Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Whilst researching my book I have learnt a fair bit about prosthetics. I thought it might be an interesting challenge to write a poem on the history of prosthetics using both rhyme and the technical terminology. It was harder than expected and the result is a bit clunky;

Apart from the amazing advances made by people with extraordinary vision; I believe there were four main take away points;

The first is that the vast majority of amputations are the direct result of lifestyle choices which end up with poor vascular circulation, with diabetes being the main offender.

Secondly, were it not for war and the funding made available by the military to develop prosthetics and related technologies; there would not be sufficient funding to accommodate the huge demand placed on health services by the civilian demand for prosthetics.

Third, injured warriors tend to be young, healthy and determined to recover as much functionality as they can. This is significantly different to the vast majority of amputees, consequently their recoveries tend to be more successful than the majority of their civilian counterparts.

Finally, despite the improvements in technology, and the promise of things to come; mother nature provides us with amazing bodies which we should make every effort to take care of.


Egyptologists discovered
a mummy’s big toe
made of leather and wood
four millennia ago.

Down through the ages
Man’s tried many things.
From peg-legs for pirates,
to Bader’s tin limbs.

In the sixteen century
a Frenchman named Paré
used amputation
to help victims fare.

Three hundred years later
Surgeons used anaesthetics,
now they had time
to make stumps more aesthetic.

Then ‘attachment’ improved -
in eighteen sixty three,
with the pressurised sockets
used by Doctor Parmelee.

The twentieth century,
dominated by war
Saw prosthetic development
make improvements galore

With the First World War
came aluminium and power
as soldiers lost limbs,
hour upon hour.

In nineteen forty six
Berkley UC
developed a suction sock
For use above the knee

In’75 a man named Martinez
changed the engineers brief;
from replication of nature
to functional relief.

In workshops and hospitals
pioneers strive together
their aim to match nature.
Some plan to do better!

Multidisciplinary teams
treat the patient as whole.
They develop a person
and rebuild their soul.

In the last twenty years
There’s been huge innovation
in Myoelectricity and
Targeted Re-innervation.

Surgeons re-position nerves
to gain myoelectric improvement.
They attach to skin for feedback;
and muscle for movement.

Sensors detect the mind’s signals,
processors issue commands.
Servos drive motors and rotators
and the prosthesis meets the demand

now there’s a very long word,
uses alloplastic materials
to achieve something absurd.

It allows man made materials
to be fused to live bone.
allowing prosthesis and amputee
to be joined as one.

Significant advances in medicine
have reduced rejection rates,
They now use donor bone marrow
When they transplant hands and face.

Regenerative medicine?
Science fiction at best,
but add powdered pigs bladder
and now we’re impressed!

Improving the human body
sounds like a pipe dream
but it’s going to be possible
though nothing too extreme .

The sprinter Jonnie Peacock
runs on carbon blades.
He passes able body runners
as if they promenade.

Whilst not advanced enough
to restore a person’s vision
The brain port upon a tongue
can help avoid collision.

For it provides a tingle
which forms a certain trace
and allows the blind to identify
an object or a face.

Improvements come fastest
when nations are at war.
For funding from the military
opens many doors.

Young warriors are fitter
then the average amputee,
and lessons learnt repairing them
benefit humanity.

Yes warriors lose limbs
It’s an ugly fact of war,
but bad lifestyle choices
take many, many more.

John Carré Buchanan
30 November 2011

This poem is linked to Poets United.


  1. Wow, such amazing research and a powerful poem! Thank you :-)

  2. Angela, I have been trying to write this poem since September and I was not sure if I had got it right. I wanted to get all the facts in, but also use it as a challenge to get the rhyme in without making it too flippant, so thank you for your comment.

  3. Poet at Jaybern also deserves the auxiliary title "Poetry at Jaybern" The author not only writes poetry for therapeutic reasons and is a living example of the success of such approaches (join the club Jay) but also helps other poets to bring their work to light. The site is very well designed both technically and esthetically.

    I have one other wish, ie. I hope the poet at