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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 June, 2003, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Back on the road

By Stuart Hughes
BBC News

Stuart Hughes with keys to his new car
Stuart Hughes is learning to drive again
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 is being fitted with an artificial leg.

In part four of his weekly News Online diary, Stuart charts his recovery.

"A taste of freedom at last.

I've taken possession of a new car and I'm back behind the wheel for the first time in two months.

After relying for weeks on taxis and lifts supplied by friends and family, just being able to get around independently feels immensely liberating.

Slowly, I feel like I'm beginning to get my life back.

Stuart Hughes is fitted with a cast for an artificial leg
Stuart is fitted with a cast for an artificial leg

The transition to driving with my uninjured left leg, after years of using my right foot to control the accelerator and brake, has been surprisingly straightforward.

I'm sure the simple pleasure of being able to hop into the car and take off has outweighed any anxiety I may have had at not being able to cope with the change.

Helpfully, my new car has a small shelf just below the steering wheel.

While I'm driving I rest my damaged right leg on it to stop myself from instinctively trying to use it to control the pedals.

If all goes well the prosthesis should be ready for its maiden voyage in a week's time

Already I'm becoming a disabled parking zealot.

I'm every bit as unbearable as an ex-smoker or an evangelical fitness fanatic.

I freely admit that before my accident I did occasionally sneak into wheelchair spaces when no one was looking.

My view then was that they were much closer to the shops and if they were sitting empty then what was the problem?

Now the sight of a row of vehicles, with none of them displaying blue disabled badges, blocking up the reserved bays sends me into a rage.

While visiting the hospital the other day I noticed a poster advertising a range of brightly coloured calling cards bearing sarcastic messages, which are meant to be slipped under the windscreen wipers of offending vehicles.

I'm tempted to buy a pack. If I don't I fear I may find myself up in court accused of smashing a car to pieces with a pair of crutches.

Stuart Hughes is fitted with a cast for an artificial leg
Stuart has spent two months in a wheelchair before casting

Physiotherapy? It's anger management classes I need.

In fact, it seems incidents of road rage over disabled parking spaces are not unknown.

Last year, a 48-year old disabled man was charged with aggravated assault after he pulled out a sword hidden inside a walking cane during a dispute over a parking space at a Florida hospital.

Meanwhile, the day when I resume life on two feet is getting tantalisingly close.

This week my prosthetist, Ian Massey, took the cast from which he'll construct my first artificial limb.

Ian wrapped my stump in cling film before covering it with strips of fabric coated with plaster of Paris.

Maiden voyage

He then carefully shaped the plaster around the contours of my leg before cutting the mould off with a pair of shears.

The cast will be used to make the resin socket onto which the artificial leg and foot will be attached.

If all goes well the prosthesis should be ready for its maiden voyage in a week's time.

Ian has already warned me that the limb won't be very aesthetically pleasing.

The post-operative swelling means my right leg is about four centimetres thicker than my left, so Artificial Leg Version One is going to be a somewhat bulky specimen.

After two months in a wheelchair and on crutches, though, I don't care what it looks like.

I just want to be able to walk again."

Face to face with landmine
29 May 03  |  Wales
Down to earth with a bump
22 May 03  |  Wales
Mine victim's road to recovery
15 May 03  |  Wales
Viewpoint: Dangers of war reporting
09 Apr 03  |  Middle East
Iraq journalist's leg amputated
08 Apr 03  |  Wales
BBC cameraman dies in Iraq
03 Apr 03  |  UK

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