Click the picture for the story of Calypso, the Three Legged Green Sea Turtle, and why she's my symbol

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The birth of robocop (New Leg Brace)

Ok this has been a long freakin' time coming. I have been waiting and hoping to get my new brace since last November. We were introduced to the idea of an electronic leg brace by my orthotist. She had never seen this particular type of brace used before in person; she pounced on us practically the minute we walked in the door.

Come December she sets up a workshop with two reps from Otto Bock who wanted to get the word out about their products, specifically 3 different braces, all of which have computer control over the locking mechanisms of the knees. The one we went with was the Otto Bock 17B500 Sensor Walk, a cool combination of sensors, a motor, and pocket sized computer. They saw how excited I was at the thought of getting a new brace so they came came into town again. This time I got to try the one-size-fits-all model, made made to see if the technology would even work with my particular injury(every injury is unique so not everyone would be able to use this type of brace). This went phenomenally, so we the tug of war with insurance, getting practically everyone who was involved in my recovery to write letters stating how the brace was necessary. Much to my continuing excitement they did approve it eventually. The day after it was approved I went in and got a plaster caste made of my leg, which they shipped off to Minnesota to start production.

After weeks of waiting it was finally in, the object of my hopes and dreams. I went into the orthotist's office with really high hopes only to realize that it was the final fitting before the brace was laminated and finished. It was supposed to take only another week...

...two and a half weeks later we finally get the call. It's in for real this time.

It's sturdy as a rock and weighs just about as much. It's made of compressed polycarbonate (as my dad said “it's the thing Han Solo was encased in!”) around metal supports. It's got fewer straps than the other one, which simplifies putting it on to some degree. It's relatively comfortable with thick padding on the inside.

There's no doubt that it's an improvement over my old wire and hinge brace. The sensors feel when your weight is on the foot, at which point the knee locks. As soon as you lift up your foot it starts the motor which releases the knee lock, locking only after weight returns to the foot again. It's possible for the first time to lean forward and know that the knee isn't going to buckle suddenly, a frequent problem of my old brace. Only if I shift my weight off the heel will it will release the knee, requiring me to keep my foot planted at all times in order to stay standing. Even if the knee does buckle, if you shoot out your foot before you start going down the sensors will relock the knee again; this allows you to stay standing even if you stumble. It hasn't solved all the problems of the old brace but it has some very cool improvements.

Among the bag of tricks this brace has is stairs. I had been trained to do stairs with the other brace but it was always clunky at best, impossible at worst. I completely had to change the position of feet, my gait, and the number of steps I had to take (slowly doing one step at a time). With the new one I'm supposed to be able to go from step to step with each foot (i.e. how you would use stairs with two good legs). Here is the video of me very cautiously trying out this new skill... which wasn't the most graceful attempt ever. This is why I had several people there to catch me before I fell.

Some things will just have to come with time I guess.

The physical requirements of the brace are different but the harder task will be retraining my brain. My old brace required me to hurl my leg forward until I heard the loud click of the knee locking. Since the leg will stay locked even with the knee slightly bent this is unnecessary. The problem is that I've spent so many months listening for the click of the leg that I'm now trained to listen for that auditory cue. The new brace still clicks if you extend it all the way but I no longer need to; if I hear that click I've used too much force.

So now the journey continues with my new brace. I have to play with it, figuring out all its tricks and subtleties. This doesn't really make path any shorter but at least I have a new toy to play with along the way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New Brace Is In

Coming in tomorrow at 3!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Don't actually have a post just a cool song

Not for everyone, it is the offspring. The lyrics are powerful and I think it sort of applies to this blog.

Can't Repeat - The Offspring

Monday, March 14, 2011

Direction and Dance

In the past week there has been a few additions to my life.
First I think I know where I want to head from here. Many of you know I've been struggling to figure out what I want to study in school and what I want to do with my life. Before this I had been focused on teaching at the middle/high school level. I was in my Senior year when the accident happened. After the accident I was all excited about teaching but since then I have been less and less enthusiastic about being in an elementary school classroom; the kids don't want to be there, the pay is lousy, tons of pressure is put on to meet test standards, and the workload is hell. It's not that I didn't know this before but it sounds less and less appealing.

I went to talk with a councilor at the community college where I'm taking a few classes. He suggested instead of scrapping the work I've done so far I should finish my degree and teach at the community college level. This would mean getting a masters degree but it might be worth it. The pay isn't much better but the students actually want to be there (mostly) and you don't have to worry about state qualifying tests determining your employment status. Who knows where I'll go from here but for now it's a good start.

Extracurricular, I've started working with the local community here. It's called Encore Theater; I joined the group after seeing the darkly comic play Books. I met the directors wife and daughter at the local bar, where I told them about my limited experience with theater as a kid. They were excited about the fact that I could understand theater and was interested in working on the plays. They were also excited because I was willing to learn lights and sound and that I'm pretty good with computers. I got a call the next day asking if I wanted to be the Assistant Stage Manager for the play. I accepted immediately.

Since then I've been to two practices. I write down the blocking, or stage directions, and remind people where they're supposed to be during their scenes. I'm in charge when the stage manager isn't there. I can't hop up and down off the stage but there is a really steep ramp that I can use when I need to get on stage for something. It's a good creative outlet and lets me spend time doing something other than physical therapy and recovering from physical therapy.

My last new activity doesn't come with a title but is even more fun. When I go walking I sometimes go past the farm fields into an area of the forest that's open with a thick carpet of pine needles covering the ground. It's here I've been practicing a little bit of dancing.

I got the idea form this guy Lucas "Lazy Legs," a break dancer. I saw him at the start of the Paralymics last spring. If anyone can find a video of his performance I would be very grateful. It inspired me to get out of my comfort zone a little bit and try a few moves. Now those of you who knew me before the accident knew I had two left feet even when I had both legs. So the moves weren't pretty but they were a blast. They still need some work obviously but if I make mistakes I have a soft bed of needles to land on.

So I haven't gone and finished my degree overnight, become a famous actor, or become a master break dancer. But it's the first step down the path. Who knows maybe these things will lead me somewhere I could have never expected.

Still no brace yet. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Trial Brace

So I got to try on the new brace. It's not finished yet because they wanted to make sure everything worked and it was comfortable. It worked pretty well. Here are a few clips of me trying it out. The buzzing sound you here is the motor kicking in at the knee joint. You can see some of the wires poking out going from the knee to the computer. About the size of an iphone, the computer sits in my pocket and emits a series of beeps to tell me that when things are working or not. I'll have to learn that code but other than that things are looking pretty good.

The final brace will be here in a week. They're going to laminate the fiberglass and add the finishing touches to it. I'll let you guys know as soon as it arrives for real.

And check out the video at the bottom. It's a link to Helen Exner's first music video and in my opinion her best song to date. Please check it out and also check out She's got great music and she helped me with a lot of fund raising for free. Seriously consider going to her website and buying one or both of her CDs. You won't regret it.