[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 June, 2003, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Taking the first steps

By Stuart Hughes
BBC News

Stuart Hughes
Stuart takes his first steps with his new artificial leg
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 five of his weekly News Online diary, Stuart charts his recovery.

"My new leg is ready!

The evening before it was fitted felt like the night before Christmas, full of expectation at what was to come.

Amid the anticipation, I tried to remind myself that the prosthesis isn't meant to replace my missing foot.

No piece of engineering, however sophisticated, can take the place of skin, bone and muscle.

Rather it's an approximation of the real thing, as close a copy of the missing limb as it's possible to fashion out of metal and fibreglass.

When I made the appointment for the fitting my physio, Jo, reminded me to bring a pair of shoes.

A pair of shoes.

It had been two months since I'd needed that.

Without its outer covering it looked liked something from the Terminator films

While searching for my trainers in the wardrobe I noticed that some of my left shoes were scuffed and worn through normal use but the right ones were as good as new.

I couldn't wait to get walking again and arrived at the hospital brimming with excitement.

Bare metal

Ian, my prosthetist, brought the leg up from the workshop.

Without its outer covering it looked liked something from the Terminator films, all bolts and bare metal.

Ian explained that this was so that the working parts could be adjusted easily.

A foam cover shaped like a real leg would be added once the limb had been properly aligned.

Ian then took me through the process of putting the leg on, or "donning" in prosthetics-speak.

My heart sank as it began to dawn on me that every single step, every day for the rest of my life would depend on an artificial leg

It was no easy matter.

Layer followed layer, like an exquisitely wrapped gift.

A cotton sock over my injured leg was covered by a tight foam sleeve, which I then squeezed into a rigid fibreglass socket.

The whole thing was held in place by an elastic knee support stocking.

I carefully stepped up from my wheelchair and gripped onto the parallel bars.

Jo steadied me as I made my first tentative steps, offering encouragement and pointing out ways of improving my gait.

But the limb I had anticipated for so long felt like a bucket at the end of my leg, a heavy lump of metal and plastic.

Even though I was walking more freely than I had done for more than two months my heart sank as it began to dawn on me that every single step, every day for the rest of my life would depend on an artificial leg like the one I was wearing.

Gloom

Pacing up and down between the bars, staring into the mirror in front of me, the leg seemed so clumsy, so unwieldy, so...artificial.

The excitement turned to gloom.

The reality of my situation hit me as hard as it had on the day when the surgeon removed my plaster cast and I realised fully for the first time that my foot wasn't going to come back.

I couldn't imagine ever being able to walk naturally again.

Going back into the wheelchair began to seem like a preferable option.

I could imagine walking into a room and no one noticing I was wearing a prosthetic leg

In attempt to lift my spirits I put long trousers on over my shorts, just to see what it looked like.

The change in mood was instantaneous.

The bulky socket became invisible beneath my clothes.

For the first time since the accident there were two trainers poking out of the leg holes of my trousers instead of one.

"You can't see it. You honestly can't see it," Jo laughed.

She was right. You couldn't.

Everything seemed to come together.

I could imagine walking into a room and no one noticing I was wearing a prosthetic leg.

I imagined meeting people for the first time and them not knowing I was amputee until I told them -- if indeed I felt the need to tell them at all.

That day's still some way off -- but it'll come."


SEE ALSO:
Back on the road
05 Jun 03  |  Wales
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


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific