The rainy season approaches. In many places, as we are all aware, it has already begun, with a vengeance.
Pictured at left are my beautiful rubber boots. They may not look beautiful to you, especially since this shot is a little blurry, but to me they are wondrous things, dearly loved. Back when we first moved to New England, which was also back when I still had both my original legs, I used to have to slog about a mile to the bus stop each day in order to commute in to the city. New England is often a wet place, and so this was not always a pleasant walk. My sweetie bought me these so that my walk would be far more pleasant, because from then on I would have dry feet.
Aaaaah. The relief. And oooooooh, the value. I have had these for nearly ten years, and they have no holes or cracks in them despite having experienced a great deal of strenuous use.
Before amputation, many amputees have lived lifestyles like mine which involve an awful lot of slogging through mud and puddles. We hike. We garden. We ride horses. We go on adventures in wild places. Some of us (but not me) even farm. Rubber boots are the shoe of choice for many of us during these kinds of activities. The thing is, the feet and ankles we have been given in exchange for the feet and ankles we gave up are not exactly flexible. So whereas before it was no problem for us to just point our toes and stick our feet into a pair of galoshes mid-adventure or on the way out the door, now the process is a bit more involved.
It has come to my attention that lots of amputees don't realize that they can still use rubber boots, nor how, nor which to choose. The replacement feet we are given often typically can accommodate neither perfectly flat shoes nor heels (or ball-to-heel inclines) steeper than 1/2" to 3/4" (about 1.3-1.8 cm). Flatter shoes tend to wear out the spring built into reactive feet, because the weight of our bodies pushing the unsupported heel to the ground constantly stresses the piece of metal in the shaft of the foot which creates the spring. Higher heels cause transfemoral amputees to fall outright, because a fake ankle won't flex to accommodate very much of a changed foot position, not like a natural ankle which both flexes and stabilizes at will. So with a prosthetic foot at a slant, the amputee cannot straighten out her shin, which in turn prevents her mechanical knee from locking, which means she has a constantly bent knee she can't put any weight on -- which in some cases so closely mimics the condition which led to amputation in the first place that it causes the amputee to scream things like "Bloody hell! What did I bother for?" and so on, none of which makes life particularly easy or enjoyable for the amputee or her friends and family.
Consequently, the rest of this post will have two parts. The first will show you an example of a good, basic rubber boot for wear by an amputee with a delightfully boring, ordinary life, plus illustrated instructions on how to put it on. The second will give you some shopping ideas: shapes, manufacturers, styles, stores.
Donning the Boot(s)
First, examine the boot at right. This, of course, is one of the pair my sweetie bought me so long ago. I am sorry to tell you that I do not know the brand name; on the bottom it merely shows an embossed maple leaf ringed with the phrases "Made in Canada • Fabrique au Canada." In Canada, they sure do know how to gear up for bad weather. However, any basic rubber boot like this will do.
This boot has a sole approximately 3/8" (.9 cm) thick, and a heel about 1" (2.5 cm) thick, leaving a difference of 5/8" (1.6 cm), which is perfect, right in that 1/2"-3/4" zone mentioned above. On me, this is a mid-calf boot, with the shaft rising about 11" (27.9 cm) from the instep. Note that there is no lacing anywhere, nor are there straps and buckles at the top. The circumference at the top is approx. 17" (43.2 cm), which is good, because I am very muscular in my remaining calf. If you are not, or if you are a bilateral amputee, you may need something more adjustable. I will give you ideas in the second half on how to shop. However, one thing to remember: When you go to buy a pair of rubber boots for yourself, or to inventory your existing footgear wardrobe, do bring your tape measure! Knowing in advance that a heel height/incline is not too steep will keep you from falling on your face in a shoe store. And yes, I do speak from experience.
