Josie gets roped in (Part 1 of 2)

By JohnA

Hi; I’m Josie in legbraces -- and by now you all know how I got that way.

It was coming up to a holiday long weekend, and I was wondering what to do with myself.
Jamie was working that weekend; so he couldn’t come to visit me, nor come over to see his father and meet me at Aunt Emma’s -- in fact, he would be so tied up doing relief overtime at the Orthotics department, that there wasn’t even any point in me going to visit him.

I contemplated going to see Aunt Emma anyway; but I remembered that on the last couple of occasions I’d visited, she seemed to become tired rather easily -- and I had apologised for the extra work I must be causing her when I was around.
“Not at all!” she had insisted “It’s only your cheerful zest for life that is keeping me going! Before you started visiting me, I was beginning to get weary of life; nowadays I may be exhausted by your exuberance -- but that’s a much nicer state of affairs!”
Nevertheless, since I had seen her only the previous weekend, I thought I ought to allow her a bit of rest and peace before ‘invading’ her again.

I tried ringing Neil; but there didn’t appear to be anyone in.
The next number in my phone book was Tania -- and I did get an answer. “Hi Josie!” Tania said “How are you doing?” “I’m at a bit of a loose end” I replied “I’ve just tried to ring Neil, but couldn’t get an answer”. “You wouldn’t have,” Tania said “the Carters have gone away for a short holiday together -- and I’m missing Neil already. Hey..... why don’t you come over to us for the weekend?” “That would be lovely!” I replied “But you’ll have to give me instructions for how to get to your place”.

After I’d finished at the end of Thursday, I went home, changed into my ‘best’ legbraces, packed a few things into my car, and then set off for Tania’s. Her directions had been quite good, but in the failing light I did miss one turning off a country lane. A bit further on there was a small filling station, where I stopped to ask.
“Can you describe this friend of yours?” the man asked.

“She’s about the same age as me” I replied, somewhat hesitantly, as I’m not very good at describing people, “with medium length darkish brown hair framing a pretty face. She’s got a smooth complexion, is quite well developed, and has a very energetic personality” I finished lamely, wondering how many girls that vague description might fit.
The man scratched his head and thought deeply. “I know most of the families in the immediate area” he finally suggested “but the only ‘Tania’ I can think of is a girl who lost both her legs”.
“That’s the one!” I sang out happily.
He gave me an exasperated smile as if to say ‘Then why didn’t you say so?’ ..... and pointed out the turning I’d missed just down the road.

A few minutes later I had arrived, parked in their driveway, and knocked on the door, which was promptly opened. “Hi Josie!” came a voice from waist level “Come on in!” I crutched along behind Tania as she scooted along the hall into the living room.
Her parents both welcomed me; but Mrs Pomeroy seemed a little concerned: “It’s so nice to see you again” she said “and Tania has been looking forward to your company. But the trouble is, I’m sure you’ll want a room all to yourself to sleep in -- and we’re right in the middle of redecorating the spare room at the moment”. “I don’t want to put you to any trouble” I replied “and I’m not the least bit fussy -- I’m quite happy to sleep on the couch”.
“I told you Josie would fit in” Tania said “Let her sleep with me: my bed is bigger than average, yet I only need barely half of any ordinary sized one -- there’ll be plenty of room for both of us”. I was quite happy about sharing -- and Mrs Pomeroy began to relax.

By the time we’d all had supper, it was getting late and time to turn in.
Tania’s bed was almost a double bed -- there was certainly plenty of room for both of us. After we had undressed and I had removed my legbraces and we were both getting into bed, I commented about the size of the bed: “I don’t think I thrash around in my sleep” I said “And at least there’s no risk of my legs accidentally kicking your tender stumps”. “Oh, they’re not sore or tender at all these days” she replied “They’re just like any other part of my body -- just a bit on the short side!” As she spoke, she guided my hand to feel one of her stumps: what there was of it really did feel just like any normal thigh.

Tania then delicately gripped one of my ankles and gently pulled it towards her -- she seemed fascinated by the way my useless legs just followed without any resistance. “You said you still have full feeling and sensation?” she asked -- and started stroking the sole of my foot.
“Eeeek! Stop it!!” I shrieked.

“My -- you are ticklish!” Tania grinned.
“That’s the trouble -- I am” I admitted; “When I’m tickled, the nerves trigger off all the usual reflex reactions which should result it my foot arching and twitching -- but nothing actually happens or moves, so there’s nothing to counter the stimulus”. “I’ll have to remember that in case you ever do anything to annoy me and I want to get my own back!” she murmured with a mischievous grin.
“I can’t leave you with your knee sticking into your ear” Tania then said “Whereabouts do you want me to put your legs back?” “With the luxury of the width of the bottom half of your bed” I replied “it would make a nice change for them to be splayed out instead of together” ..... and she kindly positioned my legs for me.

And then we drifted off to sleep; Tania had been missing Neil, and I had been missing Jamie -- but together, we didn’t feel lonely any more.

The following morning when we got out of bed and dressed, Tania put on her artificial legs. She still preferred the “mechanical” look of them in their endoskeletal form; although she did also show me the cosmetic covering for them, which however she hardly ever used.

Shortly after we had finished breakfast, Tania’s friend Kathy arrived.
After exchanging greetings with me, she turned to Tania: “Are my toys in their usual place?” she asked. “Yes, in my bedroom” Tania replied “Help yourself”. Mrs Pomeroy smiled as Kathy scampered up the stairs; and told us that she was going out now, adding that she hoped that we would enjoy ourselves.
Kathy reappeared -- now wearing the two hooks that Neil had managed to get for her.
She pulled a small vanity case out of her shoulder-bag, and started applying some make-up to her little face; being petite, she felt she needed to compensate for looking younger than her age.

Then the telephone rang. It was almost out of Tania’s reach; instead of getting to her ‘feet’ to go across to it, she leant over sideways, using her metal legs to counterbalance, and could just reach and press the ‘Hands-free’ button. “Hello -- Pomeroys” Tania announced.
“This is Alan Mullins from the Limb Centre” came the voice from the loudspeaker “Could I speak to Mrs Pomeroy?”

“Hello Alan” Tania called “Mum’s not in at the moment; it’s Tania here”.
“Oh, hello Tania; I didn’t recognise your voice -- it seemed to have a sort of echo to it” he responded. “That’s probably because I’ve got the phone in ‘hands-free’ mode” Tania explained.
“You said your mother’s gone out” he asked; “does that mean you’re there on your own?”
“No: my friend Josie is staying this weekend” she replied; “I may have mentioned her to you before? And another friend Kathy has just come over for the day”
“Anyway: what were you ringing about?”

“Young Felicity Draper has an appointment for a fitting today” he said.
“I’ve met Felicity once” Tania responded “but I thought her myo-electric hand wasn’t going to be ready for ages yet?”
“That’s correct;” he explained “And unfortunately the delivery date has now been delayed even further. But a conventional split-hook prosthesis for her was finished yesterday, and I’d like to give her the opportunity to start using that as soon as possible, rather than leaving it until next week”.

“That sounds good;” Tania said, “but why did you want to speak to Mum?”
“Actually, I was trying to get hold of the Carters in the first instance” he admitted, “but there didn’t seem to be anyone in”.
“That’s right; they’ve all gone away for a few days” Tania explained. “So what were you after -- can we help?

He paused; and then spoke in a quieter voice: “Are you sure your mother’s not there? - - - - You’ll remember that when you started attending the Clinic, your mother was rather ‘over-protective’ about you; but if you can imagine it, Mrs Draper is even worse!”

“Because we would not normally be open today” he continued “neither Betty nor the receptionist are here; in fact, I’m on my own. When Mrs Draper knew that, she insisted that she should be with her daughter in the consulting room! Of course, that’s perfectly within her rights; and if it had been anyone else, I wouldn’t have worried. But I don’t see how I’m going to make any progress with Felicity -- or even be able to keep my cool -- with her mother forever interrupting with unhelpful ‘suggestions’!”
“So I was hoping that I could get someone in, either to act as ‘chaperone’, or else to keep Mrs Draper occupied and out of my way”.

“Would it help if we came over to give you some moral support?” Tania suggested.
“I’d certainly welcome your company” he replied; “though I wouldn’t ask you to put yourselves out just for me”
“But the other thing is that the reason I was trying to contact the Carters was to see either if Neil could come over to show Felicity how to use her hook, or else to find out what happened to my demonstration hooks”.

There was a pause. Kathy looked at us -- then swallowed, and called out:
“Mr Mullins? You don’t know me, but I’m Kathy Fisher. I know exactly where your demonstration hooks are -- I’m wearing them this very moment. But I never realised you might need them back; I’m afraid we’ve shortened the cables -- so you might not be able to use them on yourself any more”.

He took that in; then spoke again: “Hello Kathy; I did half suspect that Neil wanted them for some reason like that. How good are you at using them?”
“Pretty good:” Kathy replied proudly; “I’m nowhere near as good as Neil -- but I can do most everyday things with them”.

“How old are you, Kathy?” he asked gently.
“Oh, not you too!” she burst out; “It’s not fair; everybody asks me that, just 'cos I look as though I’m barely fifteen. But I’m not! I’m really seventeen ..... next birthday”.

There was another pause -- and then Mr Mullins spoke again: “I expect you girls have planned lots of exciting things to do today; but if you did have a chance to drop by the Clinic for a little while, I really would be grateful”.
Tania’s response was immediate: “Both Neil and I promised you we’d always be willing to help with any new patient of yours; and I certainly don’t intend to go back on my word. Of course, I can’t speak for Josie, but.....”
This time, I called out: “I have done a bit of voluntary work in my fiancé’s orthotics department; it’s not really the same field -- but if there’s anything I can do to help, you can definitely count me in”.

We hadn’t expected Kathy to get involved, as so far she had only been ‘playing’ with the hooks, and had no previous experience of this sort of thing. But a look of determination spread across her face. “Mr Mullins ..... please can I come too?”
I could hear the relief in his voice as he replied “That would be absolutely fantastic -- you may be able to save my sanity!”

“When would you like us there?” we asked.
“Felicity’s appointment isn’t until two o'clock” he replied “but it would help if you could arrive a bit before that”.
We looked at each other, and exchanged shrugs and smiles. “We haven’t actually planned anything for the day yet” Tania admitted “so we can come as soon as you like. In fact, if Josie can drive us into town, we could be with you in about half an hour”.
“I haven’t got any other appointments at all today,” he said; “you can come over whenever you like -- I’ll certainly enjoy meeting you all”.

We were all pretty much ready to go out, and fully dressed (both as regards clothes and appliances), so we made our way outside to my car. I noticed that Tania was rolling towards it, now in her wheelchair. “Providing that’s a folding one” I commented “We should be able to squeeze it in the back somewhere”.
“Oh..... I wasn’t thinking” Tania replied “This is just force of habit to take a chair with me. Come to think of it, I probably won’t need it -- but it’ll be an excuse to see if it does fit in your car”.
It did just fit in the back, along with Kathy: I wanted Tania to sit in the front passenger’s seat to give me directions.
I noticed that Tania and I both got into our seats in much the same way: By lowering ourselves backwards in through the door, then hauling our legs in, and finally manipulating our feet into position in the floor-well.

Tania navigated me in to town and into the Limb Centre car-park.
Mr Mullins welcomed us in, and Tania introduced him to Kathy and me.
I had been working on the assumption that he would be a rather serious and even overly ‘professional’ man -- after all, he had been responsible for fitting out two bilateral amputees to my knowledge. But in fact, he was very friendly, and not the least bit ‘superior’ towards us.
Mind you, he must have been almost literally tearing his fair out earlier in the day: his tie was loosened and untidy, and his hair was ruffled.

“We can’t have you looking scruffy for Mrs Draper!” Kathy said cheekily; then she reached up with her hooks, straightened his tie and squared up the knot. Next she pulled open his breast pocket, and peered inside; she found a comb in it, and proceeded to tidy up his hair!
He looked at her in admiration. “I was going to ask you in more detail how competent you were” he commented with a smile “But you’ve just shown me how good you really are!”
“Thank you, Mr Mullins Sir” Kathy shyly replied.
“Can we drop the ‘Mister’ formalities?” he said “If we’re going to be working as a team today, you all call me ‘Alan’.”

“You’ve certainly proved how adept you are” Alan said to Kathy “but you won’t actually need to demonstrate to Felicity for a few hours yet -- so you can take them off and relax for a while”. “But I don’t want to take them off” Kathy said “I like them, and want to use them all the time”.
Alan gave her a slightly puzzled look. “I’ve heard of the terms ‘pretenders’ and ‘wannabes’,” he said “although I had assumed they didn’t really exist. But you do seem to be one. Part of my mind is telling me I ought to be horrified at the idea; but another part is telling me that you seem so natural about the whole thing. And I must say that the over-riding factor is that you should be the ideal person to teach Felicity how to use her hook -- so I don’t have any valid cause to complain”.

“I should offer you a cup of coffee” Alan continued “and I’m ready for one myself. But I’m afraid I’m not very ‘domesticated’, and ummm ..... the receptionist usually makes it for me” he ended apologetically.
“Don’t worry, I know where the kitchen area is” Tania cheerily replied “so I’ll go and make the coffee”. Kathy started to follow her: “Let me give you a hand; or rather, should I say ..... a hook?”

“I gather Tania’s already met Felicity” I said to Alan “but I haven’t; what happened to her?”
“She gashed her right hand badly on some barbed wire on some waste ground” he explained. They stitched her up, and thought she’d be okay. But there must have been a horrendously vicious cocktail of bugs on that dirty barbed wire -- and her hand rapidly went septic. They managed to pump her full of antibiotics just in time to save her life; and even then, she was in a coma for several days. Fortunately she pulled through with no damage to her internal organs”
“But during that time, the necrosis had progressed too far for them to be able to save her hand -- and indeed they had no choice but to amputate below the elbow to prevent the septicæmia from advancing any further up her arm”.
Alan noticed me shudder, and apologised for the gruesome details.

I tried to tell him that I wasn’t that squeamish; but it’s difficult to explain that there’s more to it than that. You see .....
At one level, I don’t think of myself as being handicapped; I just wear legbraces in much the same way that someone else might wear spectacles, or ridiculously high stilettoes which are near impossible to walk in.
But I do fully accept that I am in fact disabled (and am classified as being quite severely so); and that means that I have a very strong affinity with other disabled people. So much so in fact, that sometimes when I’m with able-bodied friends, I find myself thinking “She’s got nice looking legs -- I bet they’d look even better in braces”; or “I really get on well with such-and-such -- if only they were disabled too, we’d have even more in common” ..... but I know full well in my heart that I would never wish the anguish or agony of an illness or injury on anyone.
I’m sorry, I was rambling there; let’s get back to the story.

At that point, Tania and Kathy returned with the coffees. I noticed that Kathy had now removed the make-up she had applied earlier. Although she now looked rather young, I thought her natural look was much prettier than her earlier contrived ‘adult’ look.

“Felicity’s a plucky kid” Alan continued “and has made a remarkable recovery. The idea of getting her a life-like myo-electric hand was at Mrs Draper’s insistence; but I’m pretty confident that Felicity will take to a split-hook prosthesis -- especially as her stump is now healed enough to fit one, but the myo won’t be ready for some time yet. In fact, I have high hopes that Felicity will become another ‘success story’ from this Centre -- if only her dratted mother doesn’t hold her back by mollycoddling her!”

Alan brought out the hook that he’d prepared for Felicity; it was much the same as the ones Kathy was wearing, so there would be no complications or inconsistencies there.
Then he looked at the clock. “I’ll pop out to get some lunch from the sandwich bar across the street” he suggested. “If one of you don’t mind staying behind in case the phone rings, the others can come with me to tell me what fillings you’d like”. I was used to that sort of thing, so volunteered to stay behind.

They hadn’t gone long when the phone DID ring. “Limb Centre; Reception” I answered, trying to sound as if I knew what I was doing. “This is Mrs Draper” came a slightly haughty voice “I was given to believe that the Centre would not be properly or adequately staffed today, and am ringing about my daughter’s appointment this afternoon”. “We’re all ready for Felicity” I replied, trying to sound both professional and comforting: “Mr Mullins is having a final briefing session with his two assistants at this very moment, and he and those two ladies are expecting Felicity at two o'clock”.
“Oh.....” she replied, with the wind now taken out of her sails “I was going to ask to speak to Mr Mullins -- but I won’t disturb him if he’s in conference. We'll be along at two precisely. Thank you”.
As I put the phone down, I tried to convince myself that I hadn’t really been telling fibs; Alan genuinely would be in serious discussion with Tania and Kathy ..... albeit about the relative merits of tuna-mayonnaise and BLT!

The four of us finished discussing the ‘plan of campaign’ for the afternoon as we ate our sandwiches; then cleared the crumbs away, and got ready to receive our ‘client’.

By the time they arrived, Alan had brought a couple of high stools out from the lab for Tania and me. This was really a bit of ‘stage dressing’: although both of us are quite used to getting ourselves upright from a low seat, the sight of the exaggerated levering we use can be a bit disconcerting to someone who wasn’t expecting it. But perched on the stools with our legs already locked straight, it would be effortless to lean forward into a standing position.

Mrs Draper arrived at two on the dot; accompanied by a rather subdued looking Felicity. I would have guessed her age as 14 or 15; and I detected a bit of a sparkle in her pretty face, though it was largely masked by her wariness of her mother.
Alan formally welcomed them both in; and made a great point of identifying each of us to them:
“Allow me to introduce my members of staff:
Tania: Deputy Physiotherapist, and my Chief Assistant for today;
Josie: Disability Counsellor, also kindly doubling as Receptionist; and
Kathy: who will be Felicity’s Prosthesis Instructor”

As each of us were introduced, we went over to Felicity and her mother. Tania greeted Mrs Draper formally; then gave Felicity a big smile, stood beside her, and put one arm round her shoulder. I greeted them similarly; then stood beside Mrs Draper. Kathy skipped across the room, and gave Mrs Draper a deferential nod; then gave Felicity a big hug, saying “We’re all on your side -- you’re going to be all right!”

“Right, we’ve got lots to do” Alan said, adopting a business-like manner; “so Felicity, will you come into the fitting room with Tania and Kathy; and Mrs Draper, would you please be so good as to allow Josie to check Felicity’s Appointment Card off against the Appointments Book -- it’s important that we remain on schedule”.

Of course, that was a fatuous exercise, as there weren’t any other appointments in the book! But I was able to keep Mrs Draper occupied while I meticulously copied the times from the card to the book and from the book to the card. Then I pulled out another sheet that Alan had prepared. “Now we need to update the Patient Notes” I said “How has Felicity been coping the last couple of days?”
This was the first occasion so far that Mrs Draper had been invited - or even allowed - to say anything; and her words rushed out in a torrent.
“Poor Felicity hasn’t been coping at all well!” she answered in anguish “She won’t let me dress her; she complains bitterly when I feed her -- and today she didn’t even want me to put her shoes on for her!”

I was horrified to hear the humiliation Mrs Draper was putting Felicity through, particular as I knew perfectly well how much Neil could do for himself, even with his hooks off and no hands at all.
“What on earth do you think you’re trying to do?” I retorted, unable to keep the sharpness out of my voice “Turn her into a helpless invalid?”
“But she’s only got one hand!” Mrs Draper argued.
“Don’t be so negative” I contradicted “She HAS got one hand. And in a short while, that will be augmented by a functioning prosthesis”.
“But I can’t bear to watch her struggle!” she said miserably.
“Try and be more positive!” I repeated “She’s merely taking up the challenge of learning new ways to do things”.

“But she’s so young!” Mrs Draper wailed.
“She’s not much younger than I was when I first started wearing legbraces” I retorted. Actually, that was pushing the truth a bit; but it did correspond to the very first time I ever managed to borrow some to try.
“You mean you could walk normally until you were Felicity’s age?” she asked, with a slight softening of her previously self-obsessed look.
“Oh yes, perfectly well” I replied with a smile.
“You must have needed a great deal of help and support from your parents?” she asked, with the implication that I would condone her actions.
“As it happens, I got practically none at all” I replied “But that was partly because I’d already left home -- so we can’t really draw meaningful parallels”. I had to be careful what I said; but there were some facts which were both true and relevant. “The worst part was the early stage when I didn’t think people would accept me in legbraces” I recounted “But once I decided to get on with life in braces, and my friends allowed me to just be myself, and LET me learn to adapt -- and understood the importance to me of learning how to cope in a new way of life, even if I appeared to be struggling -- that’s when I really made progress, and I’ve never looked back since!”

Mrs Draper sighed. “I suppose I should be paying more attention to what you’re telling me” she admitted “after all, you are the fully-trained and experienced professionals”.
At that point, I began to get twinges of guilt about the way I’d been ‘adapting’ the truth to fit the situation. “I’m sorry, Mrs Draper” I said “I think I ought to ‘come clean’ with you: None of us three girls have any Diplomas or paper qualifications in this field; but what we do have is plenty of first-hand personal experience of living with disabilities -- which we’re only too willing to share with Felicity and you”.

I had been so engrossed in concentration in formulating my conversation with Mrs Draper that I hadn’t noticed the door of the fitting room open, until I heard Alan’s voice. “I can assure you Mrs Draper” he said “that these young ladies have helped Felicity to make far more progress in a short time than I could ever have achieved on my own”.
I turned, to see a transformation in Felicity: No longer was she cowed and subdued; she was now bright-eyed and enthusiastic, and eager to show off her new prosthesis.

