Germany and Disability

People with disabilities need to respect each other, at least for the sake of the pain and experience they’ve been through. Solidarity must be one of our most dominant virtues. At least that’s how I feel. I started this blog to share some resources with amputees that will teach them how to make the best of their situation. I want to make people believe that they can have a fulfilling life despite what happened to them in the past. I’m aware that this blog has a focus on amputees, but I must tell you about an article I read on how Germany is treating their blind and partially sighted people. I must say I am really positively surprised. Solidarity on an institutional level.

Germany has around 83 million people living in an area of 137.847 sq mi. The German Federation of the blind consists of 20 associations situated in different federal countries. This federation acts on behalf and in the interest of the blind and aims to preserve their social status and support reintegration in society and the workplace. The results that this federation has accomplished are very respectful. With the help of such an organization, they managed to open libraries, schools, organize sports activities, etc. 

The German Central Library for the Blind is a public institution that’s located in Leipzig. It has a collection of more than 80.000 titles adapted for the blind. The library has braille books, audiobooks, and braille music. Their system of book deliveries is also fascinating. As a blind person, you can get a book no matter where in Germany you live. Fast delivery with central control of the demand and supply of the books. Imagine that. They have 60 schools for visually impaired children and adults. These schools offer integrative programs, vocational training, and dormitories that satisfy the needs of the blind. The attention to detail for care in Germany is mesmerizing. Since these are the places where blind people work, sleep, eat, and study, the facilities are equipped with indoor air purifiers like ones from cleanbreathing.net. How about that! 

I know that I’m supposed to write about amputees but positive experiences from any country in the world are always welcome. We can discuss and build on ideas that somebody else has implemented. It has never been a better time for solidarity among people with disabilities. We have the internet and we have our means of communication so let us help ourselves.  

Technological Advances That Will Help Amputees

Scientists are working on treatments for amputees as we speak. A lot of veterans are now suffering from this problem, which has encouraged more development in this area. One of the biggest problems plaguing a lot of amputees is the simple fact that a prosthesis is not a real leg. Your brain accepts it as such to a certain extent, just like your brain begins to treat a laptop as an extension of your body if you use it often enough. It’s one of the advantages of being a tool-using species.

However, one of the problems with this is that your brain still expects your prosthesis to act like a leg. You still expect to feel sensations in your leg. You still expect to be able to balance on it just as easily. You aren’t used to coping with all of the problems that are unique to a prosthesis. Engineers are working on creating prostheses that essentially do act as real legs.

These new ones will have an interface between the brain and a computer. You will essentially be able to communicate with the prosthesis and send it signals as if it were a natural leg. You will be capable of experiencing sensations as a result of this new prosthesis.

All I can say is that I’m enthusiastic about these developments. I know that a lot of these legs are not going to be available tomorrow, but I still do hold out hope that I will be able to take my first few steps with them. Spending all of your time holding out hope for a cure that isn’t going to happen isn’t a healthy way to cope with a disability, but maintaining a realistic level of enthusiasm for the developments in science is fine by me.

There are plenty of disabilities that are much more manageable today thanks to scientific advances. Even amputees today are much better off than we were in the days where you literally had to rely on a prosthesis that was made of wood and you had to worry about problems like wood rot. I hope that amputees of the future look back at us and regard us with the same sympathy and horror, thanking their lucky stars that they never had to go through what we went through.

A Home for an Amputee

My entire life changed the day I lost my leg. One of the things that didn’t change fast enough was my house. I had quite a few accidents when my parents were helping me through the early stages of adjusting to life as an amputee, because not all of these household changes are completely intuitive. Nowadays, a lot of these changes seem pretty obvious, since we all know that hindsight provides twenty-twenty vision. I haven’t had any accidents recently, and I hope that I can make sure that other people in my situation will not.

