I was in SF for an academic conference this weekend. It was terrific in so many ways, but perhaps mostly so because even though I went up and down many hills, my (bionic) knee never once balked or stuttered at the change in incline. That’s a welcome first.
This video shows a team of designers rebuilding clothing mannequins to resemble differently-abled bodies. It’s a moving story, well-worth the few minutes it will take to watch it.
For me, this video highlighted the oddness that I sometimes feel when techs are building the “cosmesis” of my prosthetic leg–the sculpted form that creates the structure to give my metal innards a symmetrical form. They trace my organic leg and then shape firm foam into a matching shape, shaving it down a bit here and there to make it look proportional, and then we test it under clothing to ensure that the fabric flows smoothly and doesn’t bunch up around the knee or gather in odd ways at the hip or crotch. In this process they build me a cosmetic leg with all of the requisite properties of leg-ness, despite it being a completely function-less addition to my body.
Due to still being in a phase where my new prothesis is being adjusted often (like today, it’s just started making a clanking noise as I walk around corners–time to go back in and figure out what’s going wrong), I’m not wearing any cosmesis at all. The asymmetry between my legs makes most clothing looks a bit strange, such as when the right pantleg of my wool trousers flaps back and forth in the wind as I walk across campus, or when I am sitting in a meeting and my right knee comes to an obvious narrow point instead of being neatly rounded like my organic leg.
And while I think my bionic parts are uber-cool looking, at work I rarely wear short skirts or other clothing that shows my metal innards. Because it’s so much easier to “pass” than to have my body be a spectacle to passersby (or colleagues or students). I’m not at all embarrassed of being cyborg, but it adds a layer of inconvenience to my interactions that I prefer not to introduce in my professional setting.
But on the weekends, it’s a different story. Then I wear short skirts and sandals and enjoy letting my robot hang out there for anyone to see.
When we went out shoe shopping recently, Catgirl and I took a rather odd detour from the parking structure to the shopping plaza. We went up the stairs and then up and down the wheelchair ramps twice.
You walk so fast now, she said.
A few weeks into wearing my new Plie 2.0 robotic leg and I am, indeed, a faster walker than before. Particularly downhill–the mechanics and control algorithm for this new leg making downhills so smooth (c-legs, on the other hand, are pretty choppy on the downhill).
In addition to wearing the new knee, I’m also wearing a Fitbit device to mark my number of steps and activity level. My graph over the past two weeks shows some pretty dramatic changes from where I was several months ago (my daily step average increasing from 3483 to 4819 since August):
I’ve noticed only one small glitch with the new knee and that’s that when I have a long stretch of evenly-paced steps, after a few hundred paces it will hiccup a bit and I’ll end up dragging my toe for one step. I imagine that this is some kind of firmware bug that can be ironed out. But it’s a small glitch, and certainly livable except that it tends to affect my full trust of the limb (for the few steps after each hiccup I find myself reticent to put my full weight into a step).
Overall, the new knee technology is even better than I imagined. I still limp and I’m not (yet) running hurdles, but it’s a dramatic improvement over what I had before (yay, technology).