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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 June, 2003, 06:13 GMT 07:13 UK
Learning to walk again

By Stuart Hughes
BBC News

Stuart Hughes
Stuart is learning to use 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 is being fitted with an artificial leg.

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

"Like an inmate in an open prison rewarded for good behaviour, my rehab team at Rookwood Hospital let me take my artificial leg home for the weekend.

Before letting me loose, my physio Jo prepared me for some of the everyday obstacles I was likely to encounter beyond the safety of the hospital walls, such as getting up off the floor, climbing stairs and negotiating uneven surfaces.

I was sent on my way with a set of strict instructions.

For 31 years, walking was something I took completely for granted

If the prosthesis became painful I was to take it off.

I was not to attempt walking any further than short distances.

Most importantly of all I was to limit the time I spent wearing the new limb to three hours a day.

For 31 years, walking was something I took completely for granted.

Now it's a privilege, a rare treat which I have to ration and enjoy in small mouthfuls.

Each day I'm faced with a choice.

Long-term consequences

Do I blow my full three-hour allowance in one go, or do I try to stretch it out over the course of the day?

Alternatively, do I ignore the medical advice completely and gorge myself on a diet of non-stop walking, regardless of the long-term consequences?

In truth, gorging myself isn't an option.

My damaged leg can't take my full body weight yet and I'm reliant on a pair of walking sticks for balance and stability.

My walking technique is more of an arthritic hobble than a defiant stride.

While clearly a definite improvement on getting around in a wheelchair, I found myself feeling pessimistic over the weekend.

If drainpipes make a sudden fashion comeback I'm going to be in serious trouble

Being able to walk short distances seemed to highlight the long way I've still got to go.

In the hot weather the artificial limb pulled and rubbed against my skin, making walking slow and uncomfortable.

After a few hundred metres I couldn't wait to take it off.

While I was in a wheelchair or using crutches I could look forward to an imaginary day when I'd be given the artificial leg.

In my mind I hoped I'd be able to leap up immediately and run a marathon.

Now I've got the leg, though, I realise there's a whole new set of hurdles to overcome.

It's as though I've completed that imaginary marathon only to find I have to return to the starting line and start all over again.

One thing that helps dispel the doubts is the simple pleasure of seeing two feet poking out of the bottom of my trouser legs.

Wardrobe problem

It doesn't seem to matter that one of those feet is made of carbon fibre and plastic.

Simply being able to go about my business without the curious stares and questions that my empty trouser leg attracted is compensation enough.

For the first time since my accident I look just the same as everyone else.

One hurdle I haven't yet overcome, though, is what to do about my wardrobe.

I can no longer put on half of the trousers I own because I can't get the legs past my unbending prosthetic ankle.

If drainpipes make a sudden fashion comeback I'm going to be in serious trouble."

Taking the first steps
11 Jun 03  |  Wales
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
Iraq journalist's leg amputated
08 Apr 03  |  Wales
BBC cameraman dies in Iraq
03 Apr 03  |  UK

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