It is important to know that a lot of these changes are going to be useful for anyone who suffers from any sort of mobility problem. A lot of elderly people who are afraid of falls will use these exact same techniques, and they will manage to prevent all sorts of accidents in the process. You won’t have to completely change your house or move to a new place in order to replicate all of these assistance measures. People with limited mobility will need these changes, but they are easier to put into place than you might expect.

I don’t have as many mobility problems as I first did when I lost my leg. My prosthetic is high-quality. It was just hard to learn to walk on a prosthetic leg at first. You basically have to relearn to walk which meant that eighteen years of practice was more or less invalidated in one accident.

One of the biggest things you have to keep in mind is that you will need to prevent situations where you will absolutely need to stand, or you’ll be forced to hobble to another location. I always make sure that I have a chair in the kitchen, for instance, as well as a guard rail. Having guard rails throughout your house really makes all the difference in the world. I have a safety rail in the shower, as well as a guard rail lining each and every wall of my house. Really, my entire house looks like a ballet studio without the mirrors, although I should add them just to be consistent.

This is partly a holdover from the earlier days of being an amputee when it was harder for me to walk and I would trip and fall, but I still have those difficult days where I really need to have something to grab just in case. Not to mention the fact that there are some points throughout the day where the prosthetic leg needs to be adjusted, and I don’t want to be hobbling on my other leg. My other leg gets way too much strain as it is, since I ended up relying on it more than I should in the early days, and I still end up relying on it too much. It is the leg that still has sensation, so it can still do things that the prosthetic cannot.

It’s important to make sure that you don’t have a lot of items in your path that are going to obstruct you in any way. Just one of these improperly placed items can cause an accident. It’s also important not to leave a lot of things hanging that you will then have to reach. I find that my balance is off sometimes with my prosthesis, and I don’t want to unstably try to reach for something.

Becoming a Disability Educator Whether You Like it Or Not

I get people asking me all the time about what it was like to lose a leg and try to cope with being an amputee. One of the things that they don’t tell you about this process is the fact that everyone will expect you to more or less be a spokesperson for your condition now. You are an amputee who is representing all other amputees, and you more or less get recruited into being an educator about disability in general whether you want to be one or not. One of the reasons why I started this blog in the first place was that I felt that I already had the training for educating people about this problem, even though I never voluntarily decided to get to this point in the first place.

I really don’t mind all of the questions and I know that people are trying to be nice and supportive. It does get old after a while though, especially when I just want to go out and have a coffee with someone without having to explain my life to them over and over again. All of the conversations blend together after a while, and it feels like a unique conversation with someone is instantly transformed into a generic one the moment that they start asking about my disability. Everyone always asks the same questions over and over again like they read them off a script. I wish I could find the script-writer – who clearly does not suffer from a disability himself or herself – and get him or her to vary it up a little.

You can ask people about their disabilities. However, you do need to remember that we have heard these questions all the time and we aren’t always up for educating you about what happened and how it makes us feel. These are our lives, and try not to turn our problems into an intellectual exercise or a debate.

Coping With the Loss of Your Leg

One of the worst things about losing your leg in an accident like this is not the leg itself, but the loss of security that is implied in the incident. You go through life thinking that you’re generally okay. You know that bad things are going to happen to you, but you don’t think that they will be so bad that they will change your outlook on absolutely everything. You also figure that the worst things in life will happen to someone somewhere – you sure are going to hear about them on the news – but they just aren’t going to happen to you.

Then you lose a leg and you realize just how vulnerable you and everyone else really is. You can really lose a lot of your confidence that way. I honestly felt that was almost as bad as losing the leg itself, if not even worse. I was eighteen years old when this happened, and I still hadn’t formed my own identity. When you are still in the process of working out who you are and what you want out of life, it’s going to be that much harder for you to really adjust to living like this. Becoming an amputee is really hard at any age, but I really think that it’s even harder for people in their teens or twenties. I think that if this had happened to me at thirty, things would have been a little bit easier.