Now comes the interesting part: putting it on. If you still have your original knee, or if you are generally thinner and more fit than I am, you may be able to skip the first part, which comprises taking off your leg and removing whatever footwear you already have on. You might also have to until you get the hang of it, because even though it gets easier with practice, it is a trifle awkward no matter how fit you are or how much leg you have left.
Usually when we put on boots that go calf-high or higher, we point the toe, feel our way into the boot, inch our foot into the foot of the boot using our toes, and plunk our heels into place. If you have a fake foot and ankle, you cannot do this because you cannot point your fake toe as your ankle doesn't flex enough. Assuming you have chosen a boot like mine which will allow you to splash around in big puddles, and not an ankle-type boot which will only keep your feet dry, the next step then is to cuff the boot by folding down the shaft. (See Example Photo 3, below right.)
Now turn your leg upside down. Place the boot on the foot by inserting the foot into the now very much shortened shaft of the boot. (See Example Photo 4, below left.) Grasp the heel of the boot, embracing the entire thing with your hand, and then just push it back and over the heel of the prosthetic foot. It should go right on, though it might take some elbow grease. The ankle in rubber boots is usually wide, like a cowboy boot not a fashion boot, so with the shaft folded down, you will have a much shallower angle via which to insert the sharply angled foot on its unflexing ankle.
Seriously, it works. See Example Photo 5, below right.
Now turn your leg right side up and unfold the cuff. Voilà! A booted prosthetic leg. (See Example Photo 6, below left.) You are now ready to dress and don the leg and then go slogging through mud, puddles, creeks, your garden...whatever wet spot you like.
Shopping for Rubber Boots
First, consider your needs. Are you really going to work these boots hard, going into inches- or feet-deep water? Are you going to walk far in them, in all kinds of weather, in sucking mud, over creekbeds or on boats?
Perhaps you laugh. No way!, you say. None of the above! You just want to be able to walk around in the rain with an assurance of good traction and dry feet, flesh or plastic.
Well, if you are in the first category, the wet-weather worker or adventurer, you will need a boot at least as tall (mid-calf) as the one I wear. This will keep your feet dry in deepish mud, muck and water as well as strolling around town in inclement weather. However, if you are in the second category, then perhaps you only need an ankle boot, sometimes referred to as a "middie" or "jodhpur" style boot. These completely encase the foot in rubber, but do not go higher than a few inches above the heel. Sometimes they are held on much closer, yet are easier to don, by virtue of zippers or elastic panels. To put them on, you basically skip the whole cuffing-the-shaft step, and may even, depending on your equipment and build, be able to put them on without taking off your leg. They are likely to stay on, too, by virtue of the closeness of the ankle.
Here are some examples of ankle/middie/jodhpur-style rubber boots:
Bean's Wellies (jodhpur style) come in groovy colors and have a big loop at the top back which helps you pull them on.
Jeffrey Campbell Short Boots look even shorter and also have a big loop at the top of the back. They also look like they have some great traction.
Muck Boots Brit Middies come in men's and women's styles -- and by the way, it is hard to find this style for men in rubber, not leather; this is the only example I have seen.
You get the idea.
Now, man or woman, if you are going to do some serious mucking about, you're going to need serious, tall boots which are as impermeable at the toe as they are at the top of your calf. Here are some pretty ones, with a good looking shape and some serious looking traction:
Le Chameau Garden/ Outdoor Rubber Boots for men and women -- on sale right now at Sierra Trading Post for $45.95, which is apparently almost a hundred bucks off.
The problem is, even people with both their original feet sometimes end up losing a boot in sucking mud. If it happens while you still have both your original feet, you put your bare or sock-clad foot down in mud, curse, go back for your boot, and then if you're lucky and have running water or a towel or something, you clean your foot off first, but if not, you just put it back on and walk around miserable for the rest of your excursion. If you are an above-knee amputee, or even a below-knee amputee who's maybe not so adept at putting on boots for whatever reason, your cursing is going to be a whole lot louder because you may find yourself in a situation where you have to take off your leg -- and your pants -- just to get your boot back on, all while out in the mud somewhere, possibly while being drenched from above, and maybe with nowhere to sit down except, well, in the mud. If, like me, you do not wear a cosmetic cover on your mechanical leg, a nice, plump one that can hold a boot on like a real calf might, your chances of this eventuality are pretty high. Likewise if you just have skinny legs, organic or mechanical. See, there's nothing for the top of the boot to grab onto, and that makes it easy for you to go flying out of it when suction pulls hard on the sole.
