The friendships made in a prosthetics fitting room

By Emma Tracey
BBC News, Ouch

  • Published
Woman getting fitted with a prosthetic leg, her trouser is rolled up and the prosthetist is using a screwdriver to tighten screws on the prosthetic

When their legs come off for maintenance in hospital, Nicola Lane and her fellow female amputees have time to kill, and talk about their experiences.

Filmmaker Lane, who lost her right leg below the knee when she was hit by a bus in Trafalgar Square 46 years ago, captures their intimate and revealing stories in a lottery funded film, The Fitting Room.

Made at the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital in Stanmore, it shows what happens while the women wait to see one of the most important people in their lives, their prosthetist.

She spoke to Ouch this week:

What happens in a limb fitting centre?

You go in, sit down with lots of other women and wait for your prosthetist to come. Then, you remove your leg and they take it away for repair. When it comes back, you put it back on and walk up and down the rails to make sure it feels right. Think of a ballet studio - with bars to hold on to - but on the NHS.

Do you have a good relationship with your prosthetist?

We don't like getting a new prosthetist because you've got to break them in. Having a new limb made is not like getting a pair of shoes, each has to be exactly crafted to fit the person. Communication with your prosthetist has to be good so that when you say, "it doesn't feel very good here," they can see why. If the leg is a bad fit, you get sores, infections, you can't walk, and it swells up. Communication between patient and prosthetist can be negative sometimes too, because many legs fail.

Do the women speak regularly to each other?

Image source, Caroline Mardon
Image caption,
Nicola Lane (second from right) with friends she has made in the fitting room

We keep in touch via a Facebook group called Fitting Room Friends, because we can't arrange to be in the fitting room at the same time and the social situation is complex. Everyone is at different stages and some prefer to keep to themselves. The one question that always gets asked though is, "does it fit?" Another big topic is swimming, which most of us find quite challenging. We can get by as normal in the outside world but when you're wearing a bikini, you are revealed. As a young woman, I found the gaze of other people a bit of an ordeal. The Paralympics altered people's impressions of prosthetics slightly, so it might be a bit easier now, but not much. We have to keep Fitting Room Friends private, because there are a lot of predatory characters out there who are interested in legless women.

What kind of stories are shared in the film?

Michelle lost her leg above the knee when a car rammed into her from behind, as she lifted her granddaughter's buggy from the boot. She revealed that her husband doesn't like her to take her prosthesis off in the evenings, because seeing her without it or seeing the leg in a corner reminds him that she's disabled.

Lane hopes this will be seen by a specialist audience. Watch a trailer for The Fitting Room here.

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