The other thing is that you can’t get over all of the ways in which your life could be different if this had not happened to you. I had a very different college experience compared to able-bodied people. My high school graduation was completely altered by this disability. My professional life, my professional goals, and my professional ambitions all had to change as a result. The leg itself was just flesh. The emotional aspect of losing it and the lifestyle changes that followed were the worst.

Finding my own niche in the world made a huge difference. Joining the disability community and getting the associated support also made a huge difference in my life. Having the love of family and friends certainly got me through some difficult times.

Water Rehab Can Be Fun!?!

Water recreation is great fun whether swimming, diving, snorkeling, or even boating and kayaking. Doing any of the above for physical rehab is not so amusing. It is strenuous and takes a toll on mind and body. There are many ways to recover from an accident or injury, and exercises in a pool, for example, is quite common. It is usually given by a therapist on top of a workout in a kind of specialized gym laden with equipment that teaches people how to walk and maintain better balance if they have had an amputation and intend to wear a prosthesis.

In a swimming pool, a patient can tread water or do the crawl to strengthen the upper body. He or she can perform a variety of movements using the liquid as resistance. You don’t even need a very large pool to undertake most kinds of rehabilitation. The water is refreshing as you strive to achieve personal goals. It is not on a par with water recreation for its own sake, but as you grow stronger, the pleasure aspects will replace the strenuous tasks. No matter your initial attitude, you will come to love the benefits that swimming can bring.

Aquatic physical therapy is a distinct field of rehab medicine if conducted by a trained professional. Assistive devices can be used or not according to the task at hand, the age of the patient, and his or her condition. The musculoskeletal system is addressed along with cardiovascular and pulmonary improvement. Over all, working out in a pool helps motor strength function, aerobic endurance, balance and coordination, agility, body mechanics, flexibility, locomotion, and let’s not forget relaxation. Whatever can be done in a water environment will help rehabilitation in some manner. Ultimately it should be somewhat pleasurable.

Recovery brings on the possibility of either returning to normal sports activities or trying new ones. You want to test your body out and see where you stand. Many people scuba dive and enjoy diving near coral reefs to see the wonders of the deep. They don’t need prosthetic devices to manage. The same goes for enjoying some time in an ocean kayak. I am not sure I would go so far as to waterski or use a Jet Ski, but given the opportunity and some instruction, it is not in the realm of impossibilities.

A point of great pride along the path to recovery is the ability to do challenging things that often test the mettle of normal people. Normal is a loose term, mind you, designating only that the person has no disability to speak of. There is no reason, experts say, that the disabled can’t enjoy activities like water sports if they are missing a limb. We all know about the Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton. Nothing could stop her return to the waves. She showed the world that a disability is no deterrent in life if you haven’t lost your sense of adventure.

So I am here to say that engaging in any water endeavors will not only help you heal, but they will boost your spirit and inner strength. Losing a leg, as I well know, is no excuse for idleness.

Keeping It Clean

Some things are tough on one leg, but that’s life. At least you are around to do most everything for yourself in spite of a disability. It happens to the best of us and we get over it and move on. In the beginning during my recovery, however, I wanted to challenge myself to see if there was anything I could not do. I wanted to be triumphant and conquer my domain. I wanted to use every resource in the book to survive my accident and live a normal life. In short, I wanted control.

Control of my surroundings included cooking and food prep in a kitchen transformed to my needs where I could access pots and pans and place them in or on the stove according to my recipe. It included bathing in an expanded bathroom to accommodate a wheelchair. It finally included cleaning the house from top to bottom including the garage, patio, driveway and other things outside. Okay, sometimes I had to cheat a little and get help from friends, but more often than not I could find some cool device to lend me a non-human hand.

Such is the case with the pressure washer I bought to bring cleanliness to a super high level in my home. I have to admit I had not heard of one and got the idea online. I wanted a masterful machine that could tackle heavy jobs since I could not do any elbow grease. I have a robot vacuum that is a marvel to behold, so why not a way to blitz walls and floors with a hearty stream of intense water.

