over,” Ann said.
“I tried that with a turtle neck top,” I said as we both laughed.
“Would you show me your brace?” Ann asked.
“Sure,” I replied and proceeded to take off my top. I also removed my
skirt so Ann could see my pelvic girdle. I turned around so she could
see my two rear bars.
“That looks like a torture device,” Ann said laughing.
“I guess it sort of is,” I replied also laughing.
“I can see why you can’t bend at the waist at all,” Ann said. “I
still can’t imagine what it must be like having that neck ring around
your neck all the time.”
As I was putting my skirt and top back on, Dan came back with Ann’s
“All set now. You shouldn’t have any more problems,” Dan said.
Ann slipped her right stump into the right arm’s socket and then her
left stump into the left socket as Dan positioned her harness.
“Try out the lock,” Dan requested.
Ann locked and unlocked her elbow joint and raised and lowered her
“That’s great,” Ann said.
I still couldn’t imagine how it must feel to have no arms and only
two hooks and having to manipulate elbow joints to raise and lower my
arms. I helped her with her top.
“Dan and I are going out to dinner; would you and your husband like
to join us?” I asked for some reason. I wanted to see more of Ann using
her hooks. They really fascinated me. Somehow wearing a Milwaukee brace
seemed inconsequential compared to using hooks.
Ann and her husband agreed and we met at the restaurant. As I sat
down my brace rode up as it usually did and my neck ring got higher.
However, I was getting used to being uncomfortable. At least I had arms
and hands. I watched as Ann held the menu with her hooks. We ordered
some drinks. Ann had a glass of wine. I was amazed at how she could hold
the glass by the stem to drink. When or meals arrived I was totally
fascinated watching Ann eat with her hooks. Her husband cut up her food
into small pieces for her and she used her right hook to hold her fork
and somewhat awkwardly got the food to her mouth by bending over to meet
the fork. I noticed her locking and unlocking her elbows.
“You do that so easily,” I commented.
“It took me a long time to get used to my hooks, but it is second
nature to me now. I still get a bit frustrated when I can’t do
something,” Ann said. “I can’t try clothing on when I shop since my
husband can’t go into the women’s fitting rooms.”
“I wouldn’t mind helping you some time,” I offered.
“That would be wonderful,” Ann said. We exchanged telephone numbers
and agreed to get together.
After I got home and Dan left, I couldn’t stop thinking about Ann’s
hooks. I knew I was enjoying experiencing life wearing a Milwaukee
brace. Would I also enjoy having two prosthetic hooks and using them
full time? Since I wasn’t an amputee I didn’t see how that would be
possible. What would it be like wearing both a Milwaukee brace and a
pair of prosthetic hooks?