Category Archives: Peggy Chenoweth

Picnic Fun!

In our house the summertime weather always leads to the same activity. Whether we be going to the pool, to the park or just in our own backyard, we almost always have a picnic basket with us. Thankfully my son has inherited my affinity for outdoor dining on a blanket, and my husband has learned to accept that we are a picnic-loving family.

Over the years I have owned a myriad of picnic baskets.  I have had a difficult time finding a basket that would provide us with the space we needed without becoming too bulky or heavy for me to schlep through the zoo. Truth be told the shelves in my garage are overflowing with so many baskets featuring various shapes, sizes and designs that the room is beginning to resemble the entrance to Crate ‘n Barrel! After investing more money than I would care to admit, I have finally discovered the perfect picnic basket. The design and features are easy for me to handle, especially on those inconvenient bad leg/back days, while still providing ample room for all of our accessories.

It turns out that my perfect picnic basket is not a traditional basket, but is rather a picnic cooler on wheels. I didn’t need to struggle trying to carry a bulky and heavy basket when wheels are readily available! After all, pushing or pulling something is almost always the safest option for me. Although I’m typically steady with my prosthesis, it is easier for me to maintain my center of balance when I am pushing or pulling something instead of carrying a bulky item in my arms.

There is more to this picnic cooler than meets the eye. It is stocked with accessories and storage features that make it perfect for the outdoor loving family. I have no doubt that it was designed by a Mom!

The caster wheels move in all directions, allowing the cooler to be pushed or pulled from a variety of positions. They are tall wheels, providing ample clearance from the ground. Mud and muck don’t become caked onto the bottom of the cooler as it is being moved through fields.  I also appreciate that I can easily change my grasp to accommodate for the terrain and my gait pattern. Because of the ability to push the cooler, I no longer arrive at the picnic destination with sore arms and an unsafe gait.

The telescoping handle extends to a variety of distances which can be quickly adjusted depending upon who is pushing or pulling it. A variety of bungee cords have been sewn throughout the inside and the outside of the cooler, providing additional storage for dirty utensils, small toys or bug spray. As if the wheels and storage wasn’t enough of a wow factor, the lid is fully stocked with place settings for four. It is so much fun, and better for the environment, to use special picnic plates and utensils verses the disposable variety that leak and break easily.

It is strange how a product, which probably wasn’t designed with a disabled user in mind, can change an entire activity. This cooler has enabled my family’s picnicking, and I couldn’t be happier. Now we can go and enjoy one of our favorite outdoor activities without experiencing the frustrations of maneuvering with a bulky and heavy basket. I feel both safer and less fatigued when we arrive, allowing me to fully embrace the moment.

At UNlimiters, we’re always looking for products that help us live more independent and easier lives. Have you found a product that has improved your life? Let us know in the Shout section of our store and we’ll try to add it to our selection.

Nothing “Phantom” About This Pain!

I wear my prosthetic all day. As an active Mommy, I start my day well before 7 am. The first thing I do in the morning is put my leg on, and the last thing I do when I get into bed is take it off. Many days, I am wearing my leg for in excess of 15 hours.

I have discovered that the best fitting socket in the world doesn’t alleviate stump soreness and those pesky “phantom pains” which, for me at least, manifest themselves at night. I have tried numerous medications. None of the pharmaceutical treatments worked well for me, and if they did work they left me feeling drowsy and spacey. I knew that there had to be a better way.

I know that every amputee experiences phantom pains differently. For some, they actually feel pain in the limb that has been amputated. This has happened to me on a few occasions, but the occurrences are rare. I consider myself lucky that I don’t suffer from this type of pain.

My phantom pains are strictly nerve based. My residual limb feels as if it is being stung by hornets. I feel extremely sharp small pains all over my stump, causing my leg to involuntarily kick. On nights when the stinging is severe, I feel as if I should have been a Rockette.

The stinging and kicking combine to make me miserable. Pain medications are ineffective and merely leave me groggy the next day. I am forced to try to find a comfortable position in bed and hope that it goes away.

Although I haven’t completely eliminated the phantom pains, I have greatly reduced their intensity and frequency. I also have a problem with my limb “kicking” at night, involuntarily and sometimes quite rapidly. My husband is thrilled that I have come up with a way to quiet the “cricket leg.”