The first time I held that nozzle in my hand, I was transfixed. It gushed wildly out of control, but I soon tamed it and put it to good use. You can use such a washer in a wheelchair even. You can push it with one hand (it is on cute little wheels), and spray with the other. You have to pull out just the right amount of hose and set the soap dispenser to open. If you are working in one spot, just plug it in and rev up the motor, and you are set to degrease the worst garage floor.

It found it rather fun actually and kept looking for more projects. I took on the sidewalk, which was a no man’s land, and the backyard shed along with anything else in sight that had a speck of dirt on it. The neighbors were all there watching, but did not dare to join in. This thing I had working on my own, and it was going well.

So, my friends, and those with disabilities in particular, you can do it yourself and set yourself tasks. Just like you always did. You can take on any household chore. Sometimes I think I take on way too much, but that is another personal story. Meanwhile, get the right equipment, go for a good pressure washer if you want, get some rest, and attack the problem head on, with the nozzle that is.

Happy Feet

Healthy feet are happy feet because they have no problems. They are free of calluses, corns, bunions, and toe fungus. They are moisturized, buffed, and polished to perfection. They are presentable to the public. This is not always the case. I have seen many a dark and gruesome toenail bed that looks like dirt deep within, even when it isn’t. It can be the telltale sign of an infection of the fungal kind.

Toe fungus is the least of your problems. If you have diabetes, for example, you really have to mind your feet. Even cracks that don’t bother other people can plague a diabetic. It is never a good sign to see any sores either; if so, you must be off to the doctor asap.

A dermatologist familiar with the disease can help you watch for warning signs such as redness, irritation, blisters, or scratches. Diabetic skin is fragile and can get rough and uncomfortable. Constant application of a special lotion is advised, particularly one containing aloe. There are some simple home remedies that you can try as well. In addition, many patients find that it is necessary to have a doctor clip their toenails to avoid infection. This is particular true if you have ingrown nails. The dire consequence can be loss of a limb. It is that important.

Toe fungus has topical treatments, by prescription, and oral medications. Most work quite well if one’s liver can handle it. A simple test will be necessary in order to tell. Fungus is insistent, however, and may come back. Keeping feet dry helps as well as avoiding walking in communal showers at the gym. Dry feet gently by patting, not rubbing. Wear clean socks (not too tight) and never go barefoot.

When you have diabetes, you should avoid home-made solutions such as those with vinegar or bleach. They don’t work by themselves and may cause a skin reaction. Dealing with pain also requires a podiatrist’s care and drug therapy. He or she will tell you to wear proper shoes or at least insoles and to walk to improve circulation and the delivery of oxygen. A foot massage is also not a bad idea, plus it feels great while it detoxifies the body.

Diet and exercise, along with medication to balance blood sugar and regulate insulin, help diabetics live long and happy lives. There is a vast laundry list of things you can and cannot consume. Poor diet and smoking, not to mention bad luck with genetics, are the bane of man’s existence. So much damage can be done over time. Healing from any foot condition also takes forever. Why play with fire and overindulge in any vice!

There are a lot of old wives tales out there about foot care and diabetes, so read the Internet with a grain of salt. Don’t believe everything you see and here. Medical professionals are the ones to heed as they are truly on your side. Your health is your responsibility and it pays to take every measure you can to ensure it. As a diabetic, you are particularly vulnerable to foot problems that can damage your nerves and impair blood circulation in the area. Checking yourself regularly is a good start.

Too High, Made Me Feel Low

My ceiling fan should be my best fan, but it is not. I need it now that it is blazing hot (Indian summer) and the AC is being taxed to the max. It’s a simple problem, really. I can’t reach the pull cord. After my accident when I was in recovery, I faced a lot of challenges around the house, especially the kitchen. I had to adapt my ways to say the least. Not having easy access was my biggest problem so everything got moved and was out all over the house so I could get to it. This is not the ideal solution. People with disabilities shouldn’t have to live in a mess!

