To be battery operated…Or not to be…

So lately on a few of the different social media sites I frequent I have been hearing a lot about powered knees, powered ankles, and other very cool prosthetic devices. They can be a game changer for some, and I have several friends who have some awesome microprocessor controlled feet and/or knees. I am glad they have them, and I am also equally satisfied that I don’t.

Why, you might ask? Well, my funny answer is always “In the event of a zombie apocalypse the power will go out. I do not want to be the guy with the 7 pound a piece powered feet when I run out of juice! Zombies will catch me!” But in all seriousness, I do actually have some valid reasons for not feeling the need for powered prosthetics. (Of course, I would be glad to test drive a pair if some company wanted to give me a pair, I’m no dummy, you never turn down the chance to get free feet!)

The big problem with the “bionic” feet is the price tag, they are so very cost prohibitive for the average amputee. You have to jump through hoops to get the knee or foot, or in the case of my good friend Joe Riffe, you have to bully and badger your insurance company into doing what’s right. Insurance doesn’t always want to come through for you, and sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands to get them to pony up.


Another very large issue I see with powered prosthetics is that often times the amputee doesn’t really know how to walk with a regular prosthesis, much less a powered one. Putting a powered knee on an above knee amputee that has always walk with a lateral swing as opposed to a full follow-through swing is not going to get much use out of their cool new battery operated number. One of the most awesome above knee amputees I have ever seen can jump up into a chair seat with his prosthetic side and lock out the manual knee at the top of the jump, and his knee is a free moving knee with nothing more than a hinge! He simply knows how to control and walk with his prosthetic knee.


That is what this whole bionic knee/foot thing boils down to for me, do you really know how to walk? Do you know how to keep that knee from buckling on you? Do you know how to give a proper heel strike and toe-off, then a properly aligned follow through on your step? If you don’t, then you are not ready for a powered prosthetic!


If the only reason you get that bionic body part is so you don’t have to learn to properly walk, or build the strength to do so, then you are doing yourself no favors. Getting that nice new C-Leg just so you can use it’s hydrolic knee and tiny computer to keep you from having to learn prosthetic control, proper gait, and proper in-socket technique (read: so you don’t have to learn how to keep that knee from buckling because a microprocessor will hold you up) you are going to be in a world of hurt when that knee goes out on you.


If you get that nice new iWalk, Propieo, or other new foot to keep you from learning proper gait (as noted above) you are hurting yourself in the long run. walking with manual prosthetics builds technique and strength, something you may not get walking with a microprocessor foot. I walk with regular prosthetics every day, and both my feet are made for agility, not speed. I have friends who tell me they can’t understand why I want to walk with feet that don’t give as good of energy return, but the reason is simple. I will sacrifice energy return to be able to walk up and down slopes and on uneven surfaces every time. the fact that I don’t have as much energy return in the design of the foot simply means I build STRENGTH in my legs to power through on my own.


When I occasionally put on my energy return feet, I feel like I am walking on a kids bouncy house. I power through my steps so much I will bottom-out my heel with my heel-strikes, and the toe-off feels like I am walking in soft mud. I don’t need that extra energy return because I have built up the strength in my legs to power through my walking. Don’t get me wrong, those that use high energy return feet love them, and I am glad for them, but it is not for me.


The analogy of the high return vs. the agility feet above transfers well to the non-powered vs. powered argument. Learning good technique will always serve you better than just getting a super-knee or super-foot that does it for you. everyone remember the ice storm of 2009? I do. I was still fully limbed at the time, and was lucky enough to live in an area that was only out of power for a few days. My hometown was out of power for nearly three weeks! I can’t imagine what all those out there with battery powered prosthetics were having to deal with having no power.


That awesome foot that does your follow-through and toe-off for you is nothing but dead weight when that battery goes dead. I saw a guy with a single below knee prosthesis with a powered foot this summer at the conference in Orlando, FL. His battery died suddenly on him and he went from walking like a boss to walking like a pirate with a peg-leg. He might as well of had a brick attached to the end of his pylon. I wonder what he did during the ice storm? did he have a spare regular foot? Was he able to get out on the roads to see his prosthetist? was his prosthetist’s shop even open or have power? did he even know how to walk on a regular foot?


I am not trying to bash those with powered prosthetics, or those prosthetics themselves. Like I said, I wouldn’t turn down a set of microprocessor feet to try out. (Hint, hint, Magellan feet people, I think those things are bad-ass! Send me a pair to try out) All I’m saying is, learn how to walk first, before jumping into a battery powered wonder that costs more than a nice suburban home.


