I’m sitting at a coffee shop with two friends, recounting a rushed morning earlier this week when I needed to get ready and out the door unexpectedly and in a big hurry.
“I didn’t have time to take my leg off after working out,” I say. “So I did a quick sponge bath in the sink. It was a mess!” I shake my head, laughing.
My friends laugh, too, knowing that I am referring to my prosthetic leg, and then one says, “That’s not something you usually hear—that you didn’t have time to take your leg off, you know.”
I laughed and agreed that it certainly was not typical. Since then I have had the realities of my morning routine on my mind. Many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses have far more difficult or time-consuming morning routines than I do, that’s for sure. And I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. Yet I do think that most people have no idea what it takes for me, or any other above-knee amputee, to get ready for the day.
Wake up, grab my crutches, proceed carefully to the bathroom to use the toilet, and then back to the far corner of the bedroom. Sit in a chair, unplug both the computerized knee and the air pump on my prosthesis. Pull the blue silicon liner most of the way onto my leglet, smear Vaseline across my skin where I will sweat and the edge of the prosthetic socket will rub, pull the liner up the rest of the way. Add the wick, which is a slick cap for the liner, then slide on the thin sleeve of ridged silicon, lining it up so that the edge covers the wick and makes contact with the liner all the way around, while leaving sufficient loose material at the top to form a seal with the stiff, molded-plastic crown that I slide on next.
Holding all of this contraption together with one hand, stand up on tip toe and endeavor to line up the little knobs on the front and back of the crown with the corresponding holes on my prosthetic socket before pushing my leglet in until the knobs snap into the holes.
Assuming all that works out—it often takes a couple of tries—press the button on the pump embedded in my socket and wait while it sucks out air to create a consistent pressure to hold my socket in place. This usually takes at least two attempts before it reaches optimal pressure, which the pump communicates to me with varying series of beeps.
Next I pull on some workout gear, swallow a handful of pills, and make tea. Most mornings I ride a specially arranged exercise bike for about 45 minutes.
Then I go back to my bedroom, release the air pressure in my socket, remove my prosthesis and all four of the things I wear under it, and crutch carefully to the bathroom again. I maneuver into the shower and onto my shower chair, shower, dry off carefully because dripping water on the floor can make my crutches slide out from under me, and slowly make my way to the chair to repeat the donning of my prosthesis and its accessories.
Of course, that assumes that I don’t need to change my shoes, because that involves changing the shoe on my prosthetic foot before I put the prosthetic leg on. And if I am wearing narrow legged pants or leggings, I need to put those on the prosthesis after I remove the old shoe but before I wrestle the new shoe onto my stiff prosthetic foot. If I forget, I have to take the new shoe back off the prosthetic foot, which involves tugging and pushing with a shoe horn, before pulling on the pants and then attaching the shoe all over again, using a shoe horn and an amount of force worthy of Thor.
The remainder of my morning routine probably looks more or less like other privileged women’s, although I can’t be bothered with make-up.
I am not ashamed of these intimate processes, any more than I am ashamed of other normal bodily maintenance, like using the toilet, washing myself in the shower, or getting dressed. But they are private, and hence not generally something I talk about to others.
Describing the process of donning my equipment and becoming a cyborg again every morning feels strange but also really good. Being honest feels energizing. And like everyone else, I can use all the energy I can get in the morning.