I have started using the HoMedics Shiatsu Massaging Pillow at night. I have found that the deep circular massage, for 15 to 20 minutes every night, treats the stump soreness and drastically decreases the phantom pain issues.

As luck would have it, my residual limb fits perfectly between the two massaging balls. I can sit down, relax and let the massage pillow works its magic on my angry little nerves. My life has been so much better since I found a non-narcotic treatment for my pain, which is anything but phantom!


Getting Stronger…

I just learned that obesity has been officially classified as a “disease” by the American Medical Association. While our increasing waistlines have long been referred to as reaching epidemic proportions (no pun intended), the categorization of obesity as a disease is supposed to both raise awareness and funding. Research indicates that as much as 80% of the disabled population is overweight or obese. This number is staggering; it is not surprising.

Pharmaceutical interventions for weight loss yield inconsistent results and are laden with side effects. Weight loss surgery is expensive and risky. Despite the myriad of advances in the field of medicine, the only reliable and consistent treatment for this newly classified disease remains the staple approach: diet and exercise. When the remedy involves physical movement and exertion, individuals with disabilities are at a distinct disadvantage.

Strengthening muscles and maintaining a healthy weight is perhaps more important for those with physical limitations. We are reliant upon various devices, whether they be a wheelchair, braces and crutches or a prosthesis, and their use creates unnatural stress on our body. Staying physically strong helps to minimize the strains that our body experiences on a daily basis.

Thankfully Unlimiters is about overcoming the perceived “disadvantages” of life! Exercising when you have a physical disability may require more creative thinking, but it is certainly not impossible. Concentrating on what you enjoy rather than focusing on what is limited is a great place to start.

I love going for long walks through the neighborhood, which is admittedly an ironic choice of activity since I am a leg amputee. However, I have come to relish the escape and quiet time that walking affords me. Between family and work obligations, walking by myself feels more like a luxury than exercise.

My motivation to walk, which has become my primary source of exercise, is intrinsic because of the enjoyment that it yields. Of course, walking isn’t just for relaxation, I use this opportunity to work on my fitness. If you look through my kitchen junk drawer, you will find a variety of inadequate and broken pedometers.  My altered gait and inconsistent speed apparently throw off the accuracy of most pedometers on the market.

After years of searching I have finally found a pedometer that accurately measures my steps. I absolutely love my Fitbit! This tiny little device packs a powerful punch with its features and ease of use. Now when I walk I am able to measure not only my distance in steps, but also my calorie expenditures. Now all of my fitness information is just a tap away!

I have been using the Fitbit for several months, and I have been impressed. My altered gait and limping does not impact this device. I even went for a small walk without my leg, just utilizing crutches, and the Fitbit continued to maintain its accuracy. This is the only pedometer that I have ever used that is not thrown off by gait deviations, significant limping or assistive devices. The fact that this pedometer even measures steps achieved with full crutch use is remarkable!

Swelling Kit

My first summer as an amputee I learned an unfortunate lesson: heat and humidity often make extremities swell, and the residual limb is no exception. There is little as frustrating as when I try to don my prosthesis only to discover that my limb has swollen so much that I cannot get it on.  Being unable to wear my leg is one of the quickest ways to ruin my vacation!

Because swelling can be the result of many factors, some of which I have little control over when I’m on the road, I always remain prepared with my emergency kit. Thankfully most swelling is temporary, especially if it is recognized early! My emergency swelling kit consists of just three items: a strong ace bandage, a disposable ice pack and a pack of diuretics.

At home I can wear a shrinker to keep swelling in check. When traveling I rely upon the ace wrap which affords me more control over the amount of compression I need. I have also realized that having an ace wrap in the glove compartment is convenient to treat falls and sprains might occur while on vacation.

The disposable ice pack is a quick way to reduce swelling and to treat the cramping sensations that often accompany drastic changes in volume. If the weather is oppressively hot, the disposable pack is also a great way to cool down quickly. I use them so often when I travel that I recommend keeping a case of these packs at home so that the travel kit can quickly be replenished.

While I am not a proponent of pharmaceutical remedies, the fact remains that sometimes taking a diuretic to reduce limb volume is the best solution for me.  I would recommend talking with your physician to make sure that a diuretic is a safe option for you. Since I don’t have the health problems that are negatively impacted by a diuretic, my physician has approved this option for me.

