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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 August, 2003, 19:50 GMT 20:50 UK
Sunbathing in a spacesuit

By Stuart Hughes
BBC News

Stuart Hughes
Stuart has come to terms with his artificial limb
BBC producer Stuart Hughes lost part of his right leg after stepping on a landmine in northern Iraq.

Stuart, 31, has returned to Cardiff, where he has been fitted with an artificial leg.

In part 13 of his fortnightly BBC News Online diary, Stuart charts his recovery.

Roll on winter - because summer and artificial limbs don't mix.

While the rest of Britain has been basking in record temperatures, I've been praying for rain.

Every morning, I put a nylon stocking filled with a special shock-absorbing gel over my injured leg.

Then I add on two or three thick cotton socks.

That's followed by a tight foam sleeve and finally a fibreglass socket onto which my artificial foot is attached.

Wearing the prosthesis in these hot conditions is like sunbathing in a spacesuit.

My leg slowly cooks underneath the layers of fibreglass, foam and fabric.

Walking is more like stepping through a bog.

To my surprise there were no open-mouthed stares, looks of horror or insults
I feel an unpleasant squelch with each step as the artificial limb clings to my sticky skin.

I've never looked great in shorts, but since the accident I've had even more reason than before to cover up my legs.

For the first few days of the heat wave I insisted on wearing long trousers, afraid of what people might think or say if they saw my prosthesis.

By the weekend, though, I could take it no longer.

I was going to wear shorts - and to hell with what people thought.

To begin with I limited my short-trousered excursions to brief trips to fill the car with petrol or pick up a newspaper.

Curious looks

I don't know quite how I expected people to react but to my surprise there were no open-mouthed stares, looks of horror or insults.

No-one took fright and ran away.

The worst I had to endure was the sight of young children looking curiously at the strange contraption poking out of my trousers.

I now realise that during those early days I was actually deeply afraid
I watched with amusement as they tried to work out why the strange man in front of them had a leg made of metal.

Most people, though, were too busy getting on with their lives to give so much as a second thought to a man with an artificial leg wearing shorts.

I was just another pair of feet in the crowd.

Grieving

When I first began my rehab, my overwhelming desire was that no-one should know I had an artificial leg.

During the early hospital visits I kept insisting to my physiotherapist and prosthetist that I wanted my new limb to look like the "real thing" in every way.

I now realise that during those early days I was actually deeply afraid that people would treat me differently because of my perceived disability.

I was also grieving for the limb I had lost.

If people couldn't see I was an amputee, I thought, I could pretend I wasn't.

Now I'm ready to face up to what's happened and show off my artificial leg to the world.

The simple act of wearing shorts in public has made me realise how far I've come in a few short months.


SEE ALSO:
I am not disabled
07 Aug 03  |  Wales
In honour of Kaveh...
01 Aug 03  |  Wales
'Worst fear' of war coverage
10 Jul 03  |  Wales
'War is messy and frightening'
04 Jul 03  |  Wales


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