Newbie Hacks for New Amputees

Written by Beth Hudson:

Once we are finished with surgery and rehab, it’s time to go home. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was quite anxious about this transition. We had so much on our plates, and I know that we probably cycled through our daily routines thinking, “How the hell am I going to do this?” That sparked a support group discussion about tricks and hacks we had learned, either from PT, OT, or just figuring out what worked for us at home. Most concentrated around the bathroom and the kitchen. One member had their amputation during Covid and was not able to get any therapy – inpatient, outpatient, or home. We decided to focus on what skill was THE most important to us when we first got home, and the answers were as varied as the hacks, as one would expect. So here they are. One is, ummm, very gender specific – sorry guys!

Footless Jo has quite a following on YouTube, and I need to check her out. The person who had no PT/OT due to Covid restrictions found it a great site to help with in-home hacks. The most important skill for this newbie was getting safely in and out of the shower. Footless Joe was the key. Check it out and subscribe if Joe’s hacks are helpful.

Another person’s immediate goal was to drive, as they are a caregiver for their grandmother, who lives in a nursing home. Due to other medical issues, hand controls and a left foot accelerator were not in the cards. To the parking lot they went to learn how to drive left footed. It was a while before they felt comfortable leaving the parking lot. But, if you are a right leg amputee, and even if you have a left foot accelerator, it is a good idea to learn to drive left footed in case of an emergency.

For another, the stairs were a major problem, and a stair chair was not something they could afford. Scoot, scoot, scoot! Really worked their sound foot and arms. They even had to scoot up and down a short set of outside stairs as well. Again, another skill to know in case of an emergency. Glad to say that this skill was a priority with their PT, so the scooting didn’t last very long. BTW scooting is an excellent skill when you fall. If you can get yourself to a chair or set of stairs (anything higher than the floor), you have a good chance of getting up by yourself.

One of our group members, a quad, had an excellent hack that I think is great for leg amputees who have balance issues as well. This was a hack from their in-home PT, and I think it is absolutely genius! They took all the handles from the kitchen and bathroom drawers and turned them upside down. This way the drawers could be pulled from underneath instead of from the top (depends on the kind of drawer pulls, you have, of course. You could also change them out to a kind that could better be pulled from underneath). Pulling from the bottom allows more torque from whatever upper residual limb you have, and if you are a lower limb loss amputee, pulling from below allows you to pull with more stability. Why didn’t I think of that? Well, I’m not an OT, so kudos to them!

Another member had a structural problem that needed to be addressed right away, and that was their wheelchair was too wide for the bathroom door. Of course, they learned the requisite hopping with a walker routine, but they also made sure they were wearing a sock at night. They would wheel to the bathroom, having placed their walker in the entrance before going to bed. They would then stand up, and instead of hopping, would just shuffle and slide their foot sideways, then forward. Some people, depending on their prosthesis, put it on to use the bathroom at night, but that doesn’t work for everyone; trust me, I know. The only time I put my leg on at night to use the bathroom is if I am traveling.

A step-down shower was a huge challenge for another member. Also, there was no rail to grip. (And in case you haven’t experienced this for yourself, the suction cup ones are notoriously unreliable. Have heard more than one horror story about folks who bear too much weight on them and end up falling in the shower, doing much damage to their residual limb and other body parts as well. Don’t. Just Don’t.) This person worked on the balance of their sound leg in order to safely get in and out of their shower.

Let’s move on to the kitchen shall we? Any PT worth their salt will tell you to move the items you use most to lower cabinets. This takes a while to figure out what should go where, but it is worth it. You don’t want to use a grabber to get a heavy casserole dish from the top shelf of a cabinet. Another hack is to use kitchen towels to drag pots and pans (especially if filled with water or any other liquid, hot or cold) to the stove. This depends on your kitchen set up, of course. It beats going back and forth from the sink to the stove with a water bottle to fill up a pot. And carrying a pot of anything hot, when you are first home, is a safety hazard.

I worried about taking out a hot, heavy casserole dish from the oven – I just didn’t have the balance, especially when I first got home and didn’t have a prosthesis. My brain was working hard on one-legged balance. First, I purchased an oven grabber. It is a long-handled “thing-a-ma-jig” with a hook you can use to pull out the oven grate once you open the oven door. Second, you can divide the food into two smaller containers that are less weight. And third, if you have a partner, make sure they are around when the timer goes off so they can take it out of the oven for you.

And for you gals with….cleavage….here’s a hack that you won’t find in any PT textbook. One of the group members loves, just loves, to cook. And due to the nature of her injuries, is a unilateral amputee who wanted to cook as soon as possible. Carrying eggs was a problem because their hands were on their walker. You see where this is going, don’t you? Yes, into the cleavage went the eggs, and any other small cooking accessories – small fruits and vegetables, spice jars, you get the gist. We had a good laugh over that one, but it works! Personally this is not a hack that I can use – just not endowed enough in that area to pull it off! So what do I do instead? (and guys, you can use this hack as well!) I have lots of sweatshirts with the “kangaroo pouch” in the front.

And speaking for those of us who walk using aids, especially two-handed aids like walkers and crutches, keep your phone close. I bought a cross-body wallet. It measures 8 ½ inches long, 4 ½ inches tall, and is only 1 ½ inches wide when full. The strap is adjustable and removable, and it has a small D-ring on the right side. I have a small carabiner on my key ring so that I can attach my keys to the D-ring when I’m walking to the car. The front of the pouch opens with a snap; my android fits in it perfectly. When I first got home, I fell while transferring from my bed to the wheelchair in a rookie mistake – forgot to lock the wheelchair. Where was my phone? On the bed – couldn’t get to it. That crossbody wallet is on me from the time I get out of bed until I go to sleep. If I fall and can’t get up (I know, I know – that commercial!), my phone is always in reach. Even if you don’t use aids for walking, it’s a good idea to keep your phone on you at all times, especially if you live alone.

Thanks to all the members in my support group who gave me permission to share their newbie hacks. I’m sure you have some of your own as well and would love to know what they are. Perhaps we can add a few pages to the next edition of the latest PT/OT textbook! Whatever you do at home, please keep safety at the top of your list.

And remember: You never know how much strength you have until you are called upon to use it.