Mrs Draper grimaced: “Oh dear -- that dreadful ugly hook!” she muttered.
Kathy gave her an affronted glare: “What’s wrong with hooks? I find them to be very useful and effective!”
“I can do all sorts of things with this hook!” Felicity said gleefully “I can pick things up, and hold a pen, and .....”
Alan put a comforting hand on her shoulder, and gently interrupted her: “You show your mother how clever you are for a moment, while I have a quick session with the Clinical Team”.
Felicity made a point of tidying up ‘my’ desk with her hook, closing and squaring up the books, and putting the pen back in the pen-holder.
Alan and the three of us went into a quick huddle in the corner of the room while we worked out the next stage of our interaction with Mrs Draper and her daughter.

When we turned back to the Drapers, we noticed that the mother could hardly fail to appreciate how well Felicity was coping.
“Do I wear it all the time now?” Felicity asked. “Yes -- as much as you want to” Alan replied encouragingly “although it may take a little while for you to become fully acclimatised to it”.
“Oh goody!” Felicity said happily “I’m really looking forward to getting out of the house tomorrow, and getting back to everyday activities”.
“That sounds a good idea” Alan said “But I do have to give one little word of caution: To begin with, you may feel a bit of discomfort, because you aren’t used to the feel of the socket on your stump. As time passes, you should become acclimatised to the sensation, and it won’t feel so ‘weird’. But if you find it is feeling more uncomfortable with time, it may not quite be fitting perfectly”
“So, regardless of how it feels, for the next day or so, I’d like you to take it off every couple of hours, and inspect your stump. If there’s any sign of redness, it may be too loose, and slipping and rubbing; and if it looks too white or there’s any numbness, it may be too tight”.

The old look returned to Mrs Draper’s face. “In that case” she said “You’ll have to stay indoors tomorrow, so I can do what Mr Mullins says, and take care of you”.
Poor little Felicity’s face fell, and she looked on the verge of bursting into tears with disappointment. Alan looked across at us, and twitched an eyebrow, which was the pre-arrange signal for ‘Activate Plan B’.

He turned back, and spoke to the mother in a level voice:
“I’m sorry Mrs Draper, I’m afraid that it’s rather more serious than that. It won’t be necessary for Felicity to remain indoors, but it is vital that she is under constant medical supervision -- and with the best will in the world, you won’t be able to provide that yourself. My instructions are that Felicity must spend the entire day . . . . .
with my three assistants; accompanying them wherever they go, and joining in with whatever they do”.

Mrs Draper’s face looked as though it was going to explode -- and then she looked around at the other faces in the room. Tania, Kathy and I were all smiling welcomingly at Felicity; Alan gave her a slow and solemn wink; and it was wonderful to see the bright-eyed radiance spreading over Felicity’s face again.
The thunder-clouds faded from Mrs Draper’s expression. “There’s nothing else for it” she admitted “I’m going to have to concede defeat by five votes against one!”

Before she could change her mind, Tania exchanged addresses and telephone numbers with Mrs Draper -- and then the mother and her now excited daughter left for their home.

The four of us left in the Centre could now relax.
“Thank you all very much” Alan said sincerely “I feel sure that we’ve got over the first hurdle, and I now have much more confidence that Felicity will learn to cope”. He turned to Kathy: “Now that the exercise is over, you don’t have to keep those hooks on any longer ..... but somehow, I suspect you’re not going to take them off?” “S'right!” Kathy grinned.
“In that case” Alan said “and bearing in mind what I was saying earlier to Felicity about the importance of the sockets fitting properly: If you’re going to wear those hooks for extended periods, I ought to reshape the sockets to fit you more comfortably. Unfortunately, I can’t do it right now, as the lab is shut down for the weekend; but I’d like to make a proper appointment for you some time later next week to organise it”. Kathy’s face showed mixed feelings: “That would be very kind of you” she said “and absolutely wonderful! But the trouble is, I haven’t told my parents anything about this, as they’d go mad if they knew -- and they’d find out my secret if I had to come here for an appointment”.
“Hmmm” Alan replied thoughtfully “We’ll have to find a way round that”.

We chatted together for a little while longer; and then the three of us drove back to Tania’s, and spent the evening tossing ideas around for what we might do the following day.

Josie gets roped in (Part 2 of 2)

When the Saturday dawned, Tania and I were eagerly anticipating the day.
As I said, I had my ‘best’ legbraces with me that weekend; and so for a change, I decided to fit the in-shoe foot-plates on to the calliper ends, which let me wear ‘ordinary’ unmodified shoes. Tania put on her ‘mechanical’ legs -- and some very short and snazzy shorts.

We had barely finished breakfast, when Mrs Pomeroy went to answer a hammering on the door. Kathy burst into the room like a whirlwind! “Hellotaniahellojosie” she machine-gunned out; then had a high-speed dialogue with Tania along the lines of “My toys...?” “...usual place!”
In no time, Kathy had her hooks on, and helped us clear things away.

So we were all quite ready when Mrs Draper arrived with Felicity.
“Now make sure you behave yourself” she intoned “I’ll be at home all day, so whenever you feel the least bit uncomfortable or homesick, just ask someone nicely to phone me, and I’ll come and fetch you immediately”.
“I’ll be all right, Mum!” Felicity sighed in exasperation.
Mrs Pomeroy guided Mrs Draper into another room -- presumably to have a ‘mother-to-mother’ chat about the perils of being too over-protective.

“How long have you been wearing your hook so far today?” Tania asked. “Right since I got out of bed” Felicity replied “I really do want to get used to it”. “In that case” Tania said “It’s probably time for your first inspection of the day: take it off, and let us have a look”.
Of course, Tania was more than experienced in the importance of correctly fitting sockets, as her stumps had to bear her weight; and she showed us all the tell-tale signs of mis-fitting to watch out for. She was also very satisfied with Felicity’s stump and socket.

Felicity re-fitted her hook, and looked at us: “It really is kind of you to stay indoors all day to look after me” she said appreciatively.
“Stay in? You must be joking!” I exclaimed “We’re not staying inside: we’re going out to see what fun we can get up to -- and so are you!”
“Anything you’d like to do?” Tania asked “Where would you like to go?”
Felicity’s eyes lit up! “I’ve been so bored recently” she said “because Mum wouldn’t let me out of the house! Can we go into town please?”

That was fine by us; so we got ready to leave. As we neared the front door, I looked at Tania: “Aren’t you bringing your wheelchair?” I asked. “I don’t think there’ll be room with four of us in your car” she replied “And anyway, it’ll encourage me not to start getting lazy”. She stopped by the umbrella stand, which actually contained a selection of crutches and the like, and selected a lightweight aluminium walking stick which I knew she sometimes used for a sense of security. “On second thoughts” she said, as she put it back “I think I’ll feel more ‘in tune’ with Felicity if I manage without”.

Felicity and Kathy were happy to sit in the back seat and chatter; which meant that Tania could be my navigator again -- although I could remember the route TO town, I didn’t know my way around IN town.

We got into the town centre all right; but I commented to Tania that I couldn’t see much in the way of parking places. “That’s the trouble” she replied “this town is dreadful for parking! But don’t worry; I know exactly where to go. Just go straight across here where it says ‘Local traffic only’ - - - - now turn left where it says ‘No through road’ - - - - - and here we are!” And I easily pulled into one of three empty on-street parking places.
I’d only just turned the engine off and was getting ready to get out, when I saw a Traffic Warden bearing down on us -- so I wound down the window.

“Do you realise this is restricted Disabled parking?” he said officiously.
I was going to give a smart answer, until I looked across to the passenger side windscreen -- and noticed there was just a sticky mark where my Disabled badge should have been. “Oh dear” I said to Tania “the badge has fallen off; is it down on the floor your side?” She groped around in the foot-well, and surfaced with a slightly grubby badge, and tried to stick it back up.
The warden was not impressed. “That badge is supposed to be displayed” he grumbled “So now I want to know whether it applies to the driver or to the passenger”. I was beginning to get a bit annoyed with his attitude; but I didn’t intend to let him upset me or spoil my day. “Actually, that badge is issued in my name” I said sweetly, as I opened the door and we all started to get out “But is the distinction really all that important?”

He watched the four of us emerge -- and his attitude immediately changed.
“I really do apologise” he said sincerely “But there are so many people trying to park in these places without permits -- and others who walk away in a manner which leads me to suspect that the badge was ‘borrowed’ from a relative -- that I find I have to be especially vigilant”.
“In that case” I replied with a smile “we should be grateful to you for keeping this parking spot free for us. And I’m ever so sorry about the badge coming off -- I must try to fix it on properly”.
“I’m just about to pass the traffic office” he said “so I’ll pop in and see if I can get you a new badge holder. If you car’s still here when I pass again, I’ll slip it under the wiper for you. And if I don’t see you again -- I hope you have a nice time in town”.

So how do four girls enjoy a trip to town? We go shopping!

I recalled one everyday action -- which I take for granted, but which I know poses difficulties for Neil -- and that’s to deal with a handful of loose change. So we went to the accessories department of a large department store, and looked for a combined wallet-and-coins-purse: the sort which unfolds to form a sort of tray which the coins slide into. Felicity appreciated the way it would simplify things for her; and Kathy bought a similar one for herself.

I had now got bitten by the shopping big; and went to the shoe department to look for some air-cushioned trainers. I can’t fit that style on to my ordinary callipers, as the fixing pegs would puncture the air sacs; but with my new sole-plate fixings, there’s no problem. Actually, there is one tiny problem: I’m never quite sure whether the shoe has to be a half-size or whole size larger than usual to accommodate the plate, so I need to try them on.
The poor assistant obviously didn’t have any experience of dealing with disabled customers, and was too embarrassed to help; but I was quite happy to let Felicity and Kathy give me a ‘hand’ with working my uncooperative feet in and out of shoes (or putting shoes on and off my floppy feet -- whichever way you want to look at it).

The store also had a convenient cafeteria; so we all went for a coffee.
Because Kathy was deliberately doing everything slowly so that Felicity could see exactly what to do, I had a chance to realise that both of them had to be always thinking one move ahead: in particular, to roll a hook on the edge of the table or on their thigh, to adjust the ‘wrist’ angle to be appropriate for whatever they wanted to pick up -- a saucer, cup, or spoon.

When we had finished our coffee, Felicity spotted the ladies’ toilet: “I might as well use the loo before we set off again” she said.
Kathy got to her feet to go with her; and Tania checked her watch. “How is your socket feeling?” she asked. “No problems at all” Felicity replied “I’m getting quite accustomed to it now; and there’s certainly no discomfort”. “You might as well check your stump for rubbing while you’re in there anyway” Tania suggested “Kathy: you know what to look for -- just give me a call if you’re in any doubt”.
The two went off together, and Tania and I chatted for a while. “I must say that Felicity is looking so much happier now than when we first met her” I commented. “That’s because we’ve prised her out of her mother’s clutches!” Tania replied with a smile “And believe me, I know what a relief that is!”

“They seem to be taking a long time” I said after a bit -- and then the two of them reappeared. Felicity was looking a little serious, and Kathy looked white and shaken. “Any problems with your stump?” Tania quickly asked Felicity. “No, I’m all right” Felicity replied “It was Kathy that had a problem”.
“I couldn’t get out!” Kathy burst out; “I went to open the door from the inside; it had a smooth round door-knob -- and I couldn’t turn it! How on earth does Neil manage in those situations?”
“They can often defeat him too” Tania replied “So he always checks the door-handle inside a door, to make sure he’ll be able to open it again, before he shuts it; but it’s become such an automatic action that you probably haven’t noticed”.
“Thank goodness Felicity was with me” Kathy continued “and could open the door with her hand. If I’d have been on my own, I would never have got out again -- I’d still be trapped in there!”

Without thinking, I started to reply “You could always have taken.....” and then I managed to bite my tongue just in time. I realised that nobody had actually told Felicity that Kathy didn’t need prostheses, but was only pretending!
“Don’t worry Josie” Kathy said “I know what you were going to say: that I could have taken off one of my hooks”. She turned to Felicity and continued “We’re getting on so well together, and I really like you very much; but I can’t bring myself to deceive you any longer. I’m not really an amputee at all; these are actually ‘demonstration’ hooks, and I’ve got two perfectly good hands inside them”.
Felicity’s eyes opened wide at the revelation; but she did not appear to be shocked. “You mean, you’ve deliberately inconvenienced yourself, just to help me?” she asked in surprise. “Well ..... actually, there’s a bit more to it than that” Kathy admitted “although yes, I am trying to help you. But I don’t want to offend you by being a fraud; if you’re upset, I’ll take them off immediately”.
“But I’m not offended at all!” Felicity assured her “We ARE getting on wonderfully together, and I really like you too! Please don’t take your hooks off and spoil everything; I’d much prefer to continue to believe you really are an amputee just like me”.
Tania and I smiled at each other in relief; and now that the ‘secret’ was out in the open, the two younger girls forgot all about their emergency of a few minutes earlier, and their cheerful smiles returned.

We left the department store, and strolled around some more. After a bit of aimless wandering, I began to feel a slight concern for Tania: I know she walks incredibly well on her two artificial legs; but I strongly suspected that - although she never says so - it must be very strenuous for her.
“Can any of you locals recommend somewhere for a light lunch?” I asked.
The three had a quick discussion; and chose a bistro-style café nearby.

We spent some time inspecting the menu, and discussing our personal likes and dislikes. “I like Spaghetti Bolognaise” Felicity commented “But they don’t seem to have it”. Kathy gave her a cautionary look: “It’s probably just as well” she suggested gently “Particularly on your first day with a hook: I’m afraid that twirling spaghetti round with a fork is something you’ll have to miss out on -- for the time being at least”.
Finally, we selected four different dishes that we all liked; that way, Felicity could try a bit of each, and - if necessary - settle for whichever one she could cope with. “We know this is all new for you” Tania said quietly “and we may be forcing the pace too much. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help if you need it; and in particular, don’t be afraid of asking us to cut anything up for you”.
“Thanks for being kind” Felicity replied “But first I’ll ask Kathy how to do it, and only ask you if I can’t manage. Can you try to understand how much it means to me to be able to feed myself? I am - or was - so dominantly right-handed that I’m absolutely hopeless at using my left hand instead; and I don’t think I could stand the humiliation of my mother feeding me for much longer!”

I was really pleased for Felicity; but it was Kathy’s nonchalance which surprised me. When I first started legbrace-pretending, I didn’t dare be seen by any of my friends, and had to travel to out-of-the-way places for practice; yet here was Kathy, publicly hook-pretending in her own home town! It turned out that she had decided that, because she had a perfectly good excuse and valid reason for wearing them, there was no need to hide her actions from any of her friends that might see her. I thought that was being a bit naïve; but there was no doubt that it was having a good result: Kathy was not being the least bit self-conscious about her hooks -- and since Felicity was faithfully copying everything Kathy did, she wasn’t feeling self-conscious about hers either!

“My eyes were bigger than my stomach” I commented after we’d finished “I’m feeling quite bloated now!”
“There’s a little park not far from here” Tania suggested “Let’s stroll over there and have a sit in the sun”.

It was a nice little park and a peaceful oasis and relaxation from the busy streets: irregularly shaped, with a whole range of different types of trees round the boundary, an open space of grass in the middle, and what looked like a little paddling pool over the far side. People were strolling across the area or sitting on the grass; there were some children playing, and a little boy flying a model aeroplane.

We found a handy bench to sit on; we had to be careful about not leaning back too far, because the tree behind it was more of an overgrown bush, and had lots of scratchy thorns!
Felicity and Kathy were far less lethargic than me, and wanted to make daisy chains! Quite frankly, that was pushing their hook abilities a bit too far -- but they did manage to make some ‘dandelion chains’!

After Tania and I had rested, and the other two had got bored with their ‘pastoral’ pursuits, we started to make our way slowly back to the hustle and bustle of the town.
We had not gone very far, when we heard a commotion behind us, and so looked round. We saw a little boy standing balancing on the back-rest of the bench we had been sitting on earlier, swaying precariously and reaching towards the big bush. Suddenly, he gave a yelp and fell forwards into the foliage!
We ran towards him. Or rather; Kathy and Felicity did, and I swung along behind them, with Tania not far behind me.
“Are you all right?” I called out, as a tousled head and scratched face emerged from the undergrowth.
“Ouch! I mean -- yes, I think so” came the reply as he finished crawling out and stood up.

“What on earth were you doing up there?” Tania asked.
“My plane flew into the tree” he replied unhappily “and I was trying to get it down”.
We could see his model plane nestling between the branches, well above head height, and wondered how we could dislodge it.
We tried poking the branches with my crutches; but soon realised that it wasn’t doing much good, and we were likely to break the fragile plane.

Tania lifted one foot on to the seat of the bench, grabbed hold of the back-rest with her hands, and tensed her arms. “Don’t just stand there” she said to us with a smile “there aren’t any motors in my knees -- give me a bunk up”. We did so; and Tania was standing precariously on the seat. “I can see the plane all right” she commented “but I can’t quite balance to lean forward enough to reach it. Let me down again, and we’ll have to think of something else”.

I was willing to have a go: I would have used my crutches to lever myself up on to the bench; but the seat was slatted, and I was worried I might get the crutches jammed between the slats -- particularly remembering the disaster the time I’d got them jammed in a drain grating. I had hoped that my braced legs would be more stable than Tania’s artificial ones; but if she had had difficulty leaning forward with her strong back muscles, I would stand less chance with my weak ones.

Kathy and Felicity were eager to try, and scrambled up on to the bench. At first I thought they wouldn’t be tall enough; but I’d forgotten that - unlike Tania and me - they could stand on tip-toe to stretch up. Felicity had her left arm tightly round Kathy’s waist to keep their balance.
Felicity started gingerly probing the branches with her hook -- and then realised that the socket of her prosthesis was protecting her forearm from the thorns. Confidently she plunged her hook into the foliage, and started pulling on the branches. “That’s better” Kathy said “If you can move that branch a bit more to the right, I think I can get at it now”.
Because Kathy’s hooks extended beyond her hidden hands, that gave her just enough additional reach; she pulled two scratchy branches downwards and apart -- and the plane came free and fluttered to the ground.

Kathy and Felicity got down and smiled at the little boy now reunited with his plane. As we turned, I saw that an older boy had joined us.
“What’s going on, Tim?” he asked. “Hello Danny” he replied “My plane flew into the tree -- and these girls got it down for me”.
Tim and Danny introduced themselves as brothers; and we introduced ourselves to them. Now that Danny had found out what his little brother had been up to, he turned his attention to us -- and found us quite an eyeful!
Quite apart from all our visible metalwork, Tania’s tight tee-shirt was very figure-revealing. Kathy had stopped trying to match Felicity’s age, and was now trying to look sophisticated and grown up; and her mini-skirt could probably be more accurately described as “a wide belt”!
Danny’s eyeballs were working overtime, swivelling furiously as he tried to decide which bits of which of us to take in first!

Tim struck me as being a typical little boy: now he’d got his plane back, he’d lost all interest in flying it!
“You’ve got both our pocket-moneys” he said to his brother “Please, I want an ice-cream”.
Danny dragged his attention away from us to deal with this interruption -- and I could almost see the light-bulb come on in his head. “You haven’t done anything to deserve an ice-cream” he replied “But the girls here have really earned one. Can I buy you all an ice-cream?” he continued, turning to us.

We made our way along the path, with Danny’s eyes flickering over the four of us. Tim was fingering the scratch on his cheek to see if it was still bleeding (which it wasn’t), and licking a scratch on his arm.
We soon reached the refreshment kiosk, which was tucked away round a corner, which was why I hadn’t seen it before. I noticed that there was a hut behind it which appeared to be the park-keeper’s office; and Felicity spotted a ‘First Aid’ sign on its door. She turned to Tim: “You ought to have some antiseptic put onto those scratches” she suggested. Tim thought that would be babyish, and wanted to ‘tough it out’. “Oh, come on” Felicity wheedled “I did get your plane down for you, didn’t I?” Tim thought about it, and calculated that his bargaining power was weak -- and allowed her to take him to the office.

“That’s a lot of fuss over a few scratches” Danny muttered. “Please let Felicity have her way on this” Tania said quietly to him “She’s only recently become an amputee -- and she lost her hand as a result of a cut turning septic. So it’s not surprising that she’s concerned for him”.
“Oh dear -- yes, I do understand” Danny replied. Then his face drained: “Don’t say the same could happen to Tim!” he gasped. “Don’t worry” Tania assured him “As you said, the scratches are pretty trivial; and with some antiseptic on, he should be quite safe. Anyway, I’ve been chopped about much more than that, and I’ve survived!”
Danny relaxed, and we joined the ice-cream queue.

As we neared the head of the queue, Felicity and Tim returned. Felicity now looked relieved and her expression was that of a ‘job well done’. Tim was eager to stress how the sting of the antiseptic had really really hurt, but that he’d been “ever so ever so brave”; and was proudly showing off a small sticking plaster on his cheek, another on one arm, and a small bandage on the other arm.
Danny’s face showed another kind of fear: “Oh NO!” he yelped “I got into enough trouble when we got home yesterday after you’d fallen into the boating pond; Mum’ll KILL me if I take you home swathed in bandages and plasters!”
“Not necessarily” I tried to reassure him: “If you tell her it was you who insisted he got the scratches seen to, you may earn yourself some Brownie points for taking such good care of your little brother!”

