What? I thought ongoing maintenance and frequent appointments were a thing of the past? I have to keep on top of my residual limb care? What if I just use bandaids and tylenol and wait for pain to go away and then get frustrated when it doesn’t?!
A few months ago , I had an early morning rush to the Emergency Room. I found a giant lump, which was extremely swollen, on my bikini line after taking my leg off for the night. This is where my socket meets my skin and where most of my body weight rests. Usually, my skin can get quite irritated as the brim of my socket rubs against me.
At work that day I had felt the usual irritation that happens when I wear my leg for long periods of time. SInce the skin near the top of my socket is so sensitive, I use a cloth and fold up my liner to protect it from friction. If the cloth falls down, or my fit isn’t good, it’s very common for me to get cuts and irritation around that area. If I’m feeling particularly angsty I often describe this irritation as, “ Like Indian RugBurn, but you know.. On your private parts.” I decided that when I got off work I would take of my leg and rest.
By the time I arrived home, walking was quite painful. Limping to the door I fumbled with my keys excited at the prospect of having a bath. As soon as I took off my leg, I knew something was wrong; instead of a cut like I had suspected, there was this lump that was a burning red colour. Naturally, I panicked, not only because of my history with bad lumps, but also because I had to work 8 hours the next day and didn’t want to call in sick after just starting this new job.
Ollie managed to calm me down, and quell my worries by saying we’d wait until morning to see what it did. Looking at it, we thought it might be an ingrown hair that might settle by morning, or some kind of “pressure cyst” (whatever that means, home diagnosis at its best). The next day it had gotten far more swollen and grew to about the size of a golf ball. With that incentive we planned our emergency room visit. I was worried about taking the bus to the hospital since I could barely put my leg on. Sidenote: we have no crutches or a wheelchair at our place yet, after moving. This is a good solid reminder that having things on hand is a priority in case of emergencies.
The idea of walking a few hundred meters and making sure the bus driver wouldn’t start driving as I attempted to limp my way onto the bus made me really anxious. Ollie offered to call off work and go on the bus with me. After noticing how much I struggled to take a few steps we opted to take a cab to the hospital.
In the hospital we went through pre-screening, trying to explain my situation. They equated it to a blister or sore like any other. I could understand this, and I acknowledged that a blister is obviously not life threatening, however, I was surprised at how much they minimized it as almost a non- issue, not realizing that it was preventing me from walking at all.
After prescreening and a few hours wait, we were sent into a little curtained room. There was some confusion as to whether I needed my leg off, and I eventually just did it. The doctor, friendly and positive, came in shortly after. He asked to have a look, and ruled it as a very sad ingrown hair. I started laughing at how anticlimactic it all was and was a bit cynical by the fact that an ingrown hair could basically put me into bed-rest. He did ask if he could do an ultrasound because of how infected and swollen it looked.
We beheld my strange fluid baby on the black screen, joking about how young we were to be looking at our new baby and how impossible we thought it was. He decided it wasn’t worth sticking it with a needle to drain the infection, but said if it built any more to come back to emerg the next day. He gave me a prescription for antibiotics and a cream and sent us on our way.
After leaving the hospital, I was more comfortable in my socket to walk. I had moved my garter belt down on the liner. ( My garter belt is a latex article that determines where I keep the suction on my leg). Moving this material lower down means that the suction keeps lower down on my stump. Usually I avoid lowering my garter belt because the end of my stump is very sensitive.Unsurprising considering that is where my leg was amputated. Iit was sketchy suction-wise, but a better compromise than not being able to walk.
I ended up spending the next two days in bed, cancelling the few events we had planned and of course work. By this time, I was just happy I knew what was wrong and it was nothing that would involve surgery or anything worse. These past few weeks my leg easily gets sore or cut. I usually opt for shorts to prevent any more cuts or swelling.
Before this, I would have continued to wear my leg despite the skin issues, spending several days in discomfort only because of my own stubbornness. It was strange for me to experience such a debilitating skin issue after having my prosthesis for such a long time. Honestly, I had grown to really appreciate the consistency of being fitted with a permanent socket and not having to deal with constant appointments or check ups. When something like this occurs, I instantly feel like I’ve gone a step backwards in moving on with my life and it can be quite a jarring reality check that sometimes I am not able to function in the way I want because of my prosthesis. I’m getting better at recognizing the signs of issues or pain and by keeping on top of them I’ll be able to ensure a quality of life where they do not take up more of my days. These situations are expected and can be handled better by more self awareness.