If I am expected to do a lot of walking and cannot fit into my leg, the day is ruined for me (and usually my entire family). The diuretic takes about an hour to reduce the volume of my limb but it helps to keep the swelling in check for the entire day. On those hot and humid days when resting in an air conditioned room is not feasible, a mild diuretic is my insurance that I won’t swell out of my socket!

Sometimes staying hydrated and limiting salt consumption are not enough to thwart volume fluctuations. I don’t want to let a swollen residual limb keep me from enjoying the activities of summer. Thankfully my summer swelling kit helps keep the puffiness to a minimum allowing me to comfortably wear my leg and have fun with my family.

Traveling with a Disability? Some Simple Tips.

Traveling with a disability can be a daunting experience, especially for the novice traveler. However, a little preparation and some knowledge can make the experience of getting to your vacation destination easier and less stressful.

For those who are traveling by air this vacation season, be aware that TSA has increased their security screening procedures. It is recommended that the passenger with a disability arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before departure to accommodate for additional screening should it be deemed necessary. Keep in mind that TSA procedures vary by airport, but below is a list of general expectations when going through the security process.

1. Many airports utilize full body scanners. Being cleared through the use of this device deems additional screening, including the pat down, unnecessary.

2. If the airport does not have a full body scanner, the traveler can expect a pat down and swab screening. The pat down has become more thorough in the past few months which has caused both anxiety and embarrassment for some travelers. Private screenings are always available, and if you are uncomfortable it is okay to request one. (It should also be noted that you have the right to have a friend or family member accompany you to the private screening area.) The agent may take a piece of cloth and rub braces, crutches, wheelchairs, prosthetics and your hands for explosive residue.

3. Prosthetic wearer, please know that you do NOT have to remove your prosthesis (or the shoe on your prosthetic) to be cleared by TSA. If the request is made, you may ask to speak with the supervisor and politely point out the concern.

Packing an appropriate carry-on bag can eliminate a lot of stress and potential obstacles for the traveler. It is recommended that the following items be included in the carry-on bag:

1. For amputees, pack additional socks of various ply (keep in mind that changes in altitude can cause the volume fluctuations)

2. Prescription medications and over the counter pain medication

3. Lotion (these handy bottles assure that you are always within the size restrictions allowed by TSA)

4. Hand sanitizer to facilitate donning your prosthesis (again, be sure to keep the bottle small and within the one ounce limits)

5. All adapted equipment which may not be easy to locate at your destination should your luggage become lost

6. Name and phone number of your pharmacy and physicians, should you require refills or information on your trip

7. Handicapped parking hang tag (so that it can utilized while at your destination) Packing some simple amenities can make staying away from home more comfortable and accessible.

You might want to consider bringing a suction cup grab bar and folding shower stool. Although most hotels provide a shower chair upon request, the requests are honored on a first come/ first serve basis and there is often no guarantee that one will be available when you check in. In my experience, sanitation of the shower chairs provided by some hotels has been questionable and I simply feel more comfortable bringing my own compact version.

Taking some extra time to prepare can help thwart a vacation catastrophe. Most importantly, have a great time and don’t let your disability keep you from enjoying the adventures of live. Instead of being limited, strive to become an Unlimiter! Do you have a vacation tip that you’d like to share? Email me or post it in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Kinesio Tape?

I couldn’t help but notice the number of athletes who were sporting brightly colored, and sometimes patterned, Kinesio tape. I first noticed the tape on volleyball players during the 2008 Olympic games. Now it appears that every athlete is on the Kinesio bandwagon.

Intrigued, I took to my computer and started some research. I learned that although Kinesio tape is now hitting the mainstream, it has been utilized for 25 years. It was designed utilizing the premise that the body can heal itself when it is properly supported. Because it is not constricting, the tape is comfortable to wear while it’s porous surface allows the skin to breath. It is applied over muscles to minimize pain and inflammation, thus relaxing tired muscles that are suffering from overuse and supporting muscle movement.

I began to wonder if Kinesio tape might have a positive impact on my residual limb. Between the distal flap failure (my skin is now flabby on the tip of my limb, leaving my bone unprotected) and my bone spur/ bursas, I have been experiencing more pain. Always looking for a non-narcotic treatment, I decided to invest a few dollars and experiment.