And then we got our ice-creams. Danny carried mine for me while I crutched across to a seat and unlocked my knees to sit down, and Tim held Tania’s while she lowered herself into a seat.
Felicity was using her left hand to hold hers, as she found that her hook was squashing the soft ice-cream -- and I remembered Neil describing that he could control how he opened his hooks, but not how they closed, so it was difficult to control his grip. Kathy - with two hooks - was doing her best: she was making a bit of a mess, but was determined not to give in. The two brothers promptly offered to help. “I know you mean it kindly” Kathy said “But it’s important for us to learn how to manage as much as we can for ourselves”. After a while, Kathy managed to find a way of holding her ice-cream without squashing it too much -- and Felicity started to copy her.

“Have we got time for another one?” Tim said, as soon as he had eaten his.
Danny looked at his watch: “No we haven’t!” he said “And what’s more, we have to get home now”. He turned to us: “I really would like to meet you all again” he said “Would you like to come to the Youth Club with us tonight?”
The four of us looked at each other and exchanged glances. We hadn’t yet planned what to do in the evening, mainly because Tania and I were ‘playing it by ear’ so as to keep Felicity active without pushing her too much. “I’m not sure what’s lined up for us tonight” Tania replied “But give me your phone number, and I’ll give you a ring late afternoon or early evening”. Danny was only too willing, and pleaded with us to call -- whether we’d be coming or not!

Having said goodbye to the brothers, we made our way back into town.
Tania spotted a public telephone booth. “Alan will be interested to know how we’re getting on” she said “I’ll just give him a quick call and leave a message on his answering machine”. She dialled his number; and I watched her mime to the ‘Please leave your message after the tone’ announcement. “Hello, Tania Pomeroy here” she dictated “Just to say that Felicity is doing fine and - - - - Oh, hello Alan; so you’re actually there? - - - - No problems at all, and we’re all enjoying ourselves - - - - We’re about halfway between the Park and your Limb Centre at the moment - - - - Sure, we can come round if you want - - - - See you in about fifteen minutes then”.
“Alan’s actually there at the moment” she explained to us “And suggests we pop round, as he’d love to hear how Felicity’s been doing today!”
We were all happy with that invitation; and I appreciated how much he was concerned for the well-being of his young patient.

“But as we’re standing by this phone” Tania continued, turning to Felicity “Why not give your mother a ring to let her know you’re all right? In fact, you’re not just ‘all right’, you’re doing very well -- tell her about it!”
Kathy lifted the receiver off the hook -- then grinned at Felicity and put it back. “Go on” she said “You can do it!”
Obviously Felicity wasn’t quite so adept as Kathy; but she managed OK.
“Hello Mum, Felicity here - - - - No, I’m PERFECTLY all right, and having a whale of a time - - - - Not yet: we’re just going over to see Mr Mullins to tell him all the things I’ve done today - - - - Yes I would have done if anybody had, but I’ve worked this phone all by myself! Byeee!”
Felicity replaced the receiver with a smug smile on her face as if to say ‘That told her!’

It wasn’t long before we were ringing the bell on the Limb Centre door, and Alan welcomed us in. “I didn’t think you worked Saturdays?” Tania asked him. “Normally, no” he replied “But I came in today to catch up with some paperwork in peace and quiet. And I’m particularly glad you rang when you did, and agreed to come over” he continued with a little grin “because I’d just finished the backlog, and felt ready for a coffee; and you made such a lovely delicious cup of coffee for me yesterday.....”
“Typical useless men!” Tania retorted with a cheeky grin “Come on Kathy, we’ll brew up!”

Alan started by asking Felicity how she had felt the previous evening after she had left the Centre -- something we had forgotten to ask. It turned out that most of the time had been spent trying to get her parents acclimatised to her hook, and demonstrating that it’s lack of cosmetic appearance was more than made up for by its functionality.
So by the time she had finished relating the previous evenings’s events, Tania and Kathy had returned with the coffees.

“Have you felt any discomfort from the socket?” Alan asked “But even if you haven’t, I’d still like to look at your stump for signs”. He inspected it closely, and appeared quite satisfied. “It hasn’t felt uncomfortable at all” Felicity assured him “But if I was going to complain about anything at all -- my shoulders are beginning to ache just a little bit”. “That’s because they’re not used to it yet” he explained, with Kathy nodding her agreement “You’re using muscles in a way they haven’t been used before”. “But it doesn’t take long to loosen up” Kathy continued, with Alan now nodding “And you’ll soon find the shoulder shrugging becomes as natural as any other movements”.

Then it was time for Felicity to relate all her adventures so far today.
Alan listened attentively, variously nodding and smiling, and interjecting the occasional “Hmmm” and “Ah-hah” of approval. It wasn’t until she got to the bit about getting the plane down from the tree that he stopped her: “Just a moment” he interrupted “I didn’t think a hook could still be controlled if your arms were stretched upwards -- how did you do it?”
I thought back to when I had been standing behind them, and remembered the contortions their shoulder blades seemed to be making.
“Ummm..... with some difficulty” Kathy finally admitted.

Alan’s only other comment was regarding the squashy ice-creams: “If you find that the grip is consistently too strong” he explained to Felicity “I’ll slacken the rubber closing band a bit for you, and even show you how to adjust it for yourself. But we have to avoid it being too weak, or you’ll find you have difficulty gripping things -- that’s why I’d prefer it to stay at medium tension setting”. He looked at her more gently and continued “I’m sorry Felicity; that’s just one of the things you’ll have to learn to live with”. “It does get better” Kathy said softly “especially once you’ve had some practice in controlling the new shoulder movements”. “Oh, I’m not complaining” Felicity replied “And..... thanks for the encouragement”.

Suddenly, the front door bell rang. Alan frowned in surprise: “I’m not expecting anyone” he said “I’d better see who it is”.
I couldn’t see or hear the visitor in the entrance vestibule; I could only hear Alan’s half of the conversation: “Good afternoon; I’m Alan Mullins -- can I help you? - - - - - Nice to meet you Mr Fisher. Yes, Kathy is here; do come on in”.
Kathy went white: “That’s my Dad!” she gasped. She scurried round behind the three of us to hide, and thrust her arms and hooks behind her back.

Alan brought Kathy’s father into the room where we were. Apparently he already knew Tania, as being one of Kathy’s friends. So he was introduced to me, as a visiting friend of Tania’s; and to Felicity, as being one of Alan’s patients.
“H-how did you know I was here?” Kathy stammered.
“We happened to ring the Pomeroys” Mr Fisher replied “to see if you were still with Tania. Her mother said that she’d just received a call from Mrs Draper, who told her you were probably here”.
‘Hmmm.....’ I thought to myself ‘So that’s the sort of sneaky underhand tricks parents get up to behind their children’s backs!’

“But you must come home immediately” Mr Fisher said; and turned to Alan to continue “I really must apologise for my daughter. She will keep playing the ‘shy little girl lost’ game, and tagging on to people. She has absolutely no right to be here interfering with your work. I’ll take her away right now; and can only repeat my apologies for whatever disruption she’s caused you”.
Kathy was looking panic-stricken; but Alan was thinking quickly.
“There’s no need to apologise, Mr Fisher” he said calmly “and I can assure you that Kathy has not been any hindrance. In fact, the exact opposite is the case: both yesterday afternoon and today, Kathy has been of the most invaluable help to us”.
“Kathy’s been teaching me how to work my new hook” Felicity volunteered.
Mr Fisher’s mouth gaped in disbelief: “But Kathy doesn’t know anything about prostheses!” he countered “I know she’s met Tania’s boyfriend Neil, and so will have seen his hooks -- but that doesn’t make her an expert on the subject!”

Alan gave him a long look. “I think you’re misinterpreting her apparent shyness;” he said “I would call it ‘modesty’. Kathy has done more than just see Neil’s hooks: she has shown a commendably compassionate interest in the difficulties an upper extremity amputee has to face. So much so indeed, that she wanted to experience for herself what problems there were to learn to cope with, so that she could have a real empathy and understanding with Neil and people like him”
“At her request, Kathy has been loaned a set of ‘demonstrator’ hooks: These cover up her hands, leaving only the split-hook prostheses available for her to manipulate with. Not only does Kathy now have a real understanding of the problems an amputee faces, she has become so adept at operating those hooks that she has proved to be a far better instructor for Felicity than I could ever have been”.

Mr Fisher was gazing at his daughter, and his eyes were seeing her in a new light. Slowly and shyly, Kathy brought out first one then the second of her prosthetic arms and hooks from behind her back. “You never told us anything about this!” he gasped. “I.... I was afraid you wouldn’t understand” Kathy said weakly “so I had to practise in secret”.
“And you say that Kathy is quite competent with them?” he asked Alan.
“Amazingly adept, considering the very limited opportunities she’s had to learn all the special muscle movements required” Alan replied “There are still a few advanced actions she hasn’t mastered yet; and with a little more usage, her movements could become much more natural”.

There was a long pause as Mr Fisher tried to take in all these new revelations about his daughter. Finally, he seemed to have made up his mind, and he turned to her with a serious yet caring look: “Well Kathy, you heard what Mr Mullins just told us” he said “You need a bit more practice. So if he will allow you to take them away with you, you must bring them home. Then, in the evenings - after you’ve had your dinner and finished your homework - you can get in half an hour’s practice each day, until you’ve really learnt how to use them properly”.
“I won’t need to wait till afterwards!” Kathy answered eagerly “I can eat with my hooks, and hold a pen to write, and .....”
“Well..... we’ll see about that” Mr Fisher replied with a smile.

“I’m on my way back to the house now” he continued “If you’ve finished everything Mr Mullins wanted you to do, do you want a ride home?”
“I was planning to spend the rest of the day with Tania and Felicity and Josie” she answered hopefully; and we nodded our agreement. “All right then” her father replied “But don’t be too late getting home”
“Come to think of it” he continued “that will give me time to explain things to your mother -- otherwise I think she’d get a big a shock if she saw you walking into the house like that!”

Alan accompanied Mr Fisher out to the door to let him out, and then came back in and joined us again. He rolled his eyes upwards to the ceiling: “I’ll never go to heaven” he muttered “Not with telling fibs like that!”
“What fibs?” Kathy asked innocently. “Oh, come on Kathy” Alan replied “You know full well that you really wanted those hooks for yourself!”
“It was only a little fib” Kathy argued; and added “But I really am grateful for sorting everything out with Dad -- how can I thank you?”
“Well.....” he mused with a smile “These last two days have certainly confirmed my belief in the value of one hook-user teaching another; and so I would like to always do things that way from now on. But as this weekend has also shown, I can’t expect someone like Neil to always be available at short notice -- so it would help if I had a team of back-up volunteers. Would you be willing to join that team?”
“Ohhhh YES!” Kathy enthusiastically replied.

Tania smiled; and then she and Felicity collected up the coffee-mugs and went off to the kitchen to was up.

“And I will practise hard” Kathy continued keenly “so that I can do everything you want me to demonstrate! But there are still some things I’ve seen Neil do that I just can’t work out how to do”.
“That’s because you’ve just got two basic split-hook sets” Alan explained “Whereas Neil has some much more sophisticated wrist-mountings. The basic unit is usually fairly adequate for a single amputee such as Felicity -- at least, to start with -- and you’ve got two of that type. But a bilateral amputee like Neil needs some wrist-flexion movement as well, otherwise some actions just wouldn’t be possible -- as you’ve discovered”
“So I’ll have to see if I can fit you up with some wrist units”.

“Oooooh: yes please!” Kathy said gleefully.
“Don’t get too excited!” Alan cautioned her “I’m looking some way into the future for that. These prosthetic components don’t come cheap; and I can’t afford to buy a pair of decent-quality wrist units, just to give away to someone who doesn’t have a medical need and isn’t even one of my patients”.
Poor Kathy looked so disappointed; and so Alan tried to console her: “It may not be that bad;” he said “I’m very proud of what Neil and Tania have achieved through their own hard work and determination; but the medical reports all insist on giving me some of the credit for those successful case-histories. If I can keep that sort of work up, my reputation may spread, and I might get ever more referrals -- which in turn would get me extra funding for these sorts of experiments. So it’s just a matter of being patient”.
Kathy started to look relieved as she took this in. Then her face puckered into a little frown: “Why did you say ‘experiments’?” she queried.

“Up till now, you’ve only come across below-elbow prostheses” he replied “but my next patient might turn out to be an above-elbow amputee who will need a prosthesis that fits on to their upper arm -- and obviously you wouldn’t be able to wear one of those. My colleagues have always assumed that it would be impossible to have an above-elbow ‘demonstrator’ arm; but I’ve been thinking about the problem, and have already got a few ideas. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to adjust or experiment on an arm that I was already wearing; and as a matter of ethical principle, I would never ask an actual amputee to take part in an experiment which - in effect - made them even more disabled than they already were”
“So I would need a willing volunteer ..... would you be interested?”
The rapturous look on Kathy’s face showed she most definitely was!

We had now finished at the Centre, and so said goodbye to Alan, and drove back to Tania’s for a meal.

Mrs Pomeroy had prepared a meal - and laid the table - fully aware that there would be two hooks-users eating, and had made allowances for that. However, she was going by her knowledge of Neil’s abilities; and so Felicity found that she was pushed to the limit of her newly-acquired skills -- fortunately, she accepted the challenge, and managed very well.

After the meal, we sat around, discussing what to do for the evening.
“Are we going out with Tim and Danny tonight?” Felicity asked.
I had thought that Danny was a nice lad; and even if he wasn’t a devotee, he had given a darn good impression of one!
Although even Felicity (as the youngest of us four) found Tim to be just a bit too young, we all thought he was a cute and likeable kid -- even if he was rather accident-prone! “Why not!” we all finally agreed.

Tania put the phone on hands-free and dialled the number Danny had given to her in the park; and it was the boys’ mother who answered the phone.
“Can I speak to Danny, please?” Tania asked. “Who’s that calling?” came a rather cautious response. “This is Tania Pomeroy” she replied “My friends Josie and Kathy and Felicity and me all met Danny and Tim in the Park this afternoon”.
There was a pause, and then a wary response: “Oh dear, I hope you didn’t believe everything Danny said to you?” the mother said carefully “I’m afraid that Danny has taken to exaggerating to the point of telling lies -- though I’m ashamed to say it about my own son”.
“I’m surprised to hear that” Tania responded “He didn’t strike us as being anything like you’ve just described. What sort of fibs?”
“I couldn’t believe it when he got home” she tried to explain “and he said you were all ..... that is, he described you as being, ummm .....”

“Disabled?” Tania prompted cheerfully “Well, let me look around the room here, and have a quick round-up of limbs: I haven’t got any legs; Josie has two, but they’re both in full legbraces. And Kathy and Felicity have three hooks but only one hand between them. But otherwise, we’re pretty ordinary run-of-the-mill girls”.
There was a stunned pause. “Good grief;” came the eventual reply “So he was telling the truth!” Then her tone became concerned again: “In that case, I hope he treated you all, ummm..... ‘appropriately’?”
“Oh yes!” Felicity called out happily “He treated us all to ice-cream!”

“He mentioned a Youth Club” I asked “Can you tell us anything about it?”
“It’s only a small low-key affair” she replied “Mainly for youngsters between twelve and eighteen. It doesn’t go on too late; and in any case, I want Danny to bring Tim home before it finishes”.
“That suits us fine” Tania said “If Danny hasn’t already told you, this is Felicity’s first full day of wearing her new prosthesis. We’d like her to enjoy herself, but we don’t want her getting over-tired”. “And if we leave early” I added “that will give me plenty of time to run her and Kathy home afterwards”.
“I’ll call Danny to the phone now” his mother responded.

Danny was VERY pleased we’d rung back; and even more pleased that he would be able to meet us again!
“Just one small thing, Danny:” I asked him “Aren’t you going to feel embarrassed, taking four disabled girls along to your club?”
“No.....” he answered, sounding puzzled “Should I be? I don’t see why; there’s nothing handicapped about your personalities -- and you’re all much happier and friendlier than a lot of the other girls round here!”

Well ..... with flattery like that, we’d definitely accept the invite!

“You ought really to phone your mother before you go” Mrs Pomeroy said to Felicity “as she does seem to worry about you. But then she’ll probably hold you back and delay you with a long list of cautions -- so I’ll phone her for you instead!”

We made our way out to my car, and I drove us over to the Youth Club.

Danny and Tim had arrived just before us, and so started introducing us to their friends. It was interesting to note the variation in their acceptance of us between the two age extremes.
The youngest ones seemed quite uninhibited; indeed, one studious little bespectacled embryo engineer studied the workings of the knee lock-release of my braces for a while -- and then wanted to know exactly how Tania’s knee-joint mechanisms worked!
The older ones were initially a little shy and reserved, and not quite sure how to approach us; but with the way that Danny and Tim were so fiercely proud of their guests, and seeing how easy the younger ones found us to get on with, they soon relaxed and made us feel welcome.

It was quite a helpful social experience for Felicity: she was about in the middle of the age range, and so felt in with her peers; yet the gathering was not so large as to overwhelm her.
Tim was also enjoying himself: apart from knocking over one glass of lemonade, and nearly getting his fingers trapped in a door on on occasion, he managed to remain unscathed!

Knowing that we would be leaving early, we kept our eye on our watches. Eventually it was time to leave; and we said our goodbyes.
“Hey Flix!” Tim called out “I hope you’ll come again next week!”
“Flix?” I queried.
“That’s a nickname Tim and Kathy have given me” Felicity answered with a smile “I reckon my Mum would go spare if she heard me called that”  
“But I think it sounds like the name of a comic-book cyborg heroine -- and I rather like it!”

As we drew up outside Felicity’s house, I got the distinct impression that her mother had probably been peering out of the window all evening!

“Thanks for all the help you’ve given me” Felicity said to Kathy “I feel I’ve really been able to make a lot of progress”.
“And thanks to all of you” she continued “for giving me such a wonderful day out -- I haven’t had so much fun and excitement in ages!”

“We loved your company too” I replied “But that was quite an ordinary day compared to some of the escapades we’ve had before. So, Flix -- I hope you’ll be able to join us again one day soon for some more adventures!”

Josie the Go-between (Part 1 of 2)

Hi; I’m Josie in legbraces -- and you all know about the how and why!

Now that Jamie is so deeply involved in the Orthotics Section of the Orthopædics Department at the Teaching Hospital in the City, about the only chance I get to see him is there; so I started doing part-time voluntary work in that hospital, in the hope that they will take me on as a member of Ancillary Staff. So far, it’s working out quite well: I can help Jamie with his administrative paper-work, which gives us some time together; and the rest of the time I’m quite happy to ‘fill in’ on any odd jobs that need doing.

Jamie is living in a large shared house with a group of medical students and trainee nurses; and it turned out that there was one room spare which I could use whenever I’m up there working. The other people there in the house are really great, full of fun and enthusiasm. There are always a lot of comings and goings, and people working all sorts of odd hours; I find the atmosphere to be wonderfully ‘Bohemian’ -- though perhaps a better word would be ‘chaotic’! They all have an attitude of ‘Work hard, play hard’, and I really enjoy the buzz I get in their company!
Another nice thing is that because I always join in with whatever they happen to be doing, they all think of me as “Josie’s one of us”, and so don’t see my legbraces as making me any different to them.

I was in my room late one night, preparing for bed and talking to Crystal: a lovely trainee nurse with jet-black hair and coffee-coloured skin. “I’m not keeping you up, am I?” she asked. “Not at all” I replied “I’m just unwinding for half an hour, and it’s nice to have a chat”
“But since I’m not going anywhere right now” I continued “I might as well start taking a few things off”; and I started to reach for the straps of my legbraces.
“Can I help you take them off?” she asked. “Thank you for the offer” I replied “but I can easily manage myself”.

“Oh dear, I didn’t mean to imply you needed help” she said, looking flustered “But I wanted to know how to do it. I’ve just been assigned to the orthotic ward, and will have to help patients with their legbraces ..... but I don’t really know how they are put on or taken off”.
“Ohhh ..... right” I said “You want to practice on me? That’s okay, I don’t mind at all. Undoing the straps is the easy bit -- most of them are just velcro strips. The only careful part is when you come to ease my feet out of my shoes”.
Crystal carefully and caringly undid the straps, then my shoes, and lifted my legs out of their braces. “Very good” I commented “You were very gentle with me, so you certainly won’t hurt any patients”.

“But aren’t you more likely to need to help a patient into their braces?” I then asked. “Since I’m lying here doing nothing, I don’t mind being your guinea-pig if you want to practise”. “That would be wonderful” she replied “What do I have to do?”
“Just lay the brace by the side of my leg” I explained “and flap the straps out of the way so that it’s an open cradle -- then lift my leg into it. The difficult bit is trying to get my feet into the shoes; they flop about all over the place, and there’s nothing I can do with them to make it easier for you”. She did eventually manage to get my unhelpful feet into my shoes; and then started on the straps. “How tightly do I have to do them up?” she asked. “The main thigh cuff effectively takes my weight and all the forces” I explained “so it needs to be fairly firmly tightened -- but not a tourniquet! If your patient’s brace has a knee-pad, and their knee is snuggling nicely into it, then the calf-cuff can err on the loose side; but if they have cuffs above and below the knee instead, they need to be done up more snugly -- but again, don’t stop the circulation!”

Crystal concentrated on what she was doing, and with only a little bit of further guidance from me, soon had my legs properly braced again.
She sat back for a moment, enjoying the satisfaction of her achievement; and then suddenly frowned. “Sorry Josie” she said “You were trying to get your braces off for bed, and I’ve just strapped them ON again! I suppose you won’t mind if I undo them again for you?” and she gently took them off for me.