Because remember, when the zombie apocalypse happens, you will be screwed when the power goes out!

January the 17th

Let me tell you a story.

When I was 16 I was in a wreck with my first car. Crumpled the front end of my beloved old Dodge. There I am on the side of the road wondering what I’m gonna do and suddenly my Dad shows up. There were no cell phones back then, news just spread through the grapevine like that back then. He asked me if I was all right, then told me “It’s just a car, it can be fixed, son.”

A wrecker pulled it home, and Dad brought me to the house. I had to work that night down at Big Daddy’s grocery, but I didn’t want to go. My dad told me “Having a wreck doesn’t mean you don’t have to go to work. You still have responsibilities.” So when it was time he came back and picked me up for work and took me.

As soon as I could I had my car pulled around back of the house at the garage. After finally prying the hood open I saw all the front end damage. the whole doghouse of the car was pushed up into the motor, and the radiator fan was was all the way up in the motor. I had no idea what to do. I tried pry-bars, hammers, and everything else to pull the front end back out, but I was stumped. I had no idea how to work on cars!

So here comes my dad walking from the house when I had reached my wits end. He takes a look at the front end under the hood and says “You can take a come-a-long winch and wrap it around that tree over there and pull this back out straight.” He showed me where I would need to chain things off, and explained how he would do it. It was the end of the day, I had done everything I could do, and I didn’t have a winch or even really know what a come-a-long was.

So I get home from school the next day and sitting right inside the door of my room on the floor was a come-a-long winch, a brand new one. I called mom at the salon and asked her about it, but she had no idea. Dad had already gone to the mines for second shift, and she said “I guess your dad must have picked it up for you.”

I took my brand new winch, read the directions, and like magic I pulled the front end of that car back out. My old man had known exactly what to do, and his directions had worked like a charm.

Now that I had the radiator back where it was supposed to be I was able to start pulling off all the bent up body panels, so I went digging through my dad’s tools in the garage to find what I needed. I had no idea what I was doing, but it seemed pretty self explanatory. Take out all the bolts, and pull the bent fenders off.

Nope, nothing is ever that simple.

The next day I go to school, and when I get home sitting where the winch had been was a cardboard box full of tools. They were your basic variety-store cheap tools, but there was a bit of everything. Ratchet sets, screwdrivers, pliers, vise grips, and wrenches. Once again I called the salon to ask mom, because dad was under ground on second shift. I got the same answer. “I don’t know, must have been your dad.”

I worked on that car every chance I got. When I wasn’t at school, work, or whatever sports practice, game or tournament, I was out trying to get that car apart so I could put it back together. I — for the first time — had my own tools, and I was learning as I go.

I started having trouble getting some of the last front end pieces off, I simply didn’t understand how it had went together, and I was getting stumped. I don’t know if I said something about it to dad (That’s been almost 30 years ago now) or he was going out and checking on my progress while I was at school, but sure enough I cam home from school one day and sitting in my room was a huge Chilton’s manual for my car. It was the “Everything you need to know to fix everything on the car” book, and it was specifically for my model of car. Dad had struck again with what I needed.

With that book I was able to get my car all apart — and when I had new parts from a junkyard — put it all back together again. Every other problem I had later, as is with old cars, with a bit of advice from dad, that book and those tools, I was able to do everything I needed to do.

That teenage experience with that old mopar car and my dad taught me a lot about living life. Bad things can happen, but you still have responsibilities. If you don’t how to do something, open up a book or manual and learn.If your going to do something, make sure you have the proper tools, and when all else fails ask some advice from someone who has more knowledge than you. (And also, give your kid his own tools so he stays out of yours!)

My dad is the smartest man I know, and is one hell of a mechanic. He could have just as easily pushed me to the side and fixed my car for me, but he didn’t. Instead, he gave me the knowledge, the tools, and the advice to do it myself. He let me do it myself. If I had asked for him to help or fix it for me he probably would have, but I am glad I didn’t. I learned so much more fixing that old car on my own.

The whole of my adult has been much the same. something in my life gets wrecked up, and I take responsibility and fix it. If I don’t know how, I find a book and get the knowledge. If I don’t have the proper tools, I find them. When I can’t get it figured out on my own, my dad still has the answer if I ask. I don’t always listen to — or like — his advice, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, even to this day.

Especially this day, because this day is my Dad’s Birthday. He is a year older, a year wiser, and I am sure as hell glad he is still around to let me fix my own wrecks.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love ya.