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Leg In A Day - My First Ever Prosthesis Experience in India

This was originally written in 2015 as a post to a private Facebook group I started as a way to keep a small group of folks who were interested in my adoption journey up to date with details and updates. Over time, it morphed into so much more than a way to share information. It became more like a blog and later even on on-line support group. Now, I have formaized that exact kind of space and I am re-writing this post to share with others who may gain something from our experiences. This post came about a month and a half after returning from my second trip to visit my daughter in India.

Back To India

Why has it taken me so long to write about my last days in India? I can tell the story with no issues, but for some reason, I have been having a hard time writing about it. It isn't like there was anything negative except for leaving her and in fact, it was amazing. I tell the story now a bit flippantly and usually manage a few laughs and wows but really, I like to tell it because it helps me relive the craziness and magic that was in play. Now that I am just moments away from our first court date in India, I feel the need to get this in writing. Is this the first of many court dates? Dare I hope for one and done? I have to be prepared for both and anything in between. As I am waiting on pins and needles, maybe now is the time to relive a little magic.

I had several goals for this visit aside from just being able to spend time with her and build on our budding bond. One was to help a friend get her child to our orphanage. It is a long story, but one that ended with a little girl seeing her parents and brothers for the first time via Skype so, mission accomplished! My other main goal was to get my girl a better prosthetic leg. The one she had was horribly antiquated and heavy. I hated watching her take several minutes each time she put it on or took it off. The buckles alone were tattered and the leg itself, was just horrible. I had hoped to get her in to see a prosthetic specialist or even just an ortho to see if there was anything I could do to get a better leg for her. Enter serendipity I was lucky enough to be able to use my same auto walla (rickshaw driver) from when I had visited in March. Such a kind man who has just enough to English to help us muddle through. As we were driving one day, I came across the billboard very close to my hotel. It showed a prosthetic leg with much writing in Hindi. I asked him to stop...NOT in the traffic circle … which would have been certain death. He was able to translate for me a bit and said that it meant something along the lines of "a free limb for anyone who needs it". Hmmm. I sent it to a few contacts but nobody knew much of anything about it. Meantime, I was in a holding pattern about seeing a doctor due to the adoption officer being very busy so it was several days later when she called me into her office to tell me that she made an appointment to see someone on Monday, my last full day. At that time, I showed her a picture I snapped of the billboard and she immediately got on the phone. After much conversation that I and no way of understanding, she told me that my rickshaw driver was coming for me at 5:00. Huh? First off, he was coming at 6:00 and why is she telling me this? Turns out, she had his number and decided to call him to confirm what the billboard said. He was coming to pick us up and take us to the center advertised in the billboard! There was no phone number so the only way to find out more was to go see for ourselves. off we all went, me, my girl, her main caretaker and her son...all in the back of the rickshaw on a day that was 108 degrees. I love heat but this was rough even for me. While I thought I had seen some rough parts of Lucknow, I realized on this drive that I still had much more to see. Needless to say, we finally (about 30-40) minutes a smashed into the back of a RICKSHAW... pulled up to what was among the most beautiful structures I had seen in Lucknow far on the outskirts of town. We knew it was late and did not expect much and so when the driver went in, he was told to return Monday morning. No appointment needed. Just come. I still had no idea what was going on but I went with it and instead of going to the scheduled appointment at the hospital, decided to take a risk and go for this gamble. She fell asleep laying across my lap on the ride home. Heaven.

Prosthesis in a Day

Monday promised to be an interesting day no matter how you cut it. I was nervous. We were off to the “leg place” Really, leg place? When did this become my life? We all piled into the rickshaw and headed out. Another hot day and long rickshaw ride. We arrived back at the Artificial Limb and Rehabilitation Center which is a far better name than "leg place”, and were directed in to a part of the building that was clearly still under construction. Wires hanging and drywall dust everywhere. I didn't understand what was being said, but a man, who clearly runs the place, told us in English that this is a center like many all over the world. Before I knew it, they had laid my girl on a table and they were wrapping her leg in Saran Wrap and putting plaster on it for a cast. I and no idea what was really happening, but I knew she was crying and trying to cover herself up. She is very modest and being exposed like this was miserable for her. They did this and then I was able to carry her into the other room. I still did not know what was happening. Long story short, it turns out that we had happened upon a place that produces prosthetics super fast with very inexpensive materials. My girl was getting a new leg for free!!! After the casting, they asked about my timeline and to told them I left the next day. They asked if I wanted the leg today. Um, yes? How was I to know they could really do that?! Apparently, they were going to try. They told us to go have lunch and find shoes. Lunch at a mall was interesting. The one kind of place I have found in Lucknow that comes close to approximating a world that I can relate to are the malls. I am not a fan of malls but I will tell you that they bring immense comfort when you're so far from home and everything else seems different. We got to the mall and first place that I saw was a shoe store. Knowing that she was going to be able to wear different shoes with her new prosthetic made me walk go in. There are many milestones in a child's life but little did I know that the first milestone I would get to do with my little girl was buy her a pair of light up Velcro enclosed sneakers in of course, pink. With her new prosthetic, gone would be the horrible black orthotic shoes. She and I were both thrilled! We decided to head upstairs to the food court and when we neared the escalator, her caretaker motion to me to stop. I assumed that she was concerned about my girl not being able to handle the escalators so I showed clearly that I was going to hold her. We got on and up we went...only to hear screams and have the escalator shut down. I looked back and there were R and A (caretaker and son) down at the base of the escalador and yelling for help. Ugh. I thought that they had been warning me that my daughter did not know how to do this but instead, they were warning me that they did not know how to handle the situation. Could I possibly feel any worse? This woman cares for my girl and her son is one of her best friends. I felt horrible for not understanding the dynamic. With pride marred and probably a few bruises, we carried on to the food court. The rest of the trip was uneventful save the fact that my own daughter turned down ice cream from, yes, McDonalds. My world was reeling as cultures seems to be mixing and clashing at the same time.

