First, the question. Regard the above picture. Notice the glorious swath of Velcro® which crosses the lower lefthand portion of the image. This swath is attached to my fabulous suspension belt. Note that this is the rough scratchy side of Velcro®, the side with the million tiny plastic hooks, not the soft, fuzzy side. Notice how completely becrudded it is.
Every thread, every hair, every bit of fuzz or fluff that passes this swath gets entangled and embedded into it, and thus into my permanent wardrobe. It's really quite gross, yet I have no idea how to clean this out, do you? If so, please tell me and the other readers of this blog! I have already tried a moustache comb and a flea comb. Both broke, immediately.
Seriously, I do not exaggerate when I say I live in Velcro®, and that I am hardly the only amputee to do so. We need to know how to care for it, keep it sticky and looking not too disgusting. To prove how badly we need to know this (just in case anyone doubted) and also to give others some useful Velcro®-ish ideas, I shall now demonstrate how very hooked on Velcro® I am by describing its four most prominent applications in my daily life.
I. The Suspension Belt
I have raved about this before. It still rocks, in spite of that little schmutz problem described above. If you are a transfemoral amputee and are suffering because of your silesian or suspension belt, do demand to try one of these if you have not already done so. I'll be shocked if your life doesn't instantly improve, at least a little. And without Velcro®? Well, it simply wouldn't exist.
II. The Knee Brace
As I have remarked elsewhere, I weigh about 200 lbs. This is not skinny, but in spite of what you read in fashion magazines, it's also really not all that scary. Lots of it is fat, sure, but lots of it is also muscle. You could, in fact, bounce a quarter off a surprisingly great expanse of my enormous backside. Yes, yes, I could also stand to lose some weight. It wouldn't kill me to gently ease down to 170 or 180. But seeing as how I already have currently incurable and potentially deadly cancer, I don't really find much point in spending any significant part of whatever's left of my life punishing myself. If I lose weight and it's not because of illness, great. If not, fine. As long as I don't pack on any more than I already have that isn't strictly useful or any more than my various parts, organic and mechanical, can bear, and as long as I keep moving every day, my weight is really not an issue for me, aesthetically or health-wise, except in one regard.
The problem with being overweight and having only one organic leg, especially if much of your day is spent on your feet, is one of strain on the supporting joints. I'm generously framed and also on the tallish side, so my current weight does not pose as big a strain as it would if I weighed this much and was only, say, the average American female height of 5'3" or shorter. Still, the strain is there. My hips hate me some mornings. My remaining organic knee really, really hates me some days, sometimes for weeks on end.
My remaining organic knee is 43 years old, already had very little cartilege left two and a half years ago when it became a widow, and really resents the fact that it has to lug this body around without all that much help from the not-so-shiny-anymore black "toy" knee. It was not expecting to have to do this much work on its own at this time in its life. Every time I go up and down stairs or get up off a chair or a toilet, it's like doing a 200-lb. leg press, only with just the one leg. This is why my calf muscle is about eighteen inches around, but it's also why, every once in awhile, my remaining organic knee finds it perfectly reasonable to throw a tantrum. I really can't blame it.
To give this poor little joint a little respite, my boyfriend suggested that I try this Cho-Pat knee brace which we found on a trip to Johnson Drug (where the very, very, very nice pharmacists compound my cat's medicines in olive oil drawn from tuna cans, but that's another story):
You can read about how it works here. As you can see by the photo at the manufacturer's website, the prongs cross each other in front, putting pressure on tendons above and below the knee, but not on the knee. To paraphrase the more medical explanation given at the manufacturer website, this palpably relieves some of the strain on the knee joint by stabilizing it, bracing it into a more controlled bend.
I recently was hurting so much I thought it was time for knee replacement surgery, which would have been terrible since, as you may recall, I don't have health insurance right now. However, I wore this brace for a few weeks, and the pain completely receded. It not just relieved my pain, though; it also seemed to teach my knee how to bend up and down in ways that don't put so much stress on it.
For approx. $40, this was an experiment that paid off, and I would recommend it enthusiastically to anybody suffering similarly. And it wouldn't be possible without Velcro®!
III. The Shoe Fastener
My new favorite pair of shoes is this pair of Teva Terraluxes:
Notice what they are fastened with. 'Nough said, right?
Of course, these are not the only shoes I own which fasten this way, just my favorite example. However, I also use Velcro® as a slightly different kind of shoe fastener.
IV. The Clog Fastener
My old favorite pair of shoes is a disintegrating pair of Rockport clogs. I don't think Rockport makes anything like them anymore, but they have served me well for many years. The problem is that the right one will not stay on my prosthetic foot without a little help.
Now, I used to have to use these rubber bands I would get off the organic produce I bought at work to hold my clog on. It took several of them at a time, they weren't very reliable, and they embarrassed my boyfriend (especially the bright yellow ones, not pictured at right). He felt this type of shoe fastener was just not very classy and refused to take me anywhere with my shoe stuck on this way. Can you imagine?