When the tape arrived in the mail I was skeptical, but remained curious. After reading the directions, I taped the tip of my limb, positioning the tissue so that the bone was padded. The first few steps in my socket were not comfortable because I could feel all of the hair being pulled by the tape. Just when I got to the point where I was going to give up, the tugging stopped and my leg was comfortable.

I went about my normal activities, playing with my son and cleaning the house. I didn’t notice any difference in pain walking throughout the day. Keeping the tape on (the directions were clear that it could remain in place for up to three days) I curled into bed for the night.

The tape didn’t alleviate any discomfort during the day, but I felt a remarkable difference at night! I’m not sure if it was because the tissue was supported throughout the day, or because the tape was somehow relieving nerve issues, but the absence of my normal twinges and phantom pains felt like a miracle. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t nerve pain or muscle spasms when I was trying to fall asleep.

I’ve been wearing the Kinesio tape for two weeks and it has continued to yield profound results at night. The hair tugging that I feel each time I don my leg is worth because of the relief I reap in the evening. I don’t know if the composition of the tape is directly responsible for extinguishing my limb pain. I can’t help but believe that supporting the tissue must be beneficial. In either case, I have no plans on stopping the use of the Kinesio tape in the near future. I don’t fully understand how or why, but I do know that it is working!

A Sticky Situation– Solved!

The rising temperatures have been a wonderful change after the long winter. Although the winter was not especially harsh in my area, the anticipation of sunshine and warm days is alluring. Unfortunately, warm weather poses a unique problem for the amputee. I have found this to be a nearly universal issue among amputees, yet many remain shy about discussing the problem.  Thankfully, I’m not known for being shy!

I’m talking about sweat.  The sweaty residual limb is most prominent on hot summer days, or after exercise. It was not unusual for me to have to remove my prosthesis several times a day so that I could wipe down my limb and pour the copious amounts of sweat that has pooled at the bottom of my liner. It is disgusting!

Keeping the limb dry is paramount to maintain both comfort and limb health. If my limb becomes too saturated, my suspension system is compromised and walking is unsafe. Keeping my limb in a dirty, dark and wet environment creates a perfect breeding ground for infection to invade the delicate skin. After some consultations with my prosthetist and numerous discussions with my amputee friends, I began to experiment. I was not terribly optimistic that I would find a remedy for my sweaty limb, but I was hopeful that I would figure out how to keep the sweating to a minimal.

I discovered that spraying the residual limb with antiperspirant spray yielded fantastic results. Roll-on and stick antiperspirants were difficult and cumbersome to apply. For me, Certain-Dri and Secret Platinum have proven to be the most effective against combating the problem. For optimum protection, I recommend thoroughly spraying the limb with two complete applications.

When spraying the residual limb, it is most beneficial if you spray the entire area that is covered by the liner and prosthetic. If one small spot is not covered, the sweat will funnel through. It is also advantageous to allow the antiperspirant spray to thoroughly dry after each application before donning the liner.

When the entire body is sweating, below knee amputees are prone to having the sweat roll down the thigh and into the liner. In this case, the cause of the puddle within the liner is not from the limb but from the leg above the treated area. It may be helpful to place a fabric headband at the location where the top of the liner meets the thigh. The headband will absorb the perspiration and keep the liquid from pooling within the liner.

Antiperspirant works not only to reduce sweating on an amputee’s residual limb, but also is beneficial for those who wear orthopedic braces and splints. Anytime your body is covered and heat is added, sweat will develop. I have found that keeping dry helps to increase my comfort on oppressively hot days.

Because the skin is covered with a chemical, it is important to thoroughly wash off the antiperspirant each night. After all, the skin cells need to breath. I have discovered that if I take a little preventative action against sweating, removing my prosthesis in the evening is not nearly as disgusting.

Have you found any remedies for avoiding a sweaty residual limb? We’d love to know what you do!

Thinking Outside the Basket

As I was cleaning the house yesterday, I started thinking about the small changes in my life since I’ve become an amputee. Without really thinking about it, my amputation has influenced most of the decisions I’ve made. I tend to adapt and accommodate naturally, making my reliance upon a prosthetic as inconsequential as possible.

My ability to adapt has been gradual. For the first few years after my amputation I was wary of stairs, particularly carrying items up and down the steps.  Since my laundry room is downstairs, this apprehension was particularly inconvenient.

