My leg: a letter to a young friend

I wrote the following letter to a young friend recently. He was interested in learning more about my prosthetic leg.

Dear [Young Friend]:

I heard from your Dad that you’ve been learning about prosthetics and that you wanted to learn more about my leg.

My leg is a lot like the one in this picture.

However, my leg doesn’t really look like that right now, because I have a covering over it. The covering is called “cosmesis” and is made of soft foam shaped to look like a real leg. My leg is covered now because the metal parts on it kept tearing holes in my clothes and I kept pinching my fingers in the moving parts (and that hurt a lot!).

One of the strangest things about having a robotic leg is that it’s powered by a battery and I have to charge the battery every 24 hours or else the computer in my knee will turn off! So when I take my leg off at night I plug it into the wall to charge it up (through a cord that plugs into my knee). Sometimes when I travel overnight I have to charge my leg in airports or in bathrooms or anywhere that I can find an outlet. A few years ago I found myself stranded in a Canadian airport and my battery almost ran out (I can tell when the battery is getting low, because my leg makes some beeping sounds and vibrates–sort of like a cellphone). When I finally found an outlet and plugged in at this airport, the security guards got very nervous. I think they suspected I was trying to set off a bomb! If you want, you can see a photo of me charging my leg in an airport here.

I can’t get my robotic leg wet because water could damage the computer in my knee. So I don’t wear it when I go to the beach. I have a special beach leg that’s got a round black rubber foot. I also wear my beach leg for rock-climbing–you can see a picture of me doing that with my beach leg here.
I can get my beach leg wet and the special rubber foot keeps my leg from getting stuck in the sand when I’m walking around in the water. Sometimes I just don’t wear a leg at all when I’m at the beach or at the pool–because it’s really easy to swim with just one leg.

If you have any questions for me about my leg, you can send them to me in an email message or you can save them up for the next time I see you.



Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is

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  1. Caroline says:

    Thanks for this insight into your life, Jana. It’s always neat to read about your adventures with your leg.

  2. Tatiana says:

    This is awesome! What would happen if the charge ran completely down? Would it not bend at the knee joint anymore? Could you walk in that situation?

    I’m very fascinated by this technology. Please ignore any question that seems impertinent or that you prefer not to answer.

  3. jana says:

    If the charge runs completely down the knee goes into a safe mode where it still bends but it’s _really_ stiff. It’s sort of like the difference between driving with power steering and not. I can definitely walk, but it’s not very comfortable.

    The computer in my leg has broken a few times. Most notably, it completely jammed while I was traveling in China a few years ago. It was stuck completely stiff and whenever I tried to charge it, it would emit a high-pitched squeal. Walking on it was uncomfortable (like wearing a cast on my knee) but I had no choice because no one in China can repair these kinds of legs (they are manufactured in Germany and only one place in the US is authorized to repair them). The hard part about a totally stiff leg: I couldn’t get into a car without sitting cross ways across the back and taking the entire back seat. I also had to be be given a special bulkhead seat on the flight on the way home because I had no way if sitting in a normal airline seat.

    I should also add one thing about this type of leg. The price tag is very high and few insurance companies will pay for them. Mine cost about $40K. I’ve lost more than a bit of sleep over the high price I’ve paid for my mobility (though it seems worth it because this if the first leg I’ve had that’s really felt good to wear).

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