As we continued chatting, I noticed that her eyes kept glancing across to where my legbraces were lying. “I suppose the next thing will be when you need to teach a patient how to put their braces on themselves?” I suggested. “That’s right” she mused “There’s a big difference when doing up buttons or tying shoe-laces, depending on whether it’s for yourself or someone else. I’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like to put those legbraces onto my own legs, so I could show a patient ‘This is what you do’.”
“It’s a real pity that I can’t very well ask you if I could put your legbraces on to my own legs” she finished up sadly.

“Why ever not?” I responded cheerfully “You’re perfectly welcome to -- I reckon your legs are much the same length as mine; and if you take the same shoe-size too, they should fit you quite well”.
“You mean ..... I CAN try them on?” she said, with a mixture of disbelief and gratitude on her face “Ohhh ..... that would be so helpful!”
By now she knew what to do, and also had the advantage that she didn’t have any struggle with getting her feet into the shoes. She was also able to feel and appreciate the firmness of the straps; and I slid a finger under the cuffs to make sure she’d got them right. Finally I made sure she knew how to lock and unlock the knee-joints.

She sat for a moment on the couch, gazing at her newly-braced legs with a far-away look in her eyes. “Do you want to try standing in them?” I quietly suggested; “You won’t actually need crutches; but I recommend you do use them, as otherwise you’ll find it difficult to balance to begin with”.
Crystal levered herself upright, teetering on my crutches. Once she had got her balance, she started to take short stiff-legged steps -- there wasn’t enough space in my little room for her to try anything more adventurous.
I watched her face; and I could only just make out her whispering to herself: “I’m actually wearing legbraces!”

Now that my braces were off, I started to unbutton my blouse. “It must be getting late” Crystal said, as she noticed; “I know I have an early start tomorrow, and I expect you’re ready for bed now too”. She lowered herself back on to the couch, and slowly removed the braces, and put them back by the side of my bed.
As she was leaving, I looked at her face again, and could see a whole range of emotions flooding across it. “Crystal.....” I called softly “The first time anyone experiences braced legs, it has a strong emotional impact -- and you’re no different. Sleep on it; and if tomorrow you find you want to talk about your feelings - whatever they may be -- you can always speak to either Jamie or me”.

As Crystal went out of the door, I had a strong premonition that one or other of us would be hearing from her again about the subject.....

The Carters had returned from their holiday, and Neil immediately contacted me, saying that he was sorry he’d missed me during my last visit to Tania, and asking me if I’d like to visit him for a day or two. Much as I’m very happy with my ‘cosy’ (that is, ‘cramped’!) little room in the city, I was quite willing to accept the luxury of the Carter’s guest room!

I made good time on my journey; and during the evening, Neil showed me his computer set-up, and said I could send Jamie an email telling him I’d arrived safely. I was most impressed watching Neil on the keyboard: obviously he could never do ‘touch-typing’ -- but from watching his hooks flashing over the keys, I reckon he must be one of the fastest ‘two-finger’ typists! I also began to get the hang of the pressure-sensitive graphics tablet that he uses instead of a mouse.

The following morning, Mrs Carter came into my bedroom, and brought in my backpack which I’d forgotten I’d left downstairs. “Is Neil up yet?” I asked. “Yes; he’s downstairs making breakfast” she replied. “Oh dear.....”
I involuntarily responded, remembering the ‘burnt offering’ he’d come up with the last time he’d tried cooking. “Don’t worry” Mrs Carter said with a grin “Since he at least showed willing on that occasion, I’ve been giving him some cookery lessons -- he’s getting quite good at it now!”

In fact, it was a very good breakfast on the plates Neil carried into the dining room with his hooks. But once again, he’d ‘warmed’ the plates -- and I nearly burnt myself when my hand brushed against my plate!

I asked Neil over breakfast if he had any plans for the day. “Alan has asked me to meet his new patient, Felicity” he said “and show her the sort of things she can do with her hook prosthesis. I gather you met her when you visited Tania; would you like to come along too and see her again?” I was very pleased to have another chance to see Flix - and Alan -- and readily agreed.

When we arrived at the Limb Centre, Flix was already there.
She and Alan both greeted me; and then Alan introduced her to Neil:
“Felicity: this is Neil Carter. Neil: meet Felicity Draper”.
Flix shyly started to swing her right arm forward. “I always feel a bit awkward about shaking hands” she said “and usually I don’t know what to do. But would this be a chance to ‘shake hooks’ for a change?” Neil proffered his right hook, and they solemnly grasped each other’s metal ‘fingers’. Then Neil broke out into a big smile: “I’ve ALWAYS wanted a chance to do that!” he grinned.
That broke the ice; and then Alan shepherded the two of them into his Consulting Room.

I swung across to the Receptionist, as this was now our first opportunity to meet and get to know each other. “Thanks for standing in for me when I was away” she said “And Alan has explained to me why the appointments book for that day is half-filled with meticulous timings, down to the second, when a simple tick in the right-hand column would have been enough!” I giggled as I described how I had been trying to keep Mrs Draper occupied and out of Alan’s way. “And thanks for the page of notes about Felicity and her mother” she continued. “Because I’m always in the front line whenever anyone rings up, it helps me no end if I know a patient’s home background”.

And then Alan came out of the Consulting Room - alone -- and closed the door behind him. “Now I’ve finished the introductions, and had a quick check on the socket fitting, there’s not much more I can do in there” he said “The two of them are getting on well together; Neil is the expert, and so I’m leaving him to carry on!”

“I seem to remember that Flix is due for a myo-electric hand eventually” I commented “I suppose that will make things much easier for her?”
“Not exactly ‘easier’, I’m afraid” Alan replied; “It takes even more training to get really used to one of those. Although some grasping operations - such as picking up a glass tumbler -- are a little more ‘natural’, there are a lot of more delicate actions where the fingers of the myo will initially seem much more clumsy than her present hook”
“The worry is that when she first tries the new hand -- and bearing in mind that by then she will be very proficient with her hook -- she may get disillusioned by how inadequate it will seem to be” he explained “She will have to put a lot of effort into training herself to operate it; and unlike a body-powered prosthesis, there is no way that anybody can demonstrate how to actuate its movements -- she has to ‘discover’ that purely through her own experience. But if she discovers during her hook-learning, that the more effort she puts in, the more she achieves; and then uses that experience to motivate her into lots of practice with the new hand -- then I am hoping that she WILL achieve full functionality with it”.

That seemed to be quite a matter to ponder on; and since it was all well outside any of my experience, I decided not to ask any more questions.

After a moment of silence, I realised that Alan’s eyes seemed to be taking a great deal of interest in my legs. He looked up into my face, and asked
“Can I -- or rather, may I -- have a closer look at your legbraces?”
I realised why he’d phrased it that way: as I was wearing cycling shorts, he certainly could see all of my braces ..... but he was asking permission for a closer inspection. “By all means!” I happily replied “I suppose it makes a change from prostheses all the time?”
“They are closely related disciplines” he replied “Although I have rather specialised in my work. I must say that your braces look exceptionally well made -- and the leather-work seems much higher quality than I might have expected”. “That’s because my boyfriend -- or rather, my fiancé -- made them specially for me” I replied with a smile “And Jamie was a craftsman in shoe-leather before he became an orthotist”.
“The top ends of the bars look somewhat non-standard” Alan commented with interest. “That’s so that they can take interchangeable accessories” I explained “I’ve got a pelvic band to make them into HKAFOs, and even a body-brace - a TL-KAFO I think it’s called -- but that was really to try out an experimental hip-lock that Jamie was working on”.

Alan took that in; and then knitted his brows: “Just a moment” he asked “You said ‘Jamie’ ..... that wouldn’t be Jamie Henderson by any chance, would it?”
“Yes, that’s right” I replied “Do you know him?” “No I don’t, more’s the pity” he replied “But I certainly know of him! Have you read the Journal of Orthopædics recently?”
“Sorry, that’s rather a silly question to ask” he continued with a grin “That dusty tome hardly makes for light romantic bed-time reading! But that young man is making quite a name for himself with his bright ideas and innovative approach. I also gather he wears legbraces himself; that might explain his devotion to improvements -- and it certainly accounts for his rapport with his clients. If you say that he’s both your orthotist and your boyfriend -- then you’re a very lucky young lady!”

I hadn’t realised Jamie was doing that well, and I frowned in surprise.
“I’m terribly sorry, Josie” Alan said, quite misinterpreting my reaction “There’s nothing ‘lucky’ about needing braces for your legs; I just meant to say.....” “Oh, don’t worry about that!” I tried to reassure him “I was only frowning because I never knew Jamie was quite so famous. But now you come to mention it, although he’s often come to this town when we’ve been visiting Neil, he’s never actually met you. I’ll have to remember that next time we’re both down this way together”.

“Please do” Alan responded “I really would like to meet him”.

The door of the Consulting room opened, and Neil and Flix came out.
They had obviously been getting on well together; Flix was gazing at Neil with a misty-eyed look of hero-worship! Neil was obviously impressed too: “I thought I would be teaching Flix from scratch” he said to Alan “but Kathy has done all the groundwork, and so she’s already learnt all the basic moves. So all I’ve been doing is to show her some of the things she will be able to achieve in time if she practises hard enough”.

That meant that the session had been completed successfully; and now it was coming up to lunch-time. Mrs Draper seemed to have relented somewhat on keeping Felicity within eyesight all the time, and was allowing Flix to spend the rest of the day with us.
We had arranged to meet up with Danny and Tim, and Tania and Kathy, at the Bistro where we had first taken Flix; it was conveniently situated for a meeting-point, and we quite liked their food.

“Flix is doing well by herself” I said to Kathy “and now Neil is giving her advanced instruction; So what’s your excuse for still wearing those demo hooks today?”
“All the people here in the bistro think I’m an amputee” she replied with a sneaky grin “so it would confuse them if they suddenly saw me with real hands! This is one of the many places where I always wear my hooks”.
By now, the staff and regulars there were just about getting used to seeing young customers sporting metallic appendages; but I think that this was the first time they’d had five disabled young people all at one time sitting at a table!

Well..... six actually, if you include little Tim.
Kathy and Flix had a chance to hone up their skills with manipulating cutlery with their hooks: they had to cut up Tim’s sausages for him, as he had one arm in a sling. Apparently, he’d sprained his wrist when he and his skateboard had flown off in opposite directions.....

On my return to the city, I arrived back at my room in the shared house. I had only just settled in, when there was a gentle knock on my door; and Crystal came in. “Sorry to disturb you so soon when you’ve only just got back” she said shyly “but..... Have you got a moment to spare?”
“Do come in!” I said; adding with a welcoming smile “You want to talk about wanting to wear legbraces again?”
Her mouth opened and closed a few times. “No..... I mean, yes” she said, looking a little flustered; “I wasn’t actually coming to ask to try yours again, but..... the truth is ..... I would like to have another go. But how on earth did you guess what I wanted?”
I smiled at her: “I could tell from the look on your face last time, that that occasion wouldn’t be the last, and that they had awakened something inside you. There’s no need to be shy -- tell me all about yourself”. The grin that then came to my face was because I realised where I’d got that last expression from! And it seemed to have the same relaxing and facilitating effect on Crystal as it had when Aunt Emma had originally said it to me.

“It turns out that I really DO have a patient in my care who is due to be fitted with legbraces” she began “and so I want to develop some confidence in my ability to wear and demonstrate them”. “I’m sure you’ll be the perfect person to help them” I said encouragingly. “Purely as a matter of interest -- what age-group is your patient; male or female?”
“His name’s Simon” she replied “He’s about the same age as you and me, and I really do want to help him”. “That sounds wonderful;” I smiled back “I’m sure you will!”
“But even if you didn’t have that particular patient lined up” I continued gently “I’ll guess you would have liked an excuse to wear braces anyway?”
“Oh Josie, I wish you hadn’t put me on the spot” she answered “but..... you’re absolutely right”.
“That makes it even better!” I said “Because if it was apparent from the expression on your face that you didn’t like wearing them, he would immediately pick that up and be unhappy himself. But if you radiate a feeling that you’re quite comfortable wearing braces, he’s much more likely to accept them himself!”
A great look of relief washed over Crystal’s face as she appreciated the logic behind what I had just said. I also believed that there was more to it than that -- but we could explore that later.

“I’ll see what could be arranged for you” I told her.

The next morning, I was with Jamie in his office, and raised the matter: “Jamie: would it be possible to fit Crystal up with some legbraces?”
“Ahhh, so that’s what she was trying to get around to the other day!” he replied “Does she want them for herself, or does she want them for demonstrating to patients?” “Ummm..... yes” I answered vaguely.
“Do you mean ‘Yes for patients’, or ‘yes for herself’?” he repeated.
I gave a little smile: “I think the answer’s still Yes”.
“Fair enough” he replied, also smiling “I’ll see what I can do. I won’t be able to do it through the Dispensary, as they only work from prescriptions for a named patient; but I might be able to do something through the Teaching section. They’re supposed to have an example pair of KAFOs; but those are getting battered now, and due for replacement. Leave it with me, and I’ll try to think of something”.

“By the way” he continued “Did you have a nice time at Neil’s?” “Yes thanks” I replied “it was great fun”.
But I didn’t want to elaborate too much, because Jamie had been working hard all the time I had been enjoying myself. But I did remember the conversation I’d had with Alan -- which prompted my next comment: “You never told me you were so famous!”
“What are you on about?” Jamie asked, looking puzzled.
“All those clever write-ups in the Journal of Orthopædics” I replied.
“Good grief!” he exclaimed “Surely you haven’t been reading that dusty publication?”
“Nah -- 'course I haven’t!” I admitted with a big grin “It was Alan who told me about your Papers”. Jamie was still puzzled: “So who’s Alan?” he asked.
“Alan Mullins, who runs the Limb Centre where Neil and Tania were fitted with their prostheses” I explained “I met him the last two times I was down there visiting them”.
Jamie furrowed his brow in thought; and then his eyes opened wide. “Not the Alan Mullins?” he gasped.

“I wouldn’t know;” I replied “How many of him are there?”
“Of course -- I should have realised:” Jamie answered, slapping his forehead “All the case-histories of his success stories refer to the patients as just ‘Mr NC’ and ‘Ms TP’; I never made the connection with the Neil and Tania we both know! I really wish I could get a chance to meet him -- if you know him, do you think you could arrange an introduction?”
Jamie looked so eager that I couldn’t resist teasing him: “Oh, I don’t know about that” I said doubtfully “He’s a very busy man, you know”.
“Yes, of course he would be” Jamie said sadly “I’m sure he wouldn’t have any time to spare for me”.
It was no good; I couldn’t bear to see my Jamie looking so unhappy. “I was only pulling your leg!” I grinned “There shouldn’t be any problem, as he’s dying to meet you! Why don’t you give him a ring? You should have a contact number for him. Come to think of it, I think I’ve got his number in my address book; let me see - - - - - yes, here it is”.

I picked the phone off Jamie’s desk, pressed for an outside line, and dialled Alan’s number. When it was answered, I recognised his Receptionist’s voice. “Could I speak to Alan Mullins please?” I asked “It’s Jamie Henderson’s Personal Secretary speaking ..... and if that doesn’t mean anything, just tell him it’s Josie!” I only had to listen to one and a half bars of electronic xylophone music before Alan came on the line. “Hello Josie, lovely to hear from you” he said “But what’s all this ‘Personal Secretary’ business?”
“Hello Alan” I replied “Hold the line a moment; I’ve got Jamie for you” ..... and thrust the phone into Jamie’s hand.

Poor Jamie wasn’t expecting such an instant connection, and was rather flustered: “Oh; good morning Mr Mullins” he said “I apologise for disturbing you, but I’ve always admired your work - - - - - Thank you Sir, that’s very kind of you - - - - - I was hoping to find an opportunity to meet you - - - - - TOMORROW?! - - - - - Yes, I shall be here; I have ward rounds for the first half of the morning, then after that I’m just ‘on call’ but otherwise free - - - - - I look forward to seeing you!”
Jamie put the phone down with a look of blank amazement on his face. “He wants to drive up here tomorrow to see me!” he gasped “This is incredible -- you’ve pulled it off for me!”
“I told you he wanted to meet you!” I smiled back.

Jamie leant back with a look of reverie on his face for a few moments; then shook his head, and pulled himself back to reality. “I mustn’t sit around day-dreaming” he said “I have to prepare for this afternoon’s orthotics lecture”. He reached for his notes; and then I noticed that he seemed to have had an idea come into his mind. “Josie,” he asked “would you make sure that Crystal comes along to my lecture?”

I found Crystal in the staff canteen at lunchtime, and she carried my tray from the self-service counter to a table for me. I can just about manage on my own if I have to; by moving my legs alternately, and using just one crutch for balance to leave the other hand free to hold the tray -- but it doesn’t work very well if I’m carrying a bowl of soup!
“Are you going to Jamie’s lecture this afternoon?” I asked her, after we had both sat down. “I haven’t got my lecture list with me” she replied “so I’m glad you reminded me!”

After lunch, I decided to go to the lecture too. Although I know all about wearing legbraces, there’s no harm in catching up on the more technical aspects of orthoses. Besides which, it gives me a chance to sit at the back and gaze lovingly at Jamie -- I hope it doesn’t put him off his speaking!

Jamie rolled into the small seminar room in his wheelchair; and then locked the knees of his legbraces and levered himself upright with his crutches -- he prefers to stand whenever giving a lecture.

“Today I want to talk about fitting a patient with legbraces” he began. 
“The ‘Prescription’ defines what level of muscle control - if any - the patient has, and the degree of support needed; that’s the one aspect that the orthotist has no control over. To achieve the required support, the brace has to be a perfect fit; that is the orthotist’s speciality, and what I want to describe today”
“The first thing is to measure up the patient. This can be done using a tape measure to read off lengths and girths; or by laying the patient on a large sheet of paper on a table, and tracing round the legs; or even by taking a plaster cast, and then using it as a mould for a pattern”
“Rather than just talk about it, we’ll make this a practical exercise. We’ll assume we have a patient who has been prescribed bilateral KAFOs, and work through the process from that point on -- starting with the leg measurements. For that, I need someone to pretend to be the patient; would one of you young ladies like to volunteer?”

Jamie was looking directly at Crystal at that point. “Go on Crystal” I whispered, as I gave her a nudge in the ribs “This is your chance!”
Crystal shyly raised her hand; and Jamie invited her to climb up on to the examination table.

Josie the Go-between (Part 2 of 2)

The following morning, I accompanied Jamie on his ward rounds; that way, I could do all the note-taking, leaving Jamie to concentrate on the patients -- that meant that everybody got his full attention, but we could still be finished in good time.
We had just got back to his office and completed filing the notes away, when he was buzzed by Main Reception telling him that Alan had arrived.
We levered ourselves upright with our crutches, and swung down to the main entrance to meet him.

At first, the two of them were a little wary of each other: Jamie was in great awe of this highly respected prosthetist -- and Alan was a little unsure of this new ‘whizz-kid’ of the orthotics world. So I tried to put them at their ease: “Alan; this is Jamie, who is my boss, bracer, and boyfriend -- isn’t he a handsome hunk?” I said with a grin “Jamie; this is Alan -- he’s hopeless at making coffee, but a real connoisseur of take-away sandwich fillings!”
They both relaxed, and chatted to one another as we made our way back to Jamie’s little office.
Jamie lowered himself into his wheelchair, leaving Alan and me a choice of seats. I steered Alan to the typist’s chair, and sat myself down on an ordinary seat. The swivelling chair was the more comfortable one, but I don’t like it: it’s fine for sitting on, but when I come to get up from it, it rotates too easily and spins round just as I try to press downwards on it -- and it’s liable to tip me over.

“This is very good of you to come all the way up here to visit” Jamie said gratefully. “I’m very glad to meet you” Alan replied “But not just as a social visit -- I also want to mix a bit of business into our meeting”
“I’ve been called in on the case of a patient in one of the hospitals in our area” Alan continued “A young lady called Melanie, who must be about the same age as you two. She got caught in an explosion; I don’t know the full details of the incident, only the consequences. To put it crudely, the blast blew her right foot off, leaving her as a below-knee amputee. The rest of her leg was peppered by flying fragments; and although the surgeons have cleaned her leg up, some fragments penetrated deeply into her upper thigh, and damaged or severed most of the motor nerves for her thigh muscles. The Consultant Neurologist has been monitoring her carefully, but has not detected much sign of nerve regeneration -- it appears she has at least ninety percent paralysis of her thigh muscles, and therefore practically no control over knee movement”.

“I could easily fit her with a below-knee prosthesis” he continued with his explanation “but that won’t help if she has no knee movement. If it was just a matter of paralysis, the local orthotist could have provided a simple knee-brace -- but that won’t work as she has no lower leg to stand on. One logical procedure, if we’re sure her knee has no function, would be a re-amputation and an above-knee prosthesis -- but unfortunately there’s a further complication. Although she is not strictly a hæmophiliac, she does have an abnormally low platelet count and a rare blood group; and the doctor in charge of her case is not keen on further major surgery if it can possibly be avoided”.

