Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Uncle Ralph - The Arm

How he lost his arm and what they replaced it with.

It was an icy winter’s day in January 1963 and Ralph slipped on a metal gangway at work. I presume it was on a British Thomson-Houston construction site somewhere in London. He reached out to steady himself and his arm went into an unguarded part of a cement mixing machine. 

The mechanism chewed off his arm which the doctors said saved his life. The ends of the blood vessels were twisted off which helped stem the loss of blood. If it have been a clean slice cut there would have been blood spurting out like a Monty Python skit. 

He apparently walked on in shock until he saw a colleague and only then fainted. Off to hospital for an emergency operation where they tidied up the stump to just above the elbow. 

After his discharge from hospital he was referred to Roehampton where they have a world class prosthetic and amputee rehabilitation centre. His artificial arm was mainly aluminium with a leather cup for the stump and leather straps to hold it to his shoulder. No carbon fibre back then so it was pretty heavy. 

Picture courtesy of Arm Dynamics.

It had two degrees of movement depending on which way he moved the stump. One way would bend or straighten the arm, the other would work an attachment at the end of the arm of which there were several. 

  • plastic hand for formal occasions and the thumb would move for a handshake
  • hook that would open out like two clawed fingers for all sorts of uses
  • pair of pliers for basic DIY
  • cup that would fit over a ball attached to a car steering wheel for driving

It was heavy and cumbersome so he only wore it on formal occasions. The rest of the time he tucked up his sleeve and adapted to a one-armed life.

Those one adaptations are a separate topic...

Footnote*: Roehampton operated a shoe sharing scheme whereby unipedal amputees could split a pair of shoes getting one each. Styles and colours limited.

* footnote - see what I did there!

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