Chapter Two – The Fitting

 

            The next day I went to the prosthetist as instructed. He was fully briefed on the requirements of the job. First he had me remove my blouse. I was a little embarrassed to be exposed with just my bra on, but I knew he was a professional and was used to this. For the next hour he made molds of both of my arms all the way up to my armpits. I had to curl both my hands in the position they would be in when inserted into the sockets of the prosthesis. As this was being done he showed me a pair of hooks. I cringed at the thought of actually wearing them. This was not going to be a piece of cake. They looked so imposing and I still couldn’t imagine having to do day to day tasks with metal hooks.

            “Even though you will have long stumps I am making you a prosthesis for someone who has very short below the elbow stumps,” he said.

            “What does that mean?” I asked.

            “Well for someone with long arm stumps we connect the sockets to the triceps cuff with Dacron straps. That way they can rotate their arms and hence their hooks to get them in a better position. With what you will be wearing there are rigid hinges at the elbows that prohibit any movement. You won’t be able to rotate unless you rotate the hook at the end of your socket.”

            “That will make things harder?”

            “Oh yes, quite a bit. Not as hard as an above the elbow amputee, but almost. I am giving you articulating wrists that will help you a little. You will be able to tilt your hooks to two positions by pressing a little button. Let me show you.”

            He then took an arm with its hook attached and demonstrated the wrist unit and how the hook could be rotated as well as tilted by pressing the button. I couldn’t imagine how I could ever do things with those horrible hooks. I dreaded the thought of appearing in public that way. People would stare I was sure. My hooks would be ready in three days, a rush job. I went home with nothing but dread as to what was to come.

            I continued to imagine the worst while I was waiting for the three days to pass. I busied myself by making an initial reading of the script. I read the part where the young woman learns that her arms have been amputated after the accident and she bursts into tears. I continued to read the parts where she struggles to accept having to use hooks for the rest of her life. She then falls in love with her doctor and eventually learns to fully accept her handicap and marries the doctor. A classic love story with a major twist.

            The morning of the day I was to get my hooks I met Nancy. She came to my apartment around ten. She was a lovely girl around my age. She was able bodied. We chatted for a while before we got to the topic of my hooks.

            “Tami, I hope you understand that you are expected to use your prosthesis full time. That means from the time you wake up until you go to bed. You don’t have to sleep with the arms on, but you can’t use your hands even then. After your fitting you will leave wearing your hooks for the next six months,” Nancy explained.

            “Oh God, you mean today? I won’t have the use of my hands again for six months. I didn’t think it would be so soon. I thought it would be sort of gradual.”

            “It’s much better to get it over with. Once the prosthetist slips your hooks on you will start to live as an amputee woman. I know you can do it. I am here to help you with anything you can’t do. Little by little you will start to be able to do things and need my help less and less. You can probably start driving again in a couple of weeks. By then you might even feel confident enough to go out alone at times. So let’s just get this over with. What do you say?” Nancy asked.

            “Okay. I guess it’s now or never.”

            We arrived at the prosthetists a little while later. I had worn a long sleeve sweater with extra long sleeves as Nancy had instructed. I had also removed all my jewelry from my hands and wrists. I would have no need of that kind of jewelry for quite a while. I took off my sweater and was again just wearing my bra. The prosthetist noticed that I still had long fingernails and nail polish on. I never thought of that. He had me remove the polish with remover and then clip my nails as short as I could get them. I was mortified at the unfeminine look, but quickly realized no one would see my nails. Instead they would see two shiny metal hooks.

            “These are you stump socks,” the prosthetist said as he slid long white socks over my arms. They were closed at the ends where my hands were. I curled up my hands and he pulled them up as tight as they would go. They ended at my armpits. He smoothed them out and then brought over my prosthesis with its two hooks. It looked very heavy, and it was.

            “Well Tami, this is the moment you have probably dreaded. When I slip you into your prosthesis your hands are essentially gone for six months.”

            I almost started to faint at the thought. This was it. The use of my hands would end in a moment or two. “Oh God, I guess it’s now or never,” I said.

            “Now slip your right arm into the socket and push it down as I hold the socket for you. Nancy will show you how to get in and out of your hooks by yourself later.”

            The socket felt tight as my curled up hand slid down to bottom out at the end of the socket. The prosthetist gently bent my arm at the elbow. My entire arm felt rigid because of the hinge at the elbow. I couldn’t move my fingers more than fraction of an inch. I knew that in a short time I would lose the sensation that I had a hand since I couldn’t move it.

            Next the prosthetis had me slip my other arm into the left socket and he positioned the harness over my shoulders. It suddenly hit me that both my hands were gone now. Things would be very different from now on. The prosthetist spent the next ten minutes adjusting the cables and straps. The prothesis felt heavy and I felt the harness over my back just above my bra band. I remembered that there was a large metal ring that would be just below my neck between my shoulder blades. My prosthesis would not be comfortable. At times my bra drove me crazy and I could only imagine how difficult it would be to wear my hooks for sixteen hours a day. I can’t describe the feelings that ran through me. I suddenly felt incredibly handicapped. My hands were gone. In fact my arms were pretty much gone since so much of them was encased in the long sockets and the triceps cuffs above my elbows. I looked at the control cables that ran down my arms and were then connected to the small lever arms on my hooks. Could I get used to being like this every day? I just didn’t know. I felt very vulnerable as well.

            “Okay Tami, now I want you to try to open your right hook by moving your shoulder forward,” the prosthetist instructed.

            I did as he asked and much to my amazement the hook opened. I didn’t realize that it would be fairly easy to do this. Only a very subtle shrug of my shoulder was required. I had actually done it. For the next few minutes he had me open and close the hooks and even pick up simple objects. He explained how to rotate the hooks and use the little button to articulate the wrist. He pointed out how the rigid hinges made it impossible for me to rotate my lower arms at all.

            “Learning to rotate your hooks manually will be difficult. Nancy will have to help you master that. A lot of what it takes to use your hooks is learning how to get them in the right position to do things. That will take lots of time. I want you back here in a week to make some final adjustments to your harness after you have used your hooks for a while. You can then tell me if you want more or less cable length. Only you can decide the way you want your hooks. Also you might want to experiment with the number of rubber bands on each hook. Nancy can change them for you. Next time I see you I bet you will feel more like a pro.” He said with a smile. I didn’t know about that.

            I was helped back into my sweater. I looked in the mirror and saw what I now looked like, a normal woman except that I had hooks for hands. The image was a bit shocking. I knew that I would look very handicapped to the world. I knew people would feel sorry for me the instant they saw my two hooks where my hands should have been. We left the shop and Nancy had to drive now that I had my hooks on. She had told me I would be able to drive when I had a special driving ring attached to my steering wheel. That would be in a week or two when I was more comfortable using my hooks.

            “Are you hungry?” Nancy asked.

            “Yes, we can make a sandwich when we get back,” I said.

            “Actually I thought we could stop off someplace,” Nancy replied.

            “But I have these on,” I said lifting my hooks.

            “So? You will always have them on and now is no different from the way it will be.”

            “Oh God, people will see me and I don’t know how to eat with these things.”

            “Hooks. Just call them your hooks. They are your hands now. No time like the present to start learning to use them.”

            All this was coming too fast. I was about to start to live in the public world as an arm amputee using two prosthetic hooks for everything. I knew the remainder of the day would be an experience I would not ever forget.

 

Chapter Three