“So whichever way we approach it” he concluded “we keep coming up against a brick wall. The only idea I can come up with, is some form of combined orthosis and prosthesis; but the orthotics required for that is beyond my expertise -- would you be interested on working on this case?”
“That does sound an interesting challenge” Jamie mused “We have been doing quite a lot of research here on swivel-joints, so I feel we could probably come up with something suitable. But the trouble is, I don’t know anything about stump-sockets for prostheses”.
“I didn’t intend to offload the responsibility all on to you” Alan quickly assured him “I was hoping we could work together on a joint project”.

Jamie clearly was very interested, and I could almost hear the cogs going round inside his head!
“What sort of time-scale are we working to?” Jamie asked. “We do have a certain amount of time on our side” Alan replied “as her stump is healing slowly, and isn’t ready to bear any weight yet. But I would like to start work as soon as possible; up till now, nobody has been able to offer Melanie any firm prognosis or future outcome -- and I fear the poor girl is already beginning to pick up bad vibes from our lack of anything positive to tell her”.
I could see Jamie was determined to help find a solution for Melanie, and he soon started asking Alan all sorts of questions and details.

“I shall need an accurate pattern of her thigh” Jamie said “Have you taken any casts yet?” “Not so far, as her stump hasn’t stabilised yet” Alan replied “though there’s no reason why I shouldn’t take a provisional one to help me make a start”. “If you could make that go right up to her hip” Jamie suggested “it will then include the information I need”. “In any case, I will be taking a cast of her left leg to give me a pattern to ‘mirror’ for a prosthesis” Alan added “Do you want that to be full-leg too?” “That would tell me her leg length” Jamie agreed “I’ll make the lower section adjustable to accommodate variations in the heels of her left shoe -- but I still need to know the minimum ‘barefoot’ length”. “Would you prefer positives or negatives?” Alan asked. “I can work from either” Jamie replied. “So if I cast Melanie on both legs, right up to her hips” Alan suggested “then make two positives from them, and send you one of each, would that do?” “Perfect!” Jamie assured him.

I can only remember and repeat the bits of their conversation that I could understand; but then they started getting technical -- and when they started using medical Latin terms, they completely lost me! My mind started drifting ..... and I wondered where Jamie might take us to dinner ..... and I rather fancied a Chinese meal ..... and I remembered the first time Neil had taken me to out to dinner ..... and the people we met in the restaurant .....

“How about a Perthese brace?” I interrupted “Like Sally sometimes wears?”
Jamie gave me his loving look: “Josie -- you’re a genius!” he cried.
“Perthese?” Alan queried.
“It’s a weight-bearing brace” Jamie explained “for treating femoral capital disorders. Think of a KAFO like Josie’s, but with the upper thigh-cuff extending right up to the ischia and pelvis; and the lower calliper extending beyond the foot to a rocker underneath. The weight is transferred directly from the pelvis to the floor. Neither the leg or the foot take any weight; and as the foot plays no part in standing or walking -- it needn’t even be there!”
“Of course, I don’t think that’ll be the long-term solution; but while we’re working towards something better, it’ll get her standing and walking long before her stump is ready for a prosthesis”.

Now that the two of them were deep in conversation, I left them to it, and got on with some other odd jobs; and then joined them again when they’d finished.
I’m happy to say that Jamie did take us out to dinner afterwards, so I got the Chinese meal I had been hoping for -- though I made sure to book a restaurant where I knew I could get some ordinary cutlery instead of chopsticks!

Although I love the work and the people in the city, I’m really a country girl at heart, and I find the ‘rat-race’ in a big-city environment can start to feel rather oppressive. So I was very relieved to have an opportunity for a break for a couple of days with Tania.

I arrived at the Pomeroy’s house, and Tania met me at the door. I had been looking downwards on the assumption that she would be scooting along the floor; but she was in her wheelchair, and wearing a very short pair of shorts. “The lino is a bit cold when I’m not wearing my tailored jeans on my stumps!” she grinned by way of explanation; and led the way into the lounge where her parents were.

“At long last the re-decoration of the spare room is finished” Mrs Pomeroy said to me “So I’ll just make up the bed for you”. “I don’t want to put you to any trouble” I replied “I was perfectly happy last time sharing Tania’s bed”. “Well..... I suppose I should have guessed that” Mrs Pomeroy said with a little grin “Going by the amount of giggling I heard coming from her bedroom!”

After supper, Tania rolled to the foot of the stairs; then threw herself out of her chair and scrabbled up on her hands and stumps -- and after I had caught up with her, we went into her bedroom.

I was sitting on her bed, when she bounced across and sat on my legs. “Lie back on to the bed” she instructed. I leant back, and then flopped backwards on to the pillow. “Now sit up” she continued. “Make up your mind!” I answered with a grin, as I put my elbows behind me and pushed to struggle back into a sitting position. “No -- don’t use your elbows” Tania said “Clasp your hands behind your head, and just sit up”. I put my hands as instructed, and then tried to bend forward. My head lifted off the pillow, and I think my shoulders may have too -- but that was as far as I got. “Hmmm.....” Tania commented “You said your waist muscles were weak, but I didn’t realise they were that weak. I thought Jamie had given you some hip strengthening exercises to do?” “Oh yes” I replied “and I do them regularly ..... whenever I remember, that is”. “And how frequently is that?” Tania wanted to know. “Ummm ..... not very often” I sheepishly admitted.

“In that case, I’ll have to get to work on you” Tania said. “What’s all this sudden interest in muscles and exercises?” I asked. “I’ve decided I want to be a proper physiotherapist” Tania explained “Betty has been giving me coaching to bring me up to the entrance level qualifications to get into a diploma course. I’m going in to see her again tomorrow -- would you like to come along too?”
“I would like to meet Betty” I replied “as I didn’t get a chance to get to know her on my previous visits to Alan’s Centre -- but I’m not too happy about being subjected to the sort of torture you have in mind!”
“Don’t worry Josie” Tania giggled “I’ll tell her you’re only making a social visit”.

Mrs Pomeroy popped her head round he door: “I hope you two are going to get some sleep, and not stay up all night exchanging jokes and giggling!”

The following morning, Tania put her artificial legs on while I put my legbraces on, and we went downstairs.

Just as we had finished breakfast, the phone rang, and Tania stood up to go to answer it (I still can’t work out how Tania gets up without using crutches, though I know she relies on her very strong back muscles).
She had a brief conversation; then turned to me: “There’s been a change of plan” Tania said as she put the phone down “Betty can’t see me today. But you remember Melanie, the girl Alan wanted to see Jamie about? The suggestion is that we go and visit her”.
I was very happy with that idea; up until that point, Melanie had been just a list of injuries and measurements -- and now I very much wanted to meet her as a person.
Tania now had a car of her own, modified for hand controls; it was nicer than mine, and had been chosen to make wheelchair loading and unloading less of a struggle. It was also better that she was doing the driving, as Melanie was not in the main hospital where Tania had been, but in a slightly smaller one one the other side of the area, and I wouldn’t have known how to get there.

We parked, and levered ourselves out of the car. Tania had a look across to the entrance to the building, and decided to walk rather than get her wheelchair out.
We found the ward where Melanie was, and approached the nurse’s desk.

“We’d like to visit Melanie Baker” Tania asked. “I’m afraid it’s not very convenient at the moment” the nurse replied, after consulting her notes; “Are you immediate family?” “No, we’re not” Tania admitted “But Mr Mullins told us it would be all right to see her”. “Ahhh, then you must be Tania and Josie?” the nurse responded with a smile “I have a note here to expect you. Just come with me, and I’ll show you her room. The cast technicians are in with her at the moment, but they should be nearly finished by now”.

The nurse took us to Melanie’s room, and briefly introduced us. Melanie had been cast from her toes to her hips on both legs; and the cast technicians had just started with the plaster shears to remove it. We didn’t have much opportunity to talk to Melanie; in fact, we had to keep moving out of the technicians’ way as they moved round her bed. When we first went in, I noticed that Melanie was showing no interest at all in the casting; but she did start to watch our movements with a degree of interest.

Finally the casts had been removed. “We’ll take these over to the lab” one of the technicians said “and then we’ll come back later to clean up the mess we’ve made”. As they left, we re-introduced ourselves: “I’m Tania, and this is Josie” Tania said “We’ve come to try to cheer you up”.
“I could do with cheering up” Melanie mournfully replied “I’ve lost part of my right leg -- and even what’s left doesn’t work properly”. We didn’t want to interrupt by saying ‘We know all about that’, because we wanted to hear her side of the story, and - more to the point -- how she felt about it. “What really gets me down” she finished “is that nobody seems to know what to do with me. Every time I ask anyone, they just fob me off or change the subject. I’m beginning to think they all wish they’d never set eyes on me, and wish that I’d just go away; they certainly don’t seem to be able to do anything for me. I know I can get around one-legged on crutches; I’d give anything to be able to walk again -- but obviously there will never be any chance of that”.

“That’s just about to change” I said brightly “and that’s why we’re here: to see about getting you standing and walking again. I noticed you’d just been cast: that was the first stage in getting you going”.
“But that was a pointless exercise” Melanie countered “After the plaster had set, I was completely immobilised and wouldn’t even have been able to use my good leg ..... and then they took it off again! I suppose they were trying to pretend to be doing something for me; but the whole thing was just a waste of time”.
“No it wasn’t” Tania tried to tell her “The cast on your right leg was an accurate way of measuring up what’s left to work with; and the cast of your left leg was so that they could make a mirror image to replicate the missing part of your leg”.

“But you don’t understand” Melanie replied sadly “I’m both an amputee AND paralysed; that’s why I can’t be helped. I know I shouldn’t say this, but I’m almost jealous of you two: I’ve got one whole good leg, and some useless bits of the other, but will never be able to walk -- whereas you two seem to be much more disabled than me, but are getting around okay”.
“Right then, let’s consider the two of us” I answered “I haven’t got any working muscles in my legs, and so need these braces; and Tania hasn’t got any legs, so wears prostheses. You are ‘half-and-half’, a bit of each -- and so the idea is to get you a combined brace and prosthesis”.
“Not literally us” I continued with a smile “But you see, Tania’s prosthetist is the best in the country...” “...and Josie’s orthotist is the cleverest!” Tania added. “And the two of them are going to work together to fix you up” I concluded.

“Are you sure that’s going to work?” Melanie said doubtfully -- but with the first glimmerings of hope in her face. “I’m positive” Tania assured her “So let’s see what we’ve got to work with. Can you move your knee at all?” Melanie concentrated furiously; and could just about flex and straighten the stump below her right knee. Tania then gently held her stump, and asked her to try again -- this time, she couldn’t move it against Tania’s pressure. “Not very encouraging is it?” Melanie commented sadly. “Don’t worry” I said cheerfully “Jamie is assuming that you have no movement at all, so it won’t be a setback to him”. “But if you can develop any movement” Tania added “I’m sure they’ll find a way of utilising it”.

“Now let’s check your waist muscles for hip control” Tania continued. We took it in turns to press her knee down while Melanie tried to lift it up; then to hold it up while she tried to press it down. “What’s the verdict?” Melanie finally asked, with an expression as if to prepare herself for the worst. “You’re not as strong as Tania” I replied “but then, Tania’s waist and back muscles are very well developed. But the muscles for your hips are considerably stronger than mine -- so if I can get around, you will certainly be able to!”

Melanie was now showing a much more positive attitude; though she still wasn’t fully convinced. “But it might still turn out to be more difficult than they’d expected” she said “What then? They’ll probably give up on me -- just like everyone else has”. “No they won’t” I assured her “We’ll make sure they don’t give up”. “I can twist Alan round my little finger” Tania said with a smile “I’ll make sure he keeps his nose to the grindstone!”
“And if Jamie shows the slightest sign of slacking” I added with a grin “I’ll threaten to call our wedding off!”

Melanie was now really brightening up. “So I’m going to get something like the top half of Josie’s brace” she mused “fitted to the bottom half of Tania’s leg? Hey -- that sounds clever! And then, of course I’d be able to walk again; or at least, as well as you two do -- this is absolutely wonderful!”

I was very glad to see Melanie looking happier; but I didn’t want her to get disappointed or dispirited later. “Don’t get too excited just yet” I cautioned her “This is all going to take time. As far as I know, the first appliance you’ll be fitted with won’t look anything like a real leg: it’ll be a legbrace, a bit like mine but even longer, going all the way from your hip down to the floor. It may not look very pretty; but I promise you you’ll be able to stand and walk with it -- and I’m not making that up, because I’ve seen it done”. “Just to be able to stand will be wonderful” Melanie enthused “and I don’t see why I should complain about looks -- I don’t think your legbraces look ugly at all”.
“And even when your stump is ready for its prosthesis” Tania continued “Don’t think it’s just a matter of putting it on, and then be running round the block five minutes later! It takes a lot of effort and practice to learn to move smoothly; but I know it can be done”.
“Oh, I’m willing to do whatever it takes” Melanie assured us “It was only because nobody seemed to be doing anything for me that I was so defeatist before; but now I know your people are really trying to help me, I’m willing to put in as much effort as they ask”.

“And I can promise you” I said firmly “that however much effort you put in, Jamie and Alan will more than match it”. Melanie’s eyes were wide with happiness: “In that case” she said joyfully “We’re BOUND to win!”

At that point, the technicians came back to tidy up, accompanied by a nurse who wanted to check up on Melanie; so we promised to keep in touch, and said our goodbyes and left.

We stopped at the main nurse’s desk where we’d checked in, to let them know we were leaving. As Tania was giving her telephone number - in case Melanie wanted to get in touch with her again -- the other nurse came out of the room with a big grin on her face: “Who’s that happy laughing girl in Melanie’s bed?” she said with a wink “If that’s the sort of effect you have on the patients, I hope you’ll visit again!”

By the time I had got back to the shared house up in the city, Jamie had already gone to bed, as he had to start the early shift the next morning.

So by the time I woke up the following morning, Jamie had already left for work. It was still quite dark, and on my way back from the bathroom, I noticed a light on in Crystal’s room -- and on a whim, I knocked on her door. “Who’s there?” came a querulous call. “Hi Crystal, it’s Josie” I replied. “Ohhh ..... Josie” came a hesitant reply “Ummm... yes, you can come in”. I pushed the door open and went in; and could see why Crystal had sounded so wary. She was only partly dressed in bra and panties -- and a pair of long legbraces!
“So you got them!” I said with genuine pleasure. They were of a basic standard pattern, with no frills apart from appearing to be usable either with or without kneepads -- which would fit with the idea of them being intended to be ‘example’ braces. “I must say you do look nice in them” I commented with an appreciative smile. “Do you really think so?” Crystal said, obviously still unsure of how to cope with being seen in braces “I do rather like them”.

After a few more comments while I tried to put her at her ease, she explained why she was wearing them: “Simon is due to get his legbraces this morning” she said “and I have to show him how to put his on. So I’m trying to get some last-minute practice and familiarisation with mine”. “I’m sure you’ll be able to help him” I said encouragingly. “I’m still rather frightened” Crystal said “because poor Simon is getting depressed and believes he will never walk again, even with braces. I don’t know if I can lift him out of his lethargy by myself -- could you come with me to give me a bit of moral support?”
“I was supposed to be doing some clerical work for Jamie this morning” I replied “but I’m sure he’ll let me off in this instance. He should be in his office by now -- let’s give him a ring”. I got through to Jamie, and explained about Simon. “I was hoping you’d help me with the filing” he said “but I can see that you would be of even more help to Simon. The two of you will have to see me first anyway, to collect his braces. Will you be able to give Crystal a lift into work in your car?” “No problem” I replied. “Is Crystal there at the moment?” Jamie then asked “If so, I’d like a word with her”. I told him she was, and handed the phone to her.

After a brief conversation, her mouth dropped open and she barely managed to whisper “Yes Jamie” before putting the phone down. She turned to me still looking dumbfounded: “He told be to keep my legbraces on for the journey in!” she gasped. “That sounds a very sensible idea to me” I replied “And I’ve said I’ll give you a lift in -- so what’s the problem?”
“But he didn’t say PUT them on” she replied in amazement “he said KEEP them on! We never told him I was already wearing them -- so how could he have known?”
I couldn’t resist a little smile at that: “He probably wouldn’t have known for sure” I grinned “but he’s seen your reaction to legbraces just as much as I have, and would have made a guess. But since he guessed right, that means everything’s okay, and there’s nothing to worry about! So finish getting dressed, and we’ll go and see him”.

Crystal put her uniform dress on, and we both completed getting ready for work. We swung out to my car and I unlocked the doors. Crystal automatically thrust one braced leg into the footwell on the passenger side, started to lower her body in -- and immediately got jammed! “Nope -- that’s not the way to do it!” I giggled “Pull yourself out again, and I’ll show you what to do. Reverse in bottom-first until you’re sitting sideways on the seat with your legs sticking out; then unlock your knees, lift one leg in as you swing round forwards, then lift the other leg in”. “I can see I’ve got a lot to learn” Crystal replied “Now you see why I need your help”.

We arrived at the staff car park, and I showed Crystal how to get out of the car by reversing the procedure for getting in. We reached back into the car to get our crutches; then swung in and went to Jamie’s office, where he was waiting for us.

“You look very smart” Jamie said to Crystal “If you can just stop looking so worried, you will look quite ‘natural’, and that’ll help Simon no end”.
“Here are Simon’s braces” Jamie continued “They’re the same pattern as yours, so there won’t be any confusion. We also want to get Simon fully mobile, so that he can go anywhere in the hospital and not be stuck in the ward; and so we’ve allocated him this wheelchair here too -- you can take that with you in to him when you go”.
We discussed things a bit more; and one worry was that Simon might be so despondent that we would have difficulty in even getting him to put his new legbraces on in the first place. “If we both go in unbraced” I suggested “he’ll have two opportunities to see legbraces being put on”. Jamie agreed, so I sat myself down into the wheelchair destined for Simon, removed my legbraces, and put them in my lap; and then added Simon’s braces to the heap. Crystal removed her legbraces, and then gathered up the three pairs of crutches - mine, hers and Simon’s -- in her free arm.

Then Crystal walked beside me as I wheeled along the corridor; and our ‘mobile ironmongery store’ went in to see Simon. The disdainful expression on his face seemed to say “Oh no -- what now?”
“We’ve brought you a wheelchair to use any time you want to” Crystal said to him cheerfully “But more to the point, we’re going to get you upright and walking”. “But I can’t” he said dejectedly “My legs don’t work”.
“That’s what your new legbraces will make up for” I tried to assure him “We’re going to show you how to wear them and use them”.

We got him to sit sideways on his bed; then Crystal down sat on one side of him, and I transferred from the wheelchair to his other side.
“Now to show you how to fit your legbraces on” Crystal said; and he watched with glum disinterest as she lifted her legs into the braces and strapped them up. “Now you do the same thing” she asked. He didn’t seem to be very enthusiastic about that. “We’ll put ours on together” I said to Simon “Which leg do you want to do first?” That spurred him into some action, although he needed continuous prompting.
Once both legbraces were fitted, we showed him how to lock and unlock the knee-joints. “My legs were bad enough before” he muttered mournfully “but now they’re completely immobilised -- this isn’t going to help”.

“Yes it is” Crystal countered “Those braces will allow you to stand up. Watch me”. She locked her legs in front of her, pressed downwards on her crutches as she leant forward, and levered herself into an upright position. “Now do the same yourself” she continued. “You can’t expect me to do that” he muttered “My legs are no good; you were only able to stand up because there’s nothing wrong with yours”.
“But you can” I insisted “Watch me do the same, and try and pay a bit more attention this time”. With my legs sticking out forwards, I pressed down on my knees so that the braces auto-locked, then reached for my crutches and levered myself upright. “But you’ve just done the same as Crystal” he argued “There’s no difference between you”.

I looked down at him: “Simon:” I asked softly “why do you think I came in here in a wheelchair?” “Dunno...” he mumbled “I suppose it was to save having to push it?” “No Simon” I replied gently “It was because I can’t stand without legbraces either -- I haven’t got any working muscles anywhere in my legs. What’s more, I’ve seen your physiotherapist’s notes: and my waist muscles for my hips are a lot weaker than yours”
“So if I can do it” I challenged “then you can too -- surely you’re not going to let a mere girl get the better of you, are you?”

The expression on his face had changed from disdain to respect, and now changed to a look of determination -- and he levered himself upright. He wobbled a bit, and Crystal watched carefully in case this was dizziness after having been only lying or sitting for so long up till now. But I got the impression that he was actually expecting to fall over, and almost wanting to prove it by doing so! “Don’t worry so much” I assured him “You don’t even have to TRY to use your leg muscles; just relax into the cuffs of the braces, and let them support you. You just need to learn to trust them; I have to rely totally on mine for support -- and they’ve never let me down yet!”
“What, never?” Crystal asked, trying to add to her knowledge. “No, never” I replied. Simon was less believing: “What... never?” he demanded to know. I couldn’t resist a little grin: “...Hardly ever!” I admitted.

Simon now seemed less defeatist and more cooperative, so Crystal gave him his next instructions: “Press down on your right crutch to take the weight off that foot, and then try swinging your right leg back and forward”. We both did that together; Simon was able to swing his leg further forward than I could, and it wasn’t for lack of me trying -- so I complimented him on it. “Now the same with the other leg” Crystal continued. Again, that all worked out fine.
“That just leaves learning to walk” I said with an encouraging smile “You’ve already done standing and moving one or other leg forward; all you have to do now is to arrange those in the correct sequence”.