Get organized, I said to myself quite often. Finally I got some help to do it. We revamped the kitchen and put a lot of my daily appliances like juicer, toaster, and coffeemaker on an island that had lower legs than average. We made sure to buy one with great storage. We cut the legs down to suit wheelchair height and it was perfect. Then I put the garbage disposal on a remote switch since I couldn’t stretch that far across the countertop. Lights were no problem. Opening the fridge not bad. Stove—passable. But the sink was another story. So we put in a flexible gooseneck faucet that was a pullout style. Voila! Problem solved.

Not everything was so easy. There wasn’t enough space in the bathroom for a wheelchair nor in one part of the hall. I had to get the diminutive size or knock the place down. Fortunately they make small, collapsible models for home use. But as for that ceiling fan, well there was only one solution. Get a longer pull cord even though it would drive everyone crazy hanging loosely in the middle of the room.

I hear tell there are some great tower fan models these days as well. I could buy one to replace old faithful in the living room. Somehow that seemed disloyal and a needless expense. I may seriously reconsider if the pull cord hits one more person in the face. Pedestal fans are quiet, fairly compact, and cost effective even though they run on electricity, and not bad looking. They can be set to oscillate or do their job in a stationary manner. They do take up floor space, however, and that is the main deterrent.

I think for now I will stick to the ceiling model. It has these great stained wood slats and a beautiful center etched glass light fixture that eliminates the need for any unsightly lamps in the room. It has ambience so to speak and is on a dimmer. That control switch I can reach so I can manipulate the lighting to my taste each night. It can go bright for most occasions including reading on the couch, but can be on low for romantic interludes. Somewhere in between is where it stays most of the time.

So the moral of this blog today is to get practical and face facts. You have to do some adjusting, some alterations in your life style, and some reorganizing. Once that’s done, you can go about your business routinely.

All that and the Kitchen Sink

I am going to give myself a public pat on the back in this blog in the hopes that my success recovering from a serious accident will help others. I want to stress that you have to have hope that all will be well someday, even as you are suffering and rehabilitating. Don’t kid yourself: it is a painful process mentally and physically. You have to accept that fate has dealt you a bad hand, but that there will be others far better to follow. The rewards of survival alone are really great. I am thankful for that and find that this thought alone gives me the inspiration I need to move on with life.

Let me tell you again that it isn’t easy getting back to normal, whatever that now means. Every little thing you used to do from the simplest chore is hard, from taking out the trash to washing the dishes in the kitchen sink. It all seems an ordeal when you are less than your old self. You push on, however, and you get through it. It’s called having a strong will. Some are born with it; some have to earn it. In any case, you have to adjust to change as it will be permanent, and overcoming the odds will make you a better person.

If you are not an optimist, you will flounder for sure. It seems overwhelming. I had to lift myself up by fewer bootstraps to get by. I had to learn about prosthetics, physical therapy and medication, all while taking care of myself on a routine basis. You add something new to the mix like vigorous rehab and it nearly kills you.

It seems to come down to motivation and support which you get from family, colleagues, and friends. The world becomes your comforter. It is ok to turn to others. You can’t be an island. Take whatever is offered and enjoy the attention. Meanwhile, you are scrambling to learn to walk or use one arm or one hand as you ask, “how does anyone do this?”

I remember how hard it was to prepare food in the kitchen when I was in my wheelchair. I couldn’t reach the amazing undermount kitchen sink that I’d had installed to wash the vegetables for a mere salad. I sat there dumbfounded. Talk about feeling helpless! But guess what? I found a solution. I got a pullout model with a flexible goose neck and found that I could keep it in the stretched position. That worked. Plus, it had a trigger handle. I happen to find a rare faucet that was an optional no touch variety. What a great invention. When they first came out I had no idea how useful that could be.

So I am the first to tout being practical and enterprising when you are ailing. Getting control of something as simple as a kitchen faucet makes you feel better. It is one little triumph to be followed by many others along the road to recovery. If you are new to the process, let this be a little lesson in self-reliance. When you have that, you have it all.