24 October 2012
Can Anybody Lend A Hand?
Prosthetic limbs all started with a very simple problem. Do you just give up hope when you lose an arm or a leg, or is there some other way to make the best of a situation? Hope was not given up by us persistent human beings and that is how artificial limbs were thought of. Instead trying to get around, we thought of artificial legs to help those who have lost them. Instead of only having one arm, we thought of artificial arms to be able to have two again. Prosthesis not only brought hope to those who were seriously injured and lost their limbs, but it helped these people bring their lives back to as normal as it could be. Of course prosthesis did not start off as being perfect and high tech, but they slowly progressed throughout thousands of years to the technology we have today, as well as the ideas we have for the future.
Artificial limbs date back all the way to the times of the ancient Egyptians. These were very basic prosthetics and were made from the materials they had readily available such as wood, iron or leather. Alan J. Thurston discusses the early Egyptian prosthetic, “One of the earliest examples comes from the 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt in the reign of Amenhotep II in the fifteenth century BC when members of an Egyptian–German mission working in the Sheikh Abdel-Gurna area of the Theban necropolis were carefully brushing away accumulated dirt from the burial shaft inside the rockhewn tomb of Mery, a priest of Amun. The mummy that is on display in the Cairo Museum has clearly had the great toe of the right foot amputated and replaced with a prosthesis manufactured from leather and wood (Fig. 1).2 An even older example comes from the fifth Egyptian dynasty (2750–2625 BC) discovered by archaeologists, as being the earliest known splint from that period” (Thurston 1114). The ancient Egyptians and other early cultures to use prosthetics did so not only for the physical need for them, but to have a feeling of being whole and complete. Many cultures feared amputation over death because they wouldn’t be whole in the afterlife. So if a person had to have an amputation and had a prosthetic put in place, they would save their old limb and be buried with it so they would have their whole body in the afterlife with them. The first written record of artificial limbs was from around 3500 BC. It was a poem written by Rig-Veda and was about a queen who lost her leg in battle and had an iron prosthesis put in place to where her leg was supposed to be so she could return to battle. The next recorded records of prosthetics that were actually made for rehabilitation came from the ancient Roman and Greek civilizations. “The books by the Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus, report a prosthetic replacement. Herodotus states that in 484 BC, a Persian soldier escaped imprisonment by cutting off his leg then replacing it with a wooden prosthesis. The report states that he was able to travel 30 miles to Tregea. He was unfortunately captured by Zaccynthius and was promptly decapitated. This has been validated with the finding of a copper and wood leg in Capri, Italy, in 1858, which has been dated to 300 BC (Fig. 2).5 Lower-limb prostheses of the time were typically made of bronze plates with a wooden core and leather straps” (1114). As seen here, this was the first step to actually have a limb that served a function to help the man walk. The concept of an artificial limb had slightly progressed and become a better tool.
The next stage of prostheses came from around 450-1000 A.D. These are the typical peg legs that people think of and are typically thought of as what pirates like “Captain Hook” had. Peg legs made of again wood, leather or metal were used to help people walk. “Hook hands” were also made to replace people who lost a hand. “This style of prosthesis that is basically a modified crutch with a wooden or leather cup persisted...