Because I nearly always use a swing-through, I know I’m not the best ‘advert’ for the four-point gait. So Crystal did the demonstration, and I kept up a running commentary and encouragement.
Much to Simon’s surprise, he found it wasn’t as difficult as he’d feared, and he was soon crutching around the room quite successfully. We gave him a bit more practice at sitting down and getting up again, and I was satisfied we’d got him over his first hurdle of self-doubt.
“If I can get the hang of this” Simon said “I might even be able to get out of this place? Quite apart from being fed up stuck in here, the hospital food is terrible”. “Don’t complain about the food” I responded with a wry grin “You should consider yourself lucky. You have it brought to you, and it’s free; the staff canteen serves exactly the same muck -- but we have to pay for it!”

“I’ve got to get back to some mind-numbingly boring paperwork now” I said, looking at my watch “so I’ll leave you with Crystal”. “Please come back and teach me some more” Simon pleaded. “But I only work part-time” I tried to explain “and even when I do, I’m not often on the wards”
“But Crystal is here most of the time” I continued “so I’ll make a deal with you: I promise to visit you whenever I am available, if you promise to do whatever Crystal tells you when I’m not”.

He thought about it for a moment; then “I can’t ask for anything fairer than that;” he replied “Okay, it’s a deal”.

I gave him a hug; and then I was able to leave them with the firm conviction in my mind that Simon was going to be okay.

Josie at Work and Play

Hi; I’m Josie in legbraces -- which you know all about by now!

It wasn’t long after Alan’s visit, and his discussion of an appliance that might be suitable for para-amp Melanie, that Jamie was able to produce his first attempt at a weight-bearing brace for the paralysed stump of her amputated leg; and Melanie’s parents agreed to drive her up to the Department to try it out.

They arrived at Jamie’s office, with Melanie in a hospital wheelchair being pushed by her father. She was wearing a knee-length skirt, and I could see that her stump was no longer bandaged, but she was wearing a sort of elastic sock on it. The expression on her face was a mixture of uncertainty and excitement.

Melanie and I already knew each other, and exchanged hugs; then I introduced Jamie to the Bakers, and Melanie introduced her parents to us.
Melanie would have already told her parents that I wore legbraces; but despite being forewarned, I noticed her mother had a rather pained expression on her face when she actually saw them -- so I indicated that I had noticed her look, and gave her a big beaming smile. “Is.... is that the sort of appliance Melanie will have to wear?” she asked, not looking very happy about the idea. “Much the same” I replied cheerfully “And like mine, it will transform a leg that is completely useless into one that can be stood upon and walked with” I added enthusiastically. I could tell that Mrs Baker was one of those people who were uncomfortable with the sight of orthoses; a lot would depend on how well Melanie took to it, and how much of her acceptance of it would ‘rub off’ on to her mother.

They hadn’t realised that Jamie wore legbraces too; but with his braces being less visible, coupled with the two of them being a little shell-shocked anyway, that didn’t seem to perturb them so much. I think the parents were more surprised to find that Jamie was much younger than they had expected; but Melanie seemed very happy to discover that he was far from being an old fuddy-duddy!

Mrs Baker indicated the overnight case she was carrying, and asked Jamie: “I don’t quite understand why you asked us to bring a selection of clothes for Melanie with us?”

“To ensure that the top of the thigh-cuff fits perfectly” Jamie explained “I shall need to investigate right up to Melanie’s hips and groin; and so I would like her to be wearing something which enables me to do that, yet at the same time allows her to preserve her modesty. I thought it would be more convenient if Melanie could dress for comfort during the journey, and then change when she arrived here”.
I could tell from the expression on Mrs Baker’s face that she appreciated Jamie’s thoughtfulness.

“Related to that:” Jamie continued “I make it a matter of principle to never be alone with a young female client, but to always have a ‘chaperone’ with me. Either of you are welcome to accompany Melanie in the fitting room; although I’m afraid there’s not much room in there if you both wanted to come in. But in any case, I have already arranged for Josie to be present to ‘keep an eye’ on me”. “And since I’m his fiancée” I added “I certainly intend to keep Jamie in order!”
Mrs Baker looked at Melanie, and saw that her daughter was perfectly happy with that arrangement. “In that case” she said to Jamie “if you don’t actually need me, I’d rather not come in. To be honest, ever since Melanie got injured, I’ve had my fill of hospitals and examination rooms -- and the sight of some of the medical apparatus makes my blood run cold”.

“We’ve never been to this part of the city before” her husband added “so it might be nice to stretch our legs after our journey, and have a quiet stroll around the locality”.
“It is quite a pleasant area” Jamie commented “There are at least a couple of coffee-shops nearby; and I think there’s a magazine kiosk where you might be able to get a local street map”.

“Come to think of it” he added after a pause “I may be able to find someone to show you around”. He turned to me and asked “Is Crystal due to take Simon out for a walk about now?” I nodded; and he picked up the internal phone to call her, and ask her to wait at Main Reception for Melanie’s parents, and then let them accompany her and Simon. When he’d finished, I gestured to him that I would like a word with her too.

“Hi Crystal” I said, as Jamie explained the arrangement to the Bakers, “What are your plans for Simon?” “He’s coming across from the ward in his wheelchair” she replied “and then I want him to get in some crutching practice out-doors”. “That’s great!” I agreed “But make sure he gets out of the chair and leaves it in Reception; I want him to walk out of the door -- and you can tell him I shall be watching out of the window to make sure he does”. “Right, I’ll tell him that” she answered “But wait a moment -- I didn’t think you could see out into the street from your window?” “I know that, and you know that;” I replied with a chuckle “but Simon doesn’t!”

Mr and Mrs Baker left to go back to Reception to meet up with Crystal; while Jamie was seeing them out, Melanie put her case of clothes in her lap, and wheeled into the fitting room following me. She got out of the chair and hopped over to the couch, then opened the case to show me the clothes in it.

“I’ve brought a bikini bottom with me” Melanie asked “Do you think that he would be happy with that?” “I think he’d be more than just happy” I replied, giving her a grin “Though I may have some difficulty getting him to keep his mind on the subject!”

When she had finished changing, I called Jamie in. “Will I do like this?” she asked him. “Perfectly!” Jamie replied with an appreciative grin “I’m tempted to say that you look so attractive that we should leave you just as you are -- but I know that’s not the purpose of your visit!”

Melanie relaxed and smiled at his friendly approach. “First I want to double-check what I’m working with” Jamie said, as he gently felt the stump below her knee. Then he noticed a slight frown on her face: “Am I causing you any discomfort?” he asked caringly. “No..... you’re not hurting me” she replied sadly “and I’m sure you’re being very gentle with me; but the frustration is that I can’t feel your gentleness -- I can’t feel anything at all”. “I really am sorry that I can’t do anything about that” Jamie said with sincerity “but I need to know which parts of your leg you do have feeling in” ..... and he moved his hands towards her hips. About two-thirds of the way up her thigh, Melanie smiled: “You’re onto the working bit now” she said “I’ve got normal sensation from that point upwards”.
“Good; that’s the embarrassing bit over” Jamie replied “I needed to know which of the cuffs you would be able to feel any mis-fitting, and where I would have to rely on having got the measurements right without you being able to give me any feedback”.

“Now we can fit your weight-bearing brace” Jamie continued; and he made a point of describing and explaining it as he did so:
“This top thigh-cuff comes right up to your hip. It will carry all your weight, and you will effectively be ‘sitting’ on it; so that’s the part I want to ensure fits perfectly. The cuff on the lower thigh, just above your knee, doesn’t have to be done up quite so tightly; but it should be snug enough so that your thigh doesn’t rattle around in it -- it’s effectively there to allow you to swing the orthosis backwards and forwards for walking. Conventional KAFOs often have a knee-pad; but you won’t need one. However there is another cuff just below your knee: the cradle part behind your calf is really to give rigidity to the lower calliper section, but it has a velcro strap across your shin too; that doesn’t have to be tight at all, and can be as loose as you like -- it’s just there to ‘keep things tidy’.”

“There is a simple joint at the knee” he continued “It has a drop-lock to hold it in the straight position, and of course it must be locked rigid before you try to put any weight on it”. He then got Melanie to ease herself off the couch until she was standing on the floor. Initially, she was standing on just her good leg; and Jamie gently encouraged her to transfer her weight slowly on to her right stump inside its brace. Jamie watched her carefully. “How does it feel?” he asked, once she was standing on both ‘legs’. “Weird.....” Melanie replied, as she slowly shifted her weight entirely on to the brace “I feel as if I’m sitting on a high-stool; but actually, I’m standing on a leg that isn’t there! It’s weird ..... but it’s wonderful!”

Melanie was fascinated; she held on to the edge of the table for balance, and lifted her left foot off the floor to prove to herself that she really could stand on her orthosis. With that positive attitude, we soon had her taking a few stiff-legged steps.
“When you want to sit down” Jamie explained “you just have to lift up these two slides to release the knee-lock”. She quickly got the hang of that; and so Jamie continued: “It’s an automatic lock” he said “Try swinging your thigh forward, then jerking it back -- a bit like cracking a whip”. she did so; and the knee-joint auto-locked with a positive click. “Hey -- that’s neat!” she commented happily.

Once she had got used to sitting down and standing up, and was getting quite good at walking around - and Jamie was satisfied that the upper cuff was not causing any discomfort -- he continued with his description:
“You’ll see that the bottom section is adjustable in length, just by undoing two screws on each bar. At its shortest, it has a total length equivalent to being barefoot, or wearing flat slippers; but at the moment, it’s set one notch longer, to match up to a shoe with a normal low heel. And then you can extend it further to match any higher heel you want to wear”.
“Does that mean I can wear any shoes -- shoe -- I like, including my favourite wedges?” Melanie asked excitedly. “Oh yes” Jamie assured her “I’m trying to get you fully active again, not trying to restrict you!”

Jamie was now satisfied that the brace was fitting well, and that Melanie was able to move around quite well in it.

“I’m sorry I can’t offer you a coffee” Jamie said to Melanie “but would you like a stroll along the corridor to the drinks vending machine?”
Melanie was happy with that idea; Jamie got back into his wheelchair, stowed his crutches behind its seat, and rolled out of the door; and then - to my surprise - turned left instead of right. ‘That’s strange’ I thought to myself ‘I don’t even know where the next coffee machine is in this direction’. In fact, we must have gone half-way across the hospital before we found one.
“How do you feel after that walk?” Jamie asked, as Melanie was sipping her beaker of coffee. “It still feels strange” she replied “but I think I’m getting used to it”. “But is there any discomfort?” Jamie probed. “Oh no” Melanie answered happily “None at all”. “That’s good” Jamie responded “If it was going to cause you any pain, it would have shown up by now; that’s why I came in my chair -- in case you needed a ride back”.

“It also gave me a chance to observe your movements” he continued “Because there’s a non-skid bumper on the rocker, and you’re walking ‘stiff-legged’, you’ve had to make sure it clears the floor with each stride, so that you don’t trip over. But because this is temporary, I don’t want you to get into any ‘bad habits’: For example, you had a tendency to swing your brace sideways and outwards to clear the ground -- and that can put an undesirable strain on your hip joint. The other temptation is to spring up onto your toes with your left foot -- and that can lead you to developing an asymmetrical gait”.

“I think I can see what you’re getting at” Melanie replied, after she’d mulled over his observations “and in any case, I wouldn’t be able spring on my toes if I was wearing a high heel. But if I mustn’t do either of those things to clear the rocker off the ground, what am I allowed to do?”
“Try rocking your pelvis” Jamie suggested “Not a lot -- just slightly. I’m not saying it’s an easy movement to get into the habit of; but the reason I suggest it is because it’s very easy to get out of the habit when it’s no longer required!”

And then we started back again. This time, Melanie was practising a smoother way of moving -- and beginning to get quite good at it. I was trying to remember back to my very early days of walking stiff-legged, in case there were any more tips I could pass on. “Don’t try to rush” I suggested “Just settle for a gentle slow stroll. Later on, when you get more confident with your sense of balance, you may find you get impatient and want to move faster. When you get to that stage, don’t try to jerk your stump forward more quickly -- it’s far too tiring. Instead, try to take slightly longer strides -- that way, you will cover more ground with very little extra effort”.

After we’d got back to Jamie’s office, he turned to me rather sheepishly: “Sorry Josie” he said “I forgot to bring back any coffee for you and me”. Jamie’s chair can have a tray fitted to it; and he also has a cup-holder, originally intended to fit on to a cycle’s handlebars, but modified to clip on to the frame of his chair, so he can ‘carry’ coffees around -- but I can’t carry two beakers of coffee while crutching! Melanie realised that; and offered to go back for some for us: “I don’t mind having another practice walk along the corridor” she said “The only trouble is, I’m so slow that the coffee will be cold by the time I get back”. “You don’t have to go all that way” Jamie replied with a grin “If you turn right outside the door instead of left, there’s a machine just round the corner!”

I went with her; and we chuckled together at the ruse Jamie had used to give her a good long practice walk earlier!

While Jamie and I were drinking our coffees and chatting to Melanie, she had sat herself on a table with her legs dangling over the edge. Without really thinking, she was swinging her left leg; and I noticed that the brace continuing below her right below-knee stump was also moving slightly. “Can you slowly build up the swinging of your right knee, like a pendulum?” I asked her. She tried; and was actually able to get a bit more movement -- although she certainly didn’t have enough strength to do any more. “When you next see Betty, the physiotherapist” I suggested “show her that trick, and see if she makes any comment”. “If she thinks it shows any promise” Jamie added “I might be able to incorporate some knee movement into the next version. And in any case, I’m hoping to come down to see you and Alan next time”.

We were interrupted by being buzzed by Reception to inform us that the Bakers had returned, and were on their way back to us. “Time for you to change back into some ordinary clothes” Jamie said to Melanie “I’ll leave you with Josie, and wait for your parents in the outer office”. Although the idea was for me to be on hand if Melanie needed any help, she was managing perfectly well by herself; so we left the door ajar, so that I would be able to see her parents arrive, while still being able to keep an eye on Melanie.

“Have you had a nice stroll around?” Jamie asked the Bakers. “Yes thanks” Mr Baker replied “it was very pleasant”. “I presume Crystal showed you the nice parts?” Jamie continued. Mrs Baker frowned slightly: “We met the young nurse all right” she said “Crystal was waiting for us behind the reception desk. But I got a shock when the pretty girl emerged in legbraces and on crutches”. “Oh..... sorry” Jamie said “I forgot to tell you about that. But did you get on with her all right?” “It took me some time to get over the shock” Mrs Baker replied “but then I must say that she seemed such a nice person, and so unconcerned about her braces, that we soon found we were getting on very well. So much so indeed, that I almost forgot about her disability until we encountered some steps when we were almost back at the hospital!”
“I’m very glad to hear you got on so well with Crystal” I said “I know she’s really good at putting people at their ease”.

I peered into the inner room; Melanie had put on a shorter skirt, and was having a last-minute practice at walking on her brace. I turned back to her parents: “And I’m even more pleased to say that Jamie has made good progress with Melanie”. Of course, that was what her parents were keen to hear about.

“I know Melanie is not comfortable on crutches” Mr Baker asked “How long do you think it will be before she achieves some degree of mobility?” Melanie overheard that through the door; “Like -- right now!” she called out, and walked through the doorway into the office. She was concentrating hard on moving smoothly, but didn’t let it show on her face. Mrs Baker looked at her face, then down to the brace, then back up to Melanie’s triumphant smile. “I was so afraid that I wouldn’t be able to stomach the sight of you in some hideous appliance” she admitted “but seeing the happiness on your face, that fear is beginning to fade already”.
Melanie spun smartly round and walked back into the fitting room, and re-emerged carrying her case of clothes; I was glad she had done that, as it would have been a struggle for me to fetch it on crutches.

“I feel so relieved that I’m not upset by your appliance” Mrs Baker said “and I think it has a lot to do with meeting that nurse Crystal. What an incredible coincidence that, of all the pretty nurses in the hospital, we should have met up with the one who was disabled and in braces!” She was looking straight at her daughter at that moment, and so didn’t notice Jamie give Melanie a grin and a wink!

“I shan’t feel the least bit offended if you make disparaging comments about the look of that brace” Jamie said to Mrs Baker “because it is only supposed to be a short-term temporary device until her prosthetist and I can come up with a better version. I hope that won’t take too long now; I get the impression that her stump is nearly ready to be fitted with a prosthetic lower leg”. The parents now seemed much more relieved that real progress was being made.

Melanie was now looking really happy; she was absolutely delighted with her new pegleg-cum-kneebrace, and also pleased that her mother seemed to have accepted it too.

“This is so wonderful” Melanie said “Please, can I give Jamie a kiss?”
“Now Melanie, really!” her mother exclaimed “That is not proper behaviour towards a doctor!” “If I’m acting as the official chaperone” I said “then it should be me who passes a verdict on that. So: on the condition that I also get a kiss from Jamie, and a nice hug from Melanie ..... Permission granted!”
I began to doubt the wisdom of that, when Melanie’s kiss turned out to be far more passionate and lingering than I had expected! But my jealousy soon evaporated when I realised the significance of the way she was standing, with her weight being borne by her new brace only, so that she could lift her left foot off the floor and curl her functioning leg round behind Jamie’s legs -- it meant she really did have full confidence in its support.

And then it was time to say goodbye to the three of them; but first we went with them back to Reception. Melanie was walking slowly but confidently; and so that she didn’t try to walk too fast, Jamie was ‘setting the pace’: He was wheeling himself in the hospital chair that Melanie had arrived in, with his own crutches stowed behind, so that he could return the chair and then crutch back to his office.

After the Bakers had left, we made our way back to Jamie’s little office.
“I feel that was very successful for the first experiment” he commented “but now I’d better get stuck into working on the next version”.
“I know I promised Melanie I’d make sure you would work hard on making up her special orthosis” I said “but I didn’t mean to slave-drive you! You’ve been working every evening and all weekend recently -- give yourself a break for a couple of days! We haven’t been to Aunt Emma’s or seen your father for ages now -- can we have a weekend away?”

Jamie seemed to be wrestling with his conscience. “I know you haven’t seen your Aunt for quite a while” he replied “and I haven’t seen Dad in even longer. Come to think of it, I’m actually a bit ahead of schedule for once; perhaps I could take a couple of days off to make a decent long weekend of it. Okay; I’ll just go and make sure nobody books me down on the stand-by rota for a few days -- and meanwhile you can give Aunt Emma a ring to tell her we’ll be down just as soon as we can get away”.

Almost by force of habit, we drove straight to Aunt Emma’s; but Jamie’s father had guessed we might do that, and so was already at Aunt Emma’s when we arrived.

“It’s lovely to see you both” Aunt Emma greeted us “I feared you’d forgotten all about me!”
“Of course I hadn’t forgotten you” I assured her “though I’m sorry that I’ve allowed to get myself tied up with so many other things recently”.
“I’m sure you hadn’t really forgotten me” she replied “But I really have been missing you lately, and had been drifting back into loneliness and lethargy -- so it’s a lovely surprise to see you again”.
“I’m sorry we didn’t give you any advance warning” I said “but it was a bit of a last-minute decision”. “Don’t ever worry about that” Aunt Emma said warmly “Your bed here is always ready and waiting for you”.

Aunt Emma had - as was her habit - prepared a meal for us, and the four of us chatted and caught up with the news and gossip.
Then Jamie went back home with his father, and I made my way up to ‘my’ bedroom upstairs. It wasn’t until I was actually getting into bed that I realised just how much I’d been missing the snug and welcoming tranquillity of that little room.

I woke up the following morning feeling very much refreshed.
I was determined to get myself into a holiday mood, by dressing myself up appropriately brightly. I had remembered to pack some colourful clothes before leaving; and I also keep a selection at Aunt Emma’s too.
The weather was a bit chilly; and since my legs don’t have any muscles ‘burning’ energy, they can feel the cold. So I put on some bright green running tights and leg-warmers under my braces (my ‘Sunday best’ ones, of course), with a pair of chunky platforms mounted on the calliper ends; and topped off with a colourful stripey jumper.
So I both looked and felt very cheerful when I came downstairs.

Aunt Emma approved of my get-up; but was a bit more critical of Jamie when he joined us after breakfast. “I know you’re a ‘professional man’ nowadays” she said “but don’t you think you could relax at the weekend and adopt a more casual style of leisure attire? I actually approve of the concept of the ‘peacock male’; but even some smart jeans would be better than the rather nondescript trousers you’ve got on at the moment”.
“I agree with you in principle” Jamie replied “but in practice, it can be quite a struggle to pull trousers on over legbraces and boots; so I tend to settle for loose-cut trousers rather than anything more fashionable”.
“You should try ‘break-pants’,” I suggested “You know: track-suit bottoms with a slit all the way up the outside leg, and press-stud poppers -- they’re much easier to pull on over braces and shoes”.
“There’s a thought” he replied “But where can I get those?” “Why not try the local sports shop” I said “They’ve got a wonderful range of that sort of thing. It would also be an opportunity to see Walter -- I haven’t seen him for ages”.

“Now there’s a good idea” Aunt Emma broke in “Ever since Karen went back to college, they don’t come to see me any more, and so I haven’t seen Walter recently either. If you don’t mind, I’d like to come with you; a little trip out into town will help to lift me out of the doldrums!”