Back to the limb center and I was thinking it may go fast. I truly could not have been more wrong. They urged us to go for another ride for treats. At this point, my rickshaw driver had been with us all day, no other fares, just helping us. He is the hero of this event. Went went for a drive through local villages and returned to the Limb Center while we still had daylight. I wish we had stayed longer, but I rushed us thinking they may need us back for the leg. We played tag and other games among the cows while we waited for a "leg in a day". Eventually, the sun went down and the new complex was mostly dark. The rooms had some fans running but we were definitely not closed in and were still somewhat open air. Finally, we got to the point where they were able to start doing some fittings. As it came time to finally do the last bits and pieces, we heard a noise outside, looked out the window, and saw an explosion. Moments after, all of the electricity shut down. We had been at this for close to 12 hours and so to be so close only to have the power go out was immensely frustrating and I think that all of us, with our nerves frayed were definitely just wanting to get done. In that spirit and analogous with the dichotomy I keep seeing in India, we did finish. It was dark and so what do you do where the power will not withstand many hours running hard in such heat? Finish by light of our cell phones, of course! We huddled together, becoming the only light source and thus became giant bug magnets. Hot, sticky and now covered in bugs, we finished the leg. The irony and ingenuity of the whole thing was just amazing to me. The leg was finished and she had taken a few steps when the lights came back on. The prosthetist said she had bad walking habits but clearly, we were in no place to do PT right then . It was super late and we all just needed to get home which was still a long ways away. She was upset and did not like her new leg. Much lighter and with a totally different kind of shoe - remember the adorable ones I bought earlier? - she was struggling to walk. Could I possibly feel any worse? What I had hoped would be positive binding experience for us yielded tears from her both during the process and then with the new leg.

Tears, Snuggles, Good-byes and Hope

The ride home was long and she was having a hard time sitting in the rickshaw with her new leg on. It was tight and since there was not space for her to fully sit, she was perching on the edge next to me. I had seen her get tired before and even had her get sick on another rickshaw ride when I was there in March. I was expecting this to happen again but instead, she just fell asleep. Because she was in an awkward position and not used to the new leg, I held her in place the whole time. It was wonderful. As a not-quite-yet-full-time-mama to her, I soaked up every moment I could. Not wonderful was arriving back to the orphanage so late with a huge flight of stairs to get up. I wanted to carry her, but independent and sleepy and grumpy, she charged up alone without help. She made it up, but the tears came when she tried to get the new leg off. In her exhaustion, she could not realize that there was not just one new Velcro strap and all she had to do was pull her leg out. She sat on the sofa crying in frustration and I wanted to cry for fear I had just completely damaged the person I loved more than anything in the world. She got the leg off and wandered back to where the older kids sleep. Knowing my poor rickshaw driver was waiting on me and had been with me so long, I had to leave. That took me to my last day there. I had to pack that night and be ready to spend as much time at the orphanage as I could before catching my flights home. I was absolutely convinced that I would arrive at the orphanage my last day and find her new leg in the rubbish closet or worse yet, chucked over the second-story patio and into the courtyard. Instead, when I arrived, I was greeted by seeing my little girl eating ice cream and with her new leg on… lights blinking in the shoes and all! She was still a little bit awkward and tentative with it but I could tell that she was getting around much better and saw her take it on and off. Just like when I visited in March, my last day starts off just fine but as the hours tick by, I know what is about to come. I'm not going to write about that now because I wanted this story to be about magic, serendipity, and hope. As I'm finally putting the finishing touches on writing this, there's a chance that there is a judge either doing something or not doing something on our case this very moment. I'm not sure why it has been so hard to write about this but some of it has to do with the ambiguity of not knowing when I'll get to see her again. Writing about all of the crazy pieces that came together for me to be able to help her find a better leg reminds me that there is something for bigger then what I can possibly understand at play in making these things come together. I'm trying to be calm and trust that things will happen as they should and no matter what happens, it'll be the right thing at the right time. Not at all easy when there is somebody on the other side of the planet deciding your fate. ADDENDUM - This was originally written in August of 2015. It would take eight hearings and calls to government officials to pass court but I did finally get my girl on November 22, 2015. Going back through this story again three years later and after so much has happened reminds me to remember the magic and appreciate the journey all that much more.

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