There are ways to avoid this fate. Lace-up boots are great for staying on, but they are not usually impermeable any higher than the bottom of your ankle. Still, they have been a favorite of hunters and hikers for decades, and you can certainly find a wide selection at sporting goods stores. They tend to have good traction, and many have nice arch support. Also, Muck Boots offers many styles of boots incorporating knee- to mid-calf-high impermeable rubber coverage topped by elastic knit material up to the knee. This material stretches to conform to the leg and is held on by elastic tension. If your leg, including the cosmesis on your fake leg, has a wider circumference than the circumference of the empty boot opening, this might be a good choice for you as long as you stay out of truly deep water, mud, or, well, muck, which -- unless there's something about these boots that I don't know -- would seep right through that knit top.
For complete waterproofness, though, you need impermeable rubber all the way up. Here are some excellent examples of tall rubber boots especially suitable for amputees because they have an adjustable strap with a buckle near the top of the shaft. This allows the wearer to close the boot up so that it doesn't flop around and allow the foot to come flying out. This is particularly effective when boots are worn over pants -- in our case, when the prosthetic foot has been dressed in a thick sock, then the leg dressed in thick pants, and then the cuffed boot shaft unrolled over all that.
Wellingtons -- Wellington boots, otherwise known as "Wellies," are the standard bearer for wet weather work and play boots, so much so that their nickname is the colloquial word for rubber boots in Britain the way that Kleenex is the word for facial tissue in the U.S. They make many fine boots. The ones best suited for us seem to be the classic Hunter line, which all have top straps and range in price from $94 to $399 (hand made, standard and wide fit). You can even get them lined and with studded soles for ice, but they ain't cheap.
L. L. Bean somehow has the audacity to call its version "Wellies," too, and even mark the name as a registered trademark. These "wellies" also have a strap for adjusting the fit. However, Bean's versions, apparently for women and children only, come in adorable colors and patterns which seem to change seasonally, including a sporting dog print available in either red or green, and cost less than $50.
Generic French Garden Boots from Gardenscape Tools -- great looking traction, adjustable top strap, $50.
Serious boots for work, including handling hazardous materials, can be found at All Safety Equipment & Supplies. They carry many intriguing things, including these "PSPro-Safe Footware 5 Buckle Rubber Overboots." The buckles make these the ultimate in adjustability, and they even have cleated outsoles for extra traction. I'm not sure I'd recommend overboots for amputees, though, and certainly not recent amputees, unless you could be sure that there would be no slipping around of the shoe inside the boot. On the other hand, these are supposed to be safety boots. Maybe someone at this store can advise you.
Finally, I have to say that the best selection I've seen of fun rubber boots for men, women and children -- mostly women and children, truth be told -- can be found at Diane's Little Lambs. You must see their delightful adult boot assortment, ranging in price from $30-$65. Mothers and children can buy matching raingear with whimsical designs like ladybugs, bees, cows, and kitties. There are styles appropriate for gadding about town on wet days, with light exposure to unfriendly elements, and for sloshing through puddles while giggling your head(s) off. Again, before you choose something more whimsical than practical, I would strongly recommend thinking carefully about what you'll be doing and how hard it is for you to get around and/or adjust to any little gait and traction surprises that might hit you at this stage of your amputation journey. Fortunately, Diane has many styles which are charming and sensible, no matter where you're at.
Okay, enough talking! You know what you've got to do. Get out there and make a splash!