When reached the sports shop, Jamie and I swung in through the door; but Aunt Emma stopped outside for a moment to look in the shop window. I could only see the manager inside, on his own apart from one customer that he was serving. He looked up as the door opened, saw me and recognised me, and gave me a welcoming smile; and then turned his attention back to his customer. So he didn’t notice Aunt Emma follow us in -- and she promptly disappeared behind a rack of ski-wear.
The manager finished serving the customer, who left; and then he came over to meet us. “Hello Josie” he said cheerfully “How lovely to see you again”. “This is my boyfriend Jamie” I told him. “Hello Jamie, nice to meet you too” the manager said. “He’s not just my boyfriend” I continued “We’re engaged!” “Then I should offer my congratulations to both of you” he answered; adding to Jamie “You’re a very lucky chap to have such a beautiful bride!”

Aunt Emma’s severely prim face suddenly emerged from a rail of clothing: “Have you taken to addressing all your young lady customers in such a familiar and flirtatious fashion?” she demanded. The colour drained from the manager’s face at the sudden sight and sound of Aunt Emma, and his mouth opened and closed like a goldfish. Aunt Emma maintained her accusing expression for just a couple more seconds -- and then relaxed into her usual warm smile: “Because if so” she continued with a wink “it’s come not a moment too soon! You really did need to ‘lighten up’ a bit; you were far too overbearing and pompous last time I was here with Josie -- so I’m very glad to see you’ve become much more human now!”
The manager was now looking at Aunt Emma in awe and bafflement; but at least the fear and terror had left his face. “Ummm..... well certainly your ..... niece if I recall? ..... is a very personable young lady” he finally answered cautiously. “Indeed she is” Aunt Emma replied warmly “Which is why you will get along much better with her - and any of her young friends -- now you’ve dropped your condescending manner, and treat her as the cheerful girl she is”. A great look of relief washed over his face as he realised that my aunt actually approved of the friendly approach!

We soon found Jamie some split track-suit bottoms; and I made sure he got some nice colourful ones: bright blue with orange and white trim -- it dawned on me that I might want to borrow them for myself some time!
I hadn’t intended to buy anything for myself; but I did like the look of a backpack shaped like a cuddly monkey -- so I decided to add that to my collection of rucksacks.
Even Aunt Emma got caught with the shopping bug: she tried on a bright fluorescent pink woolly bobble-hat, and paraded around in it. “Very fetching, Madam” the manager cautiously suggested. “It really suits you!” I commented. “No it doesn’t at all!” Aunt Emma replied “A tea-cosy on my head would be more appropriate. But it will be fun to see how much it shocks the neighbours!”

No other customers had come in while we were there, and the manager now seemed much more relaxed in Aunt Emma’s presence. She looked around, and then turned to him: “I don’t see young Walter here” she said “Is this his day off?” “Yes and no” he replied “Walter is up at Head Office today”.
Really?” she commented, fixing him with her ‘Tell me all about it’ look.

“Ever since Walter started work here as a trainee” the manager explained “I have to send regular reports on his progress to Head Office; and I’m pleased to say that I have been able to report very satisfactory progress in every one of them. As a result, they summoned Walter to an interview with the Personnel Manager, to evaluate what potential he had for promotion beyond a mere shop assistant. That was a couple of months ago; and Walter gave a very good account of himself at the interview”.
“As it happens” he continued “In one of my regular reports, I added a note to the effect that I had become aware that basic training at Head Office did not include any guidance for serving disabled customers -- as Josie made me realise during her last visit. I mentioned that if they had added that to the more recent courses, then Walter might benefit from it, as he had already shown an aptitude for that sort of thing”
“Apparently, they did want to expand the training course to include awareness of appropriately correct attitudes towards disabled people. So, as Walter’s interview had gone well so far, they raised the matter with him. After a bit of discussion, they decided that they would not enrol him as a student on the new course after all . . . . . they wanted him to help them organise it!”
“Walter had a day at Head Office a month ago, helping them to set up the new course” the manager concluded “And he’s up there again today, giving his first lecture to the current batch of trainees”.

We all thought that was wonderful news! “When he gets back” I said “please give him my congratulations”.
“We’re sorry to have missed him today” Aunt Emma added “so please remind him that he’s always welcome to pop round to see us”.

When we got back to Aunt Emma’s, the first thing she did - as always - was to put the kettle on for tea. Once we were sat down round the table, she started the conversation.

“While we were in the shop” Aunt Emma said to me “I recall you telling the manager that you were engaged”. “Oh yes.....” I responded dreamily.
“But engaged to be WHAT?” Aunt Emma enquired. “Why..... to be married, of course” I replied, puzzled as to why she should ask.
“Precisely!” she said, very pointedly “But when? The two of you have been drifting around without making any progress towards a wedding -- WHEN do you intend to get married?” she demanded.
She had Jamie fixed in her stare -- and he started to shift uncomfortably. “Of course it is my wish and intention to marry Josie” he stammered “and I’m certainly not trying to back down from that promise. But the trouble is ..... I seem to get so tied up at work ..... and I don’t seem to be able to find time to sit down quietly for long enough ..... and, ummm .....”
“Pah! You really are hopeless!” Aunt Emma snorted “Still, as long as he’s handy with a screwdriver and a leather-punch, we can’t expect much more from a mere male of the species”.

I started to giggle at Aunt Emma’s little joke -- but that faded away when she swung her inquisitorial gaze round on to me ..... and then I started to squirm. “Oh dear, I’m not trying to delay things, honest I’m not” I faltered “I really do want to get married; but I don’t know how to go about it ..... You see -- I’ve never been married before” I finished up weakly.
“That’s no excuse!” she countered. Then she relaxed, and gave a little sigh: “Ah well, it looks as though the only way we’ll ever make any progress, is if I attend to the details and arrangements”. “Oh..... would you please, Aunt Emma?” I replied brightly “I’m sure you’ll make a wonderful job of it!”
Aunt Emma’s look softened. “Well -- it will certainly keep me occupied and give me something interesting to do” she smiled “Though come to think of it, I’ve never been married before either! But no matter; I’m sure I’ve still got my books on Etiquette around somewhere -- they shouldn’t be much more than sixty or seventy years out of date”.

“But don’t think you can evade all responsibility” she said firmly to me “I do expect you to help by visiting more often”.

Josie: More play than work

Hi; I’m Josie in legbraces -- which you know all about by now!

After we returned from our weekend break, Jamie got back to work on his half of the combined legbrace-and-prosthesis for Melanie’s paralysed below-knee stump; and was in contact with Alan who was making the socket part. It wasn’t long before the ‘Mark two’ device was ready; and as Jamie had already promised Melanie, he would be going down to meet her at Alan’s Limb Centre. Jamie’s department could see that this was a prestigious project, and were happy for him to have a couple of days away for that stage of it. They also allowed me to go with him as his assistant; that meant I could spend a couple of days with Tania and Neil and our other friends in their area -- but still be officially ‘at work’!

I packed my ‘best’ legbraces, and we set together off late one afternoon in Jamie’s van; and he drove straight to the Carters, as he knew the way to Neil’s, but not to Tania’s. I suppose I could have navigated him to Tania; but I was afraid he might not think much of my directions (My usual route is to keep driving until I reach the little filling station near them; which means I’ve overshot and missed their lane -- so turn round in its forecourt, go back along the road, and take the first turning off!)
We arrived safely mid-evening; and discovered that Tania had also come over to Neil’s, so we all had a natter and caught up with what we’d been up to recently.

One topic that cropped up was that, although Tania and Neil had got engaged before Jamie and me, the way Aunt Emma was ‘getting the ball rolling’, our marriage might take place before theirs.
It turned out that, although both their parents were willing to continue to support their respective daughter and son, they would both prefer it if the couple could become self-sufficient and independent -- and Tania and Neil were happy to go along with that idea, and delay their wedding until such time as they could support themselves.

Neil had been experiencing great difficulty in finding a job: Employers had taken one look at his hooks, and then either immediately discarded him as being incapable of doing anything without even giving him any opportunity to demonstrate how competent he was; or else sanctimoniously offered him a soul-destroyingly boring ‘non-job’ at an insulting pittance of a wage.
Tania had been out of the job-seeking routine for some time: She had barely completed her rehabilitation from the loss of her first leg, when the tumour had cost her her second leg.
But Neil had been improving his computer-programming skills, and his father had been investigating ways of helping him set up as a self-employed Computer Consultant; and Tania was now enrolled on a physiotherapy diploma course, and getting additional experience helping part-time at Alan’s Limb Centre, and could expect to be reliably employable when she had finished.


Without thinking properly, I had assumed that Jamie and I would be able to stay in the Carter’s twin-bedded guest room; But Mrs Carter intimated that she was not entirely happy with that idea, as we were still only engaged but not yet married. It wouldn’t have worried us; but I didn’t want to do anything that would trouble Mrs Carter’s conscience. Tania was quite happy for me to stay with her, and Jamie would stay with Neil. Actually, that was quite a good arrangement: Tania and I get on well together, and usually indulge in a bit of girl-talk in her bedroom; and I suppose Jamie and Neil would be having some equivalent ‘boy-talk’ -- which I’m sure we girls would have found utterly boring!

The following morning, I put on my best braces and a mini-skirt, and Tania wore shorts with her coverless mechanical legs. After a quick breakfast, we all set off to meet up at Alan’s Limb Centre; and Kathy had also come along with Tania and me (wearing her demo hooks, as I had become quite accustomed to). Alan and his receptionist seem quite happy about the waiting room being used as an unofficial ‘Amputees Social Club’ -- it means that any new patients he has can always drop in and stand a good chance of meeting up with other amputees who can give each other friendship and support.

In fact, we all arrived quite some time before Melanie was due, and Alan passed the time chatting to us. “I have a little present for you” he said to Kathy “You remember I said you really needed some wrist-flexion units to go with your demo hooks? I’ve just acquired some, and I’ll fit them for you. The whole of today has been booked for Melanie’s fitting, but it certainly won’t take all day. That means that I should be able to find a few spare minutes at some point, though I don’t know exactly when. So if you take the hooks off and leave them here, you can collect them again at the end of the day”.
Kathy beamed with delight; but her profuse thanks were curtailed by the arrival of Melanie and her mother. Melanie strode confidently in on the weight-bearing brace with its side-bars extending to a rocker below her free-hanging stump; and was clearly eager to try the next experimental device. Mrs Baker had by now got used to Melanie’s ‘appliance’; but was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of ‘appliances’ in the room -- four legbraces, two hooks, and two mechanical legs! But she was also quite satisfied that her daughter was ‘in safe hands’, and happy to leave Melanie and collect her again later in the day.

Melanie was ushered into the fitting room by Alan and Jamie; accompanied by Betty who was Alan’s regular assistant, and by Tania who was assisting Betty and also acting as an amputee rôle model for Melanie. That pretty well filled the room; and I realised that, although I was supposed to be Jamie’s assistant, the truth was that I would have been the least useful person in the already crowded room. Kathy similarly agreed that she should not be expecting to be in there either.
“Let’s go over to the bistro for a coffee” Kathy suggested “We’ll probably meet Flix and Danny and Tim there”. I agreed that seemed a good idea.

Alan’s head appeared briefly out of the door. “Don’t forget what I said about your wrist units” he said to Kathy “Just leave your hooks with the receptionist, and I’ll do them as soon as I have a chance”.

Kathy shrugged herself out of her two prostheses, and stiffly flexed her uncovered fingers. “That’s the first time I’ve seen your hands for a long time” I commented “You’ve always been wearing hooks whenever I’ve seen you recently”. “I hardly ever use my real hands and fingers these days” Kathy replied “I wear and use the hooks most of the time”. “How do you manage to get away with that?” I asked. “My parents know that I’m a stand-in ‘hook demonstrator’ for Alan” she replied “and so are happy about me ‘practising’ at home -- and they assume that then’s the only opportunity I have. But all my school-friends know about the ‘demonstrating’ too; and I’ve got them to believe that I can’t wear hooks at home, so I need to practise when with them! And all the people I’ve met since then outside school assume I really am an amputee -- including everyone at the bistro”.
“Well, they’ll get a chance to see you’re not today” I commented.

“No they won’t” Kathy retorted “In fact -- they mustn’t!” She opened her shoulder bag, pulled out a pair of creamy-orange coloured kitchen gloves; and started to pull one on to her left hand ..... a little clumsily, I thought. Kathy draped the right-hand glove over her left wrist, and turned to me: “Can you give me a bit of help with this other one?” she asked. As I picked it up and tried to pull it over her right hand, I realised that she had somehow managed to glue some stiffeners inside the palms and fingers, and they pretty much immobilised her hands. Finally we got both gloves on. “There we are:” Kathy smiled, looking at her motionless neoprene fingers “One pair of dummy artificial hands! Let’s go!”

Our timing was good; we met Flix just as we arrived at the bistro, and the three of us went in together. I remembered the place from a couple of previous visits; and Flix and Kathy were regulars there.
We got a table for six, and I lowered myself into a chair and unlocked each knee-joint of my legbraces. Flix took my crutches between her hand and her hook, and propped them in a corner. Kathy managed to nudge her chair out from the table using one foot and her motionless ‘hands’.
The waitress - a girl who I remembered seeing on an earlier visit - came to take our order. “I think I’ll have one of your ‘froffy coffee’ specials” Flix said. “That sounds good” I added “Same for me please. How about you, Kathy?” “Ummm... I think I’ll have a cola” Kathy replied.
Our drinks were soon served to us. Kathy tried to pick up her glass between the knuckles of her thumbs; but even after several attempts, she wasn’t having much success. “Sorry to trouble you Nancy” she called out when the waitress next passed “I don’t want to risk spilling this drink over your table-cloth -- could I have a straw please?”

Nancy came straight back with a straw and put it in the glass, and watched as Kathy slid the glass a little nearer with her fists. “Thanks Nancy” she said, adding conversationally “It makes a change to be wearing these -- they make me look as though I do have a pair of real hands, don’t they?” Poor Nancy’s eyebrows furrowed as she tried to think what to reply, as Kathy’s ‘hands’ didn’t look the least bit natural! But she didn’t have to say anything, as Kathy continued chatting: “The only tiny problem is that, nice as they are, I can’t actually do very much with them. Still, never mind” she added cheerfully “I get my hooks back later today, and then I’ll be fully functional and completely back to normal again”.

I found my heart going out to this poor girl, trying to make light of such a terrible handicap -- and then remembered that she was only pretending! “That was very convincing” I said after Nancy had left us “You even had me fooled for a moment!” But then I glanced across to Flix, then looked back to Kathy. “But don’t you think it’s a bit unfair” I asked quietly “playing games like that in front of Flix?” “Don’t worry, it doesn’t upset me” Flix promptly replied “I get on very well with Kathy, especially after she was so much help to me to begin with, and is one of the few people who understand what it’s really like. And when this came to light on our first full day together, if I remember right, I said that I’d much prefer to continue to believe that Kathy was an amputee just like me -- and I still do”.

At that point, Danny and Tim arrived. Tim came limping in, with a bandage around one knee. “I fell over when I was running along a gravel path” he explained “Cor! It didn’t half hurt!” Danny and his younger accident-prone brother joined us at the table, and Kathy explained that she was wearing ‘cosmetic’ hands today instead of her usual hooks. Nancy returned to take their order: Danny joined us in a cappuccino, while Tim wanted a coke “Wiv a straw, like Kathy, please”. “Can I have a sticky bun too?” he asked Danny. “Do any of you want anything to eat?” Danny asked the three of us. As I’d had an early breakfast at Tania’s, I reckoned I could now manage a danish; and Flix and Danny ordered a brownie each.
Nancy looked enquiringly at Kathy. “I do like the lemon cheesecake here” she mused “but I don’t think I’d be able to cope with one at the moment”. There was a dessert spoon on the table; Kathy pressed down on its bowl with her left ‘hand’ to make the handle lift off the table -- then tried to force the handle in between the fingers of her right hand ..... but gave up after several unsuccessful attempts. “Ah well.....” she continued, forcing a smile “I’ll just have to pretend I’m on a figure-conscious diet today -- probably not a bad thing”.

Danny looked at her gently. “I don’t want to sound condescending” he said softly “but would you mind if I offered to feed you?”
From the one time when Neil had fed me (solely because I was so hopeless at using chopsticks) I knew that her feelings might be anything from a deep sense of humiliation, to a caringly intimate experience -- all depending on the attitude of the helper. But I also sensed that Danny had got beyond the purely visual attraction he had first had towards us disabled girls, and was now getting to know us as real people.
“That’s very kind of you Danny” Kathy said appreciatively. “So -- that’s one House Special lemon-curd cheesecake” Nancy confirmed brightly “Would you like it with an extra portion of double cream?” Kathy’s earlier weight-watching resolution vanished instantly: “Ooooh -- yes please!”
 
 
After we had all finished our ‘elevenses’, Danny suggested that he felt he ought to continue to be available to assist Kathy for the rest of the day until she got her regular functioning hooks back. In fact, Kathy wasn’t completely helpless by any means; and in any case, Flix and I could easily ‘give her a hand’ if she needed it -- but we all enjoyed Danny’s company, so were quite happy to have him join us.
We strolled over to the park -- and discovered there was a fun-fair there. That was a pleasant surprise; and we made the most of it!

It was fortunate that Danny was with us, as I needed him to help me on and off the rides. Luckily, although I had my best fancy legbraces, I hadn’t fitted the pelvic girdle or hip-joints, so it wasn’t too difficult -- and I had a great time on the gallopers!
While he was doing that, Tim decided he ought to deputise for his brother and look after Kathy. Unfortunately, Tim was determined to eat lots of candy-floss and toffee-apples; and as a result of him ‘helping’ Kathy, her face and cheeks ended up being just as sticky with syrup as Tim’s was!

With all that excitement, the afternoon just flew by. Eventually we said goodbye to the brothers, and made our way back to the Limb Centre.

When we got there, we found Alan and Jamie and Tania relaxing and chatting to each other. “Have you had a nice afternoon?” we were asked. “Yes thanks, great fun!” I replied “But where’s Melanie?”
“We got Melanie fitted up fine” Alan replied “Everything went well, even better than I’d hoped for -- and so Melanie left almost an hour ago”. “Alan had made a wonderful job of the stump socket” Jamie added “So instead of having to leave it here for re-adjustments, Melanie was able to start using it ‘for real’ straight away”. “I’m sorry to have missed her” I said “but I’m really glad to hear she’s okay”.
“We were just going to have a coffee” Alan commented “but unfortunately, with no more appointments to look after today, my receptionist has also gone home early, and.....” “Okay okay, I get the hint” Tania smiled “Come on Flix, we’ll brew up!”

“I did find time to fit your wrist units” Alan said to Kathy “and I’ve got them here for you”. Kathy was so impatient that I had to help her get her stiffened gloves off; it would have taken her forever to remove them by herself! She soon had her upgraded hook prostheses on, and really did look relieved to have some ‘finger’ function back at last.
Tania and Flix returned with the coffees as Alan was describing the new features to Kathy. “These are actually two different styles” he explained “so you should find it interesting to compare the two. Both have stiff friction joints, so that the wrists will hold their angle. That means that they need a means of release for re-positioning -- and that’s where they differ”.

“The one on the right wrist” he continued “has this large push-button; you should find it quite easy to press with your left hook -- or even, with practice, on the corner of a table. The left unit is different, and rather cunning in a way: the wrist angle is fixed until you open the hook to its fullest extent, which then releases the lock so that it can be moved and re-positioned”.
Alan allowed Kathy to experiment with the two different release mechanisms until he was satisfied that she understood how to actuate them.
“Now you know what to do” he said to her “I’ll have to admit that I’m not really the best person to show you the ‘when and how’ of them; I’ll have to leave you to discover how to utilise these new facilities all by yourself -- although I suspect you’ll find it much more interesting that way”.

Alan looked at the clock. “It’s time for me to ‘shut up shop’ now” he said; then turned to Flix. “I haven’t forgotten about you, Felicity” he added “I’m expecting your myo-electric hand to be ready any day now, and I want to arrange for you to start with the ‘training unit’ as soon as possible”.

With that extra piece of good news, Flix left for home, and I drove the four of us back to the Carters for the evening.

Kathy was eager for Neil to show her how to best use her new wrist-flexion units; like Alan, he too wanted to first satisfy himself that she knew how to release and re-lock them first. “Two different types, I see” he commented “neither of which are quite the same as mine. But that’s not the point; it’s what you can do with them that matters”. Neil then demonstrated that, with the hooks in their normal square-on position, and forearms held in a typical pose, the hooks were often pointing away from the body; but by angling them inwards, they could ‘reach the parts that other hooks can’t reach’.
Kathy soon found that she could now straighten the collar of her blouse, and get her hooks much nearer to her body when needed -- and was thoroughly enjoying herself with all these new discoveries.

Mrs Carter then called us to table and served dinner. Kathy discovered it was now easier to bring a fork towards her mouth; but of course, its angle was now different when she approached her plate.
If Kathy had been able-bodied and a lot younger, she might have been reprimanded for “playing with her food” -- but the Carters were well aware how much work was needed to really master eating with hooks.
 
 
After dinner, the five of us retired to the lounge and relaxed. “I’ve done quite enough walking for today” Tania commented; and removed both her artificial legs, and wiggled her stumps to benefit from their freedom. Next she prodded Neil with one of them: “Come on lover-boy” she murmured “It’s caressing time”. Neil needed no further prompting to shrug himself out of his hook prostheses. Tania gave his forearm stumps a brief massage, as I had seen her do before -- and then Neil started to tenderly stroke her, with his first opportunity of the day to have a sense of touch.
After a short while they looked pointedly at me, down to my legbraces, then back to my face again. “Okay okay, I get the hint!” I smiled “When in Rome.....” and removed my legbraces. I remembered what a liberating feeling it had been last time the three of us had been together, discarding our respective prostheses and orthoses. Instead of having to sit square on the settee with all my joints at regimental ninety-degree bends, I could now position and drape my limp and floppy legs wherever I wanted them.
I looked across the room at Jamie. “Come on darling, you mustn’t be the odd man out” I challenged. “But I never remove my legbraces during the daytime” Jamie protested “you know I’m completely helpless without them”. “No more so than I am” I countered “Get 'em off!”

