When “Doc” Malmskog, the founder and first director of the Amputee Firefighters Association, joined in the effort to quell a giant firestorm in Southern California in the early 2000s, he experienced what many new amputees never realize is a possibility—being stuck in a remote location with a broken prosthesis. At the time, he was wearing a test socket, which is not designed with as much structural support as a carbon fiber prosthesis. The added weight of his firefighting gear caused the socket to shatter. “One minute I was walking, and the next I was on the ground with my leg about three feet away,” he recalls. “It took me a minute to process what had happened.” The incident also caused injury to his residual limb, and the situation could have been very dangerous.
Now he’s a military contractor and remote field medic who spends several weeks at a time in remote locations. People are relieved to see him when they need help, and he’s learned how to prepare for emergencies with his prosthesis so that it does not become a liability to anyone else’s safety.
Life as a lower-limb amputee does not have to limit your adventures. But Malmskog’s experience illustrates how a little planning and assembling a toolkit to have with you can help avoid problematic situations—such as being stranded without an operational prosthesis.
The first thing Malmskog recommends is sitting down with your prosthetist to learn how to take your prosthesis apart and put it back together. Learning about all the possible failure points, as well as the small pieces that can come loose and where they go, is vital to understanding how to make quick fixes when required. He recommends contacting the manufacturer to have any necessary springs, pins, Allen wrenches, and cotter keys on hand. “Knowing what the pieces are and where they go will go a long way to helping an amputee feel confident about how to make quick fixes in a pinch,” he says. “If you’re going to be active, then eventually you will need to fix your prosthesis.”
Learn how to take your prosthesis apart and put it back together.
Once Malmskog was hiking when a pin popped out of his prosthesis. He had only been an amputee for three years at that point, so he didn’t yet know the value of carrying a toolkit with him. However, he used a bit of common sense and his pocketknife to cut a pine twig into a makeshift pin, which helped him get back to his car.
Another great tip he offers is for lower-limb amputees who use a suction socket system. He recommends carrying a bicycle repair kit in case the suspension liner gets a puncture. If that happens, he says to turn the liner inside out, and start looking at the friction points until the hole is located. Once the hole is found, mark it and patch it with the repair kit. “Of course, you’ll need a new liner after a bit, but this will get you out of trouble,” he says.
“It’s always good to know where an old prosthesis is at all times in case you are in a pinch,” says Amy Skuta, CPO, with Scott Sabolich Prosthetics & Research. She also recommends keeping the prosthetist’s emergency phone number on hand at all times. “Every facility usually has a 24-hour emergency line that you should have in your phone in case something happens outside office hours,” she says.
As with an emergency first-aid kit, the hope is that you never have to use it. However, being a lower-limb amputee with a prosthesis means that if your prosthesis breaks or comes loose, it can leave you immobilized. It’s best to take precautions to reduce worry when you are out on adventures.
Additional recommendations for an emergency toolkit
>> Duct tape or fiber tape. It can fix just about anything, including taping a broken foot back together or taping a cracked socket.
>> High heat silicone adhesive, which can be found at a local hardware store. Use it to fix a hole in a suspension sleeve or liner.
>> Allen wrenches (4mm and 5mm). Although it’s not recommended to adjust your own prosthesis, if you are going on a long trip away from home, these wrench sizes tighten nearly any bolt on a prosthesis that might rattle loose.
>> Blue threadlocker. If you have to use a wrench to tighten a screw, you’ll need to put this on the screw to keep it in place.
>> Prosthetic socks. Bring at least one thicker and one thinner than the sock you currently wear.
>> Extra charger if your prosthesis uses power.
>> Extra liner if you have one.
>> WD-40 if you have a pin system. This can help lubricate pin systems that lose fluid range of motion over time.
>> A small bottle of liquid soap. Soap can slide you out of your liner if it gets stuck on your leg.