Then I remembered something I'd read at Lady Amp's Message Board, about a woman who had worn slides or clogs or something to an ACA meeting using -- you guessed it -- Velcro® stickies to hold them on! Fantastic!
At my next opportunity, I purchased some big, black Velcro® disks of the sort pictured at left. Since I ultimately expected to stick my foot into lots of different kinds of shoes (not to mention my mouth from time to time), I decided to put the fuzzy side on the underside of my rubber heel. I placed the hooked side in the corresponding location inside my clog.
Magic! My clog stayed on! And this is the solution I've been using ever since.
Now, as you can see by the photo below, I've had to modify things somewhat. This is because of some Unpleasant Discoveries.
Unpleasant Discovery 1. When soaked in water, as in left in standing water inside a rubber boot for an indeterminate amount of time, the adhesive by which Velcro® adheres kind of dissolves. This can leave the fashion-conscious amputee without a shoe to stand in. No, seriously. When the Velcro® isn't adhering, the shoe goes flying off. Fun times, especially when halfway between home and one's destination or while attempting to cross a busy parking lot.
Unpleasant Discovery 2. Over time, depending on what it's sticking to, said adhesive might just wear off anyway from age, pressure, friction, constant pulling as the shoe is removed and put back on and removed and put back on, etc. This has much the same effect as UD1., above.
Unpleasant Discovery 3. As in many groovy, high-tech-ish, modern shoes, the insoles in Rockports, though usually deliciously comfortable with lots of little massaging foamy lumps and bumps, are not always glued in or otherwise firmly attached. Given enough age, pressure, friction, and constant pulling as the shoe is removed and put back on, etc., the insoles will become aware of their untethered status and attempt to free themselves from the surrounding shoe. See UD1. and UD2, above, for a description of the consequences when the shoe in question is a clog and the wearer is an amputee.
As a result of these lessons and how I learned them, I have strayed from my original plan.
First, there are now Velcro® disks holding the insole into the clog's footbed, from the underside of the insole.
Second, when the first and then the second hooked disk wore out of the appropriate spot in the inner heel of the insole, I covered that spot with a much more serious looking grey square that I found lying around the house. Velcro® is all supposed to be pretty strong, but this stuff (labeled with the brand name "Chico") looked like it originally had some kind of industrial purpose, whereas most of what I'd purchased at the hardware store seemed strictly designed for household use, holding up posters and whatnot.
The grey Chico stuff is holding okay so far. In fact, it feels a bit stronger. The hooky side is definitely more, uh, cruel. Sharper. Scratchier. Overall less flexible. It's like the street version or something, none of that coddled, pretty designer stuff, no. It means business.
Finally, when the adhesive holding on the fuzzy part of the Velcro® disk I'd applied to the bottom of my prosthetic heel did indeed wear off after the foot had been left soaking in water inside a boot, I ended up at a hardware store that was out of the disks, so I bought strips. I laid them on as you can see in the photo above, kind of making a V around the hole in the bottom of the rubber "cosmesis." (I'm not actually sure what that hole is for, but covering it up serves no purpose, whereas attaching as much as possible of the adhesive surface of the fuzzy-side Velcro® strips provides more strength via more sheer area of well adhered gripping surface.)
The Velcro® strips plus the Chico square actually seem to be working better than the disks did. Because the strips are longer than the hooky little square in the shoe heel, when I take the shoe off, it doesn't pull on the whole fuzzy Velcro® foot unit, threatening to peel it off, the way it did when the hooky part was the same size and shape as the fuzzy part.
Physics. It's simply everywhere! And who would ever have suspected you could describe it using words like "fuzzy" and "hooky"? Yet here I am doing just that. Chalk it up to an inadequate education if you must. Me, I'm just grateful I have so many happy reasons to be talking about applied physics in the first place.
Velcro® is truly a wonder, a genuine space age invention which has meant the world to me, and which I've heard has made itself useful to amputees in all kinds of interesting ways, not just limited to what I've described here. If you use it in a way you think others might find helpful to hear about, please share it here or send it to me in an e-mail.
And if you know how to clean off those hooky bits, please tell us about that, too!
* If you visit the Velcro® website, you will discover that, just as "Kleenex®" is a brand name for Kimberly Clark's facial tissue product and "Scotch®" is not a kind of tape but a brand of cellophane adhesive tape made by 3M, "Velcro®" is the name of the company which makes the product we think of as "velcro." The brand name "Velcro®" is a combination of the words "velvet" and "crochet." However, the name of the product is apparently "hook and loop fastener" or "touch fastener."
Unfortunately, greased in my efforts by wicked fast typing skills developed during my many years as a secretarial drone, I tend to wax verbose. (Yes! Really!) Consequently, I hope that Velcro Industries, B.V., will forgive me for simply referring to its range of products -- and similar products -- as "Velcro®" or "Velcro®-type." It's just fewer words, and I'm sure everyone who visits here can appreciate that!