But then I realised that it had been easy for Tania and me to dismount our hardware, as we were dressed in shorts and mini-skirt respectively; whereas Jamie would have to take his trousers off first, which I know is a bit of a struggle -- and I apologetically admitted that to him.
“Actually, I won’t have to” he replied “After I’d realised the advantages of split-sided break-pants that you suggested to me, I’ve now got some full-length zips hidden in the outside seams of my trousers”. “Hey, that’s clever of you” I said “I didn’t realise you were so nifty with a sewing needle!” “Well..... I didn’t actually do it myself” he admitted “But Crystal knew someone in Occupational Therapy who had a sewing machine, and she did it for me”.
Jamie started to unzip one leg to demonstrate -- and then his face went white as he realised that he’d just demolished his only excuse for not wanting to join in with us!
“I remember when I first lost the use of my legs” I said provocatively “you used to love to watch my legs trailing limply behind me as I crawled across the floor. Now it’s MY turn to watch you dragging yourself across to me; and then I promise I’ll give you a nice refreshing massage -- you’ve been working really hard today, and you deserve one”.
Jamie was still a bit self-conscious about the idea -- but he finished up thoroughly enjoying every moment of it!

This was just like the previous occasion when we had indulged in this form of relaxation: although we were at our most disabled, we didn’t feel in the least bit handicapped, because we collectively had enough working limbs between us to accomplish anything we wanted. Nevertheless, Kathy was keen to do any ‘fetching and carrying’ for us, even though it wasn’t really necessary.

After a while, we all had quite a good chuckle when the significance dawned on us that the only person in the room who was wearing artificial aids in the form of hook prostheses, was the only one of us who was actually able-bodied. It must tell you something about our approach to life and disability, that none of us found that the least bit incongruous.

Josie's Wedding; Part 1 (of 3): Planning

Hi; I'm Josie in legbraces . . . . . and I'm going to be a bride!

I managed to get myself onto some shifts at work such that, by working some weekends and several evenings, I could get the other weekends free to visit Aunt Emma; I must admit I had felt guilty about not seeing her for such a long period before, and was now able to make up for it. And, of course, she wanted to discuss the wedding arrangements.

On our first evening together, after we'd made ourselves comfortable in her two facing high-backed armchairs, she made a start. "Where would you like the wedding to take place?" Aunt Emma asked "Back where you had been living, or up in the city?" To be honest, I wasn't really sure; and I found myself thinking aloud: "Much as my own little place meant so much to me when I managed to get away from my parents" I mused "I've been spending less and less time there recently. I still keep in touch with my friends there; but I don't have such a strong sense of `belonging' nowadays. And although I've settled in well in the city, it's still just somewhere where I work and sleep -- I don't really feel like a `citizen' of that area yet".

"Now I come to think of it" I continued after a pause "about the only time when I feel totally relaxed and completely `at home', is when I'm staying here with you". From the beaming glow on Aunt Emma's face, I couldn't have said anything to please her more if I had tried. "You don't know how good my heart feels to hear you say that!" she said "I could not wish for anything better; and since this is Jamie's home town too, I'm positive that Peter will be equally pleased".

"There!" she said with a smile "We've got the first detail sorted out already: all you have to do is to make a beginning, and then any task - however daunting it may initially appear - soon starts to get dealt with!" "Was there anything you wanted to ask?" she then added.

"There's one thing I'm a bit lost about" I replied, frowning slightly "and that is who is going to give me away? I think I still wouldn't be comfortable about my own father doing it, though I felt I ought at least to give him the opportunity. So I wrote to them -- but my letter got returned, marked `No longer at this address'." I hadn't realised just how much that had hurt me, until my voice cracked as I continued "They've moved -- but they didn't even tell me!"

A look of thunder appeared on Aunt Emma's face which I'd never seen before; and I realised that this was not a `put on' look of disapproval, but her real emotions showing. "I've always been appalled and disgusted with the way your parents abused and mistreated you when you were younger" she muttered "and then just washed their hands of you as soon as you tried to assert some independence. But I daren't say any more, for fear that I might be unable to control my tongue, and inflict your innocent ears with expletives they do not deserve to be assailed by". "Please don't make yourself upset, Aunt Emma" I tried to calm her "I know my mother and father were rotten to me -- but I expect that they couldn't help it that they just weren't cut out to be parents".

Aunt Emma got herself back under control before speaking again: "As it happens" she finally said "I have found out their new address -- do you want to try writing again?" I had to think about that before answering. "To be honest" I said "I don't really. I suppose I ought to invite them, or at least let them know about it -- but I'm sure they'll be `too busy' to come". I waited for another expression of emotion to arise on Aunt Emma's face - and then subside again - before continuing. "So I started to think of alternatives to give me away" I said "The only real one that came to mind was Peter Henderson -- but that wouldn't be right, as he's already the father of the groom" "So ..... would YOU give me away please, Aunt Emma?"

This was the second time that I was puzzled by seeing an expression cross Aunt Emma's face that I'd never seen before. It took me some time to work out what it was: for probably the first time in her life, she was completely overcome and speechless! "My dear Josie!" she eventually said "I don't think you realise just what an enormous privilege and honour you are trying to bestow!" "But when I think about it" she continued after a pause "I feel I ought to decline. You see -- I'm thinking about the part played by the mother of the bride: Fussing around like a broody hen, organising everything and everybody to the point of distraction, and then shedding a tear at appropriate moments on the day itself . . . . . and I must say I rather fancy myself playing that role". My initial sharp stab of disappointment at her refusal soon softened as I envisaged Aunt Emma's proposed activities -- which of course she had already started, by offering to attend to the arrangements. "Oh yes, Aunt Emma" I said enthusiastically "You would be WONDERFUL in that part!"

"Ah well" I continued "I suppose I'll just have to settle for not having anyone to give me away; I don't suppose it's obligatory, anyway?" "You are correct" she replied "and indeed, I've never been entirely happy with the concept of a father `giving' a daughter away, as if she were no more than an item of disposable property! Nevertheless, I do think it's nice for the bride to have the moral support of someone until their new husband takes over that duty and responsibility" "But I don't think we've exhausted all the possibilities yet" she continued "Who is the `man about the house' who mends broken chair-legs and oils squeaky door-hinges? Who pretends to be Santa Claus creeping into the girl's bedroom with presents?"

That had me stumped: the first example certainly didn't trigger any memories of my own father -- and the second stirred some memories that I thought I'd managed to suppress. But then I moved my mind forward to the very first time I had come to visit Aunt Emma, and had arrived without my legbraces..... "Uncle Arthur!!" I cried out. (Of course, he's Neil's Uncle Arthur, not mine -- but that's what we've all taken to calling him). Dear kindly Arthur: who was always `just popping in to see if you wanted anything from the shops', but really was keeping a neighbourly eye on my aged Aunt; and who had driven half through the night to fetch me my missing legbraces on that first visit. And he was tickled pink when I asked him later!

"While we're talking about the menfolk" Aunt Emma suggested "Although it doesn't need to be any concern of ours -- do you know if Jamie has chosen anyone to be his Best Man?" "Oh yes" I replied "That will be Neil". "Oh dear, oh dearie me" Aunt Emma said, shaking her head with an exaggerated look of horror and concern "In that case, I can foresee some wickedly naught pranks being played on his Stag Night!"

"But now we've move on to the `supporting cast'," she continued, after we'd finished chuckling about what Jamie and Neil might get up to, "Have you thought who you'd like to be your bridesmaids?" "That's a tricky one" I replied "because there are so MANY girl friends I'd like to ask. To start with the local girls, there's Mandy and Karen. And then there's Tania -- I can't have Neil being Best Man, but Tania just standing on the sidelines. And then there's....." "Stop there!" Aunt Emma interrupted "Those are plenty enough already -- and I also think those three would make an excellent choice".

Then we moved on to the guest list. "How many friends do you want to invite" Aunt Emma asked "or do you want just a `family only' wedding?" "But I haven't got much in the way of family" I replied "Apart from YOU, of course! I suppose I'd better ask my bitchy cousin; though I can't really think of anybody else. But of course I want to see all my friends! All the ones I made when I first left home, like Debbie and Liz; and the people I worked with at the Girl Friday temping agency; and everybody in the new shared house in the city, and in Jamie's department". "And all my close and special friends of course!" I added. Aunt Emma gave me a soft smile; and I realised that we were both thinking along the same lines: the words `disabled', and `close and special', were completely interchangeable -- they both meant exactly the same thing. "And then THEY have lots of lovely friends" I continued "many of whom I've already met; but there are several who I haven't yet -- I'd love them to come along too. And then all the regulars at the Wodin Club; and we mustn't forget all your neighbours -- and everybody at the Saturday night Village Dance". I was getting so carried away that I didn't realise quite what a mammoth task I was burdening poor Aunt Emma with! But bless her, she just took a deep breath, smiled, and said "I can see this is going to become the wedding of the century!"

The difficulty then, with so many guests, was to pick a date which would be convenient for all of them. With Olivia and Karen at college (and Danny was just starting college too), we decided it would be best to try to fit it into vacation time. Finally, we found the best date we could, just after the end of term. It turned out that Karen would be staying on at college for a few days to take extra end-of-term exams (because of the dual course she was doing), and had also arranged to stay with her friends Hester and George and Vicky during the week after that; but she expected to be back home just in time, though it might not be until the night before the wedding -- but she and Mandy would keep in touch with each other. The only people who couldn't make that date were Karen's parents: now that she was largely independent, her parents had booked a cruise holiday just for themselves -- and it spanned the wedding weekend.

The next time I visited Aunt Emma, Mandy came over so that we could start thinking about the details for the bridesmaids. As she had promised, she had been keeping in touch with Karen and discussing things with her. "What's the news from Karen?" I asked eagerly. Mandy paused for a moment before replying. "She says she wants to wear legbraces for the wedding" she answered cautiously. "Oh, that's wonderful!" I replied "I was hoping and half-expecting that she would". Mandy relaxed a little; and then a worried frown came back to her face. "There's obviously more to tell?" I prompted. "Oh dear, this is rather embarrassing" Mandy said hesitantly "After Karen told me that and I'd thought about it, an idea crossed my mind ..... and Karen thought you'd like it ..... but now I'm not so sure ..... it does seem almost offensive . . . . . No Josie -- forget I ever asked you".

"Oh, come ON!" I said in exasperation "Are you trying to wind me up? I can't very well `forget' something you haven't even told me! Karen knows me pretty well, so if she thinks it was a good idea, I'm sure I won't find it silly. Don't keep me in suspense -- what was it?" Mandy still didn't feel comfortable. "I thought that if both you and Karen were wearing legbraces" she said apologetically "I wondered if I ought to find some to borrow, so that the three of us would be the same".

"Oh Mandy, you darling!" I replied happily "What a wonderful idea -- I think that would be absolutely lovely!" Mandy then relaxed somewhat; but now it was my turn to be concerned: "But are you SURE you really want to?" I asked "I know you get along perfectly well with disabled people; but I've often noticed that you show discomfort about the disability itself, especially if we're struggling a bit. I don't think you'd like the experience of being `handicapped', even if it was only temporary".

Mandy nodded pensively. "You've summed me up pretty well" she admitted "I like you very much, and would do anything to help you; but it still pains me when I see you struggling in awkward situations, and the possibility of becoming disabled myself fills me with fear! Karen was convinced you would like me to `match' the two of you, and so half of me is determined to do so; but the other half of me is hoping desperately that we won't be able to find any spare legbraces, so that I won't have to". I gave her a mischievous grin. "We can check out the `other half' of you right now" I smiled "I'll be wearing my best ones - the ones I'm wearing at the moment - on the day itself, so my regular ones will be free. In fact, I packed these best ones in my car last night, and only put them on this morning; so my regular ones are upstairs in my bedroom, and we can see if they fit you".

Mandy slumped back with a resigned `I've been trapped' look on her face; but as soon as I made moves to get up from my chair, she immediately got to her feet. "If they're upstairs" she said "let me fetch them for you; that is, if you don't mind me going into your bedroom?" That was a kind offer, as Aunt Emma's stairs aren't very `brace-friendly'; I've got used to them by now, after the number of times I've hauled myself up and down them -- but I still find them a bit tricky to negotiate when trying to carry anything bulky. "Thank you Mandy" I replied "That would save a few moments. And I'm not ashamed of the untidiness in there; Aunt Emma doesn't allow me to let it get into too much of a mess -- so you shouldn't have any difficulty in finding them!"

Mandy soon returned with my `weekday' legbraces -- carrying them very carefully, and almost holding them at arms-length as if to dissociate herself from them. We soon ascertained that we took the same shoe size, so that part of the fitting was okay. The length also seemed about right; so I started putting them on her legs. Mandy was almost wincing as I did up the straps of the cuffs, even though I knew I wasn't over-tightening them. I got her to bend her knees, to check that the position of the knee-joints matched the natural `hinge point' of her own legs -- the overall fit was not perfect, but plenty good enough. "They suit you" I said with a smile "by which I mean that not only are they a good fit -- I think you look very nice in them!" Mandy tried to look pleased; but could not suppress a gasp and a shudder as I straightened her knees, and the joints auto-locked and her legs became rigid.

By then, Aunt Emma had appeared, bringing in the spare pair of crutches from her broom cupboard. I can't actually remember whether she had been in the room when we decided to try the braces; I don't think she had been, so she had probably worked out what we were doing. (In fact, I've pretty much given up any attempts to keep things `secret' from Aunt Emma, as all of my attempts so far have always been doomed to failure: She always seems to know exactly what mischief I'm up to -- sometimes even before I've finished plotting it!) That gave Mandy a chance to try walking in legbraces and with crutches; she had summoned up so much determination - to overcome her loathing of wearing them - that she managed surprisingly well. I almost suggested that we took a `walk' outside; and then suddenly remembered that she must have been hating it. "We mustn't get too carried away!" I said "We know that they fit you fine; but there's no need to over-exert yourself with practice right now -- you can take them off again if you like". For a total novice who had never worn braces before, Mandy got them off in double-quick time! She sat for a moment, massaging her thighs and calves. I knew that she hadn't been wearing them long enough to have had any cramp; I think she was trying to reassure herself that her legs were really perfectly okay and had nothing wrong with them.

"You hated that, didn't you?" I asked gently. Mandy had to take a deep breath before replying. "I have to admit I was appalled by the constraint they imposed" she admitted "I never realised just HOW awkward it would be -- even the simple movements that you make look so easy! I'll admit that I didn't like it one little bit; but that means that I'm even MORE determined to wear them at your wedding, if that's what will make you happy". "I certainly won't hold you to that promise" I said, giving her a hug "But yes -- it WOULD make me very happy".

On subsequent visits, we gave Mandy further short practice sessions in my legbraces. She certainly never got any enjoyment out of wearing them, but at least she accepted them as a challenge. That positive attitude meant that it wasn't long before she was able to experience much the same feelings as I and my friends have: of well-being and triumph each time she achieved another action which had thwarted her before.

Mandy had also confirmed to Karen that she definitely would be braced for my wedding day; and the two of them, knowing how close Tania and I are, proposed that Tania should be Chief Bridesmaid (or Maid of Honour, or whatever the title is); and that they would be a `matched pair' of Ladies-in-Waiting. I thought it was nice of them to suggest that; and Aunt Emma agreed that it would make an ideal arrangement. To complete the `matching', Jamie was arranging that all four of us in legbraces would have highly-polished aluminium crutches instead of the usual dull satin-finish ones.

On the next get-together, Tania had come across too. After we had caught up with the news and gossip from her, I asked Mandy if there had been any new ideas between her and Karen. "Just one thing" Mandy answered "I mentioned to Karen that, although I was willing to make the effort of wearing full legbraces, it seemed sort of pointless if they were then going to be covered up by a long gown, and so would be invisible! And Karen said that she didn't particularly want to have her legbraces hidden either. What do you think, Josie?" "I hadn't even thought of that!" I gasped "As you all know, I NEVER cover up my legbraces -- if anything, quite the opposite! But now you've mentioned it..... I DEFINITELY don't want to hide mine. What are your thoughts, Tania?"

"I don't bother hiding my prostheses" Tania replied "So I'm not worried what I wear. I usually dress in whatever suits the occasion -- providing I think I look attractive! But drifting off the subject a bit: I'd be interested to know what route we'll be walking along -- will there be any rough ground or uneven paving? You see, you three in braces always know what your legs and feet are doing; but with nothing below my stumps, I have no way of telling what my knee-mechanisms are doing or where my feet are. It's not a problem if I'm walking steadily across a level floor -- I just assume and rely on my feet just happening to be at whatever point in their swing they're supposed to be. But if the ground is uneven, I feel more confident if I can at least get an occasional glimpse of my feet".

That seemed to be a clincher; so we formed ourselves into a deputation, and `requested an audience' with Aunt Emma. She sat there with a face devoid of expression as we pleaded our case for short dresses. Aunt Emma maintained her impassive look for a few more seconds after we'd finished -- and then broke into a big grin. "I've lost that little wager I had with myself" she smiled "I was convinced you'd come begging for short skirts LONG before now! And I can quite understand why: Josie's legs have always looked so beautiful framed in their braces, and Karen and Mandy look just as attractive too; while Tania's legs have an artisanship and allure all of their own". "But just how short were you thinking of?" she continued "Mid-calf? Knee-length? Above the knee? HIGHER? I fear that if I let you have your way, your outfits would dwindle to little more than a ballerina's tutu! Now much as I think you'd all look absolutely DIVINE attired like that, I really think that would NOT be entirely appropriate for the occasion. So, do you think we could negotiate some form of compromise?"

Despite Aunt Emma's attempts at restraining our enthusiasm, I could tell she was `on our side' really. We finally agreed on some dresses with the hem fairly well above the knee, and the skirt-part full but well pleated, so that they draped and hung straight when we were standing still, but swirled nicely when we were moving with a swing-through; yet allowed Tania to make whatever thigh-stump movements she wanted without any restriction.

Jamie was also able to come down on a few occasions; and on one of them, the local vicar came round to meet us. I had seen him a few times before, when he had been dropping in on Aunt Emma while `doing the rounds' of his parishioners; but I'd never really got to meet him properly. "Good afternoon Sir ..... no, I mean Vicar ..... ummm ..... Reverend?" I faltered. "Donald" he replied with a smile "That is my name; so please just call me `Donald'." One of the reasons for his visit was to give a little `pep talk' to Jamie and me about the `sanctity of marriage' and that sort of thing. I had been more-or-less expecting that; but it's difficult to put into words what you feel in your heart -- and I was beginning to get tongue-tied. Aunt Emma sensed my discomfort, and broke in to the conversation. "I can assure you, Donald" she said "that if I had ever had the slightest misgivings about Josie's and Jamie's suitability for each other, I would have put a stop to their alliance long before now". I was initially shocked to think that Aunt Emma might have contemplated opposing our getting together; but that was quickly followed by a lovely warm sense of relief when I realised that the whole point was that she HADN'T!"

Donald then moved on to discussing the `Order of Service'; most of that was sorted out just between Aunt Emma and him -- and listening in, I was quite happy with the arrangements they were making. "It's very good of you to go to all this trouble" I said to Donald, after most of the arrangements had been fixed "especially as I'm not a member of your congregation, and haven't even been inside your church before". "But of course you're one of my parishioners!" he assured me "Let me tell you that not one of the local people think of you as just a stranger who occasionally visits; we all think of you as very much a member of the community, but who - to our great disappointment - is often away". "And let's not make a big issue out of Church attendance" he continued "I'm fully aware of your dear aunt's opinions on `Cold stone buildings for gatherings of the self-righteous' -- and up to a point, I'm inclined to agree with her! But you've probably heard the saying that `Faith without Works is dead'? Well, from all that I know of you, your Faith - in the goodness of human nature - is very much alive!" "Quite apart from which" he added with a smile "the local folk would lynch me if I didn't give you the best wedding they've ever seen!"

On some of my visits, Audrey came round to Aunt Emma's. I was beginning to feel guilty that I hadn't asked her to be a bridesmaid; but Aunt Emma put me at my ease by saying "If you had been allowed your way, you would have finished up with several dozen bridesmaids -- but nobody left to be guests on the distaff side!" And Audrey assured me that she didn't feel the least bit left out, as she was helping Aunt Emma by doing some of the running around for her.

When we had first prepared the guest list, it dawned on me that some of my friends would be travelling quite a distance, and might need somewhere to stay. Jamie stays with his father, and Neil with Uncle Arthur, and Tania usually stays with Audrey; so I asked Audrey if she knew anybody else locally who might have a spare bed. She asked around the neighbourhood, and reported back on my next visit. Apparently, nearly all the local folk in the immediate area had said they were only too willing to put my friends up for a night or two; but said that they wanted to give first priority to young or disabled people, as they felt the able-bodied adults could easily find themselves a hotel nearby. I thought that was incredibly kind of them; but on the other hand, that was just so typical of the friendliness of the folk in that community.

And after that, the time seemed to just fly by!

Go to Part 5

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