‘I’ve got a spare pair of hands in the cupboard’
I’ve got robot hands.
They’re what they call ‘myoelectric’. My old hands served me well but they were amputated after I had sepsis, age 38, and these are what they gave me in their place. They’re made in Austria, by a company called Otto Bock. I always like to imagine they’re part of a James Bond style secret gadget network, run by a bald chap who smiles as he’s stroking his cat. But in reality, it’s probably just a business like every other. Except that they make body parts. They make my false legs as well. Clever stuff.
First of all, in the hospital, they gave me split hooks.
These were like, what they used to give the pirates who got their arms bitten off by crocodiles, in fairy tales. Gruesome, they were. They had wire cables that pulled pincers open when you extended your arm, so you could grab things, then drop them. I was properly upset when they made me wear them, because anyone who saw them used to look scared. That was bad for me, just at a time when I was just coming out of rehab and all I wanted to do was to fit in.
You learn fast when you’re disabled.
What I realised quickly was, unless I wanted to hang around for the rest of my life waiting for other people to help me, I had to adapt – and quickly. At first, there were people cutting up my food in hospital, helping me to get dressed and undressed, taking me to the toilet. I was suddenly a child. Not the way I wanted to be in middle age, and certainly not useful for a husband, and a dad. I had to find a way to function, and get back to work. So I got busy.
At first I thought I couldn’t afford electric hands.
There was all sorts of talk about going private and I visited Dorset Orthopedics down in Hampshire, then I was supposed to find £20,000 to buy my hands. The thing you don’t realise though is that the ongoing repairs cost you half as much again, so it just wasn’t possible. Then we had to make a case to the NHS asking them if the local disablement service centre could supply them, and eventually they agreed. Result. I got fitted, I learned how to work the hands, and I’ve been using them ever since. They even gave me a spare pair of hands, which I keep in my cupboard.
I wouldn’t have survived, without them.
Having these robot hands, that rotate and grip, meant I could feed myself, dress myself, wash myself. I can drive a car. I can work and earn a living for my family. Without them, I’d be lost, and I couldn’t have carried on. We all need a little bit of dignity in our lives. I often wonder, how amputees get by in countries where they don’t have the kind of support we can rely on – though, I don’t like to think about that too hard. So, yes, I’m resilient in my disability, but I’m also reliant on this kind of technological help.
In fact ‘technological’ is not quite the right word. My false hands are part of me now, after nearly twenty years.
They’re part of my soul.