Holding a heavy basket in front of me with two hands while maneuvering down two flights of steps made me nervous. I was worried about missing a step and falling.  Instead of trying to come up with a solution, I enlisted the assistance from my husband with each load.

Needless to say, I grew tired of being reliant upon my husband to help with the laundry, and I knew that I needed to come up with a solution. Not only was waiting for him to carry the basket inconvenient, I detested being dependent upon somebody else. I knew that there had to be a way for me to achieve laundry independence. Walking through a box store one afternoon, I saw a product and had a Eureka moment. I was tackling my laundry basket woes from the wrong angle. I needed to ditch the basket altogether.

I found a pop-up fabric hamper which featured a zipper top. Instead of trying to carry the heavy and cumbersome basket up and down the stairs, I could fill the hamper, secure the top and toss it over the landing. When descending the steps, my hands were free to hold onto the handrail, allowing me to remain both safe and comfortable. Of course, I must stress the importance of remembering to zip the top of the bag before tossing it down the stairs. One time (or two if you are a busy Mom like me) of having to pick up all of the dirty laundry scattered at the bottom of the stairs will confirm this importance step.

In order to carry the laundry hamper up the stairs, I simply zip the cover and drag it behind me. Since it is a soft fabric, I don’t worry about the floors being scuffed or damaged. Problem easily solved, and my laundry independence was regained!

All of the traditional laundry baskets have been replaced with fabric hampers. The nominal investment has allowed me to be completely independent in terms of laundry. Of course, if I could come up with a solution to help fold it and put it away I would be elated!

Resuming my daily activities, no matter how mundane, has been liberating. I am delighted that my laundry woes were solved with such a simple product. I did not need to find a high priced specialty basket to help; I just needed to find the right product. I have discovered that many times the best solution is the simplest, and I look forward to tackling more of the everyday issues in the coming blogs!

Sandals on a Prosthetic? My Easy Solution!

With the weather slowly warming, I finally took the plunge and moved the heavy sweaters into storage to make room for my more carefree (and less bulky) summer wardrobe. I love the fashion freedom that is found during the hotter months. Not having to contend with my pant leg becoming bound by in my prosthetic socket, creating an unsightly and many times uncomfortable crease, is liberating. Of course, dressing for summer is not without its issues.

In full disclosure, I was not much of a shoe connoisseur before I became an amputee. The fact that I am living without my biological leg and reliant upon a prosthesis has simply exacerbated my hatred of the shoe store. Trying to find a shoe that fits onto the plastic foot shell while its mate comfortably fits my biological foot is an exercise in frustration. Typically I stick with an athletic type shoe, but in the summer I like to wear sandals.

Finding the right sandal for a prosthesis offers another layer of confusion to the quest. Flip flops are immediately eliminated from the list of possibilities because the plastic toes are all molded together. I also lack the ability to grip the foot with my toes, so I need to make sure that I have another means of securing the shoe in place.

After years of shoe frustration I had an epiphany: VELCRO!

I bought industrial strength Velcro because I require the strongest hold between the foot shell and the bed of the sandal.  I would recommend paying the dollar extra for industrial strength in this situation.  After all, it is not only embarrassing, but also dangerous to walk out of your shoe.

Before applying the Velcro, I thoroughly scrub the foot shell with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to remove the stains and dirt that have accumulated during the winter.  (I have found the Magic Eraser to be the easiest and most efficient way to clean the plastic without causing discoloration.) After cleaning the bottom of the foot shell, I apply the soft side of the Velcro. I keep the Velcro on my foot shell permanently. It doesn’t interfere with socks and other shoes, so I have found no reason to remove it.

I feel compelled to offer one word of caution. Walking directly on the Velcro i.e. barefoot can increase the possibility of slipping. When walking without a shoe on a prosthetic foot, walk with caution. I have tile floors in my kitchen which, when clean, tend to be quite slick against the Velcro.

I put the hook side of the Velcro (the rough side) on the inside of the sandal I want to wear. I use two pieces, one up towards the toe and one close to heel. After placing the shoe onto the foot shell and pressing firmly, I am ready to go!

I was initially unnerved by the “ripping” sounds I heard as I took my first few steps. It can be annoying, but it goes away after you walk for a few minutes. So go ahead, paint those toenails and wear cute sandals. Just don’t forget the Velcro!

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