The owner was a kind German man who had lost his leg to a land mine explosion in World War II. I didn’t speak English and he didn’t speak Polish but through an interpreter we realized we had a lot in common. He knew the history of that region of the world and dealt with the same issues I had dealt with. He told me he wanted to hire an apprentice to learn the field and was willing to teach me how to make and adjust artificial limbs for myself and others. It was a good opportunity because a prosthetic device can cost thousands of dollars and to modify the settings can cost a few hundred more. It was a risky move because I didn't know anything about the prosthetic device field, but I thought it was a good opportunity to learn a new trade and also help myself.
I worked at the private practice for thirteen years but in order to develop more skills and enhance my value I thought it was important to change my work environment. After almost thirty years in the business I became a prosthetist at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
At the VA my main focus is fabricating devices for Veterans. I usually don't work directly with Veterans, which can be challenging because I don’t know if they have scar tissue or nerve ending issues. People with those conditions cannot support a lot of weight because the nerve endings are sensitive and the scar tissue can sometimes bind to the bone which doesn’t allow for the smooth flow of soft tissues. Sometimes I can just see the way they stand or support their weight and know I have to create the prosthetic a little differently.
So in those instances, or if the device is just not fitting properly for some reason, it requires me to personally meet the patient and take an impression myself. There are certain veterans didn’t have success before but that have success with me and it’s very gratifying. There is a ninety-four year old World War II veteran that really sticks out in my mind. He complained that his prosthetic leg was causing him a lot of pain and that he couldn’t walk anymore. I had fabricated legs for him before so I knew his story and offered to help.
“I know you've been struggling for quite some time. I can attempt to make another socket that will make you more comfortable.”
He agreed so I made him another socket. He sat in the waiting room the entire four hours it took me to create it. When he tried it on he couldn’t believe it fit him so well.
“I have been an amputee for sixty-nine years and what the entire VA Department couldn't do in almost seven decades you did by yourself in one day!”
He couldn't believe that all those years he had suffered so much and been in so much pain and now it’s all gone. He is very comfortable and grateful for the time I gave him. He even asked me to convert his spare prosthetic into a similar fitting, which I agreed to do. Since then he hasn’t been in for any modifications.
It’s amazing that different people can do the same work and have it come out differently. It’s like how you can go to a mechanic a million times and they can’t fix your car but you take it to another one and they repair it instantly. It takes talent and dedication to do this job well. I really care about my work and I really get it. If I can make just one person smile it’s all worth it.
Goose Chronicles Outtakes:
“What do you want people to know about amputees?”
“I think there needs to be more understanding from able-bodied people. They have to remember that at one point many of these amputees were athletic and self-sufficient, but because of injury or illness we were given this lot in life. We want your understanding but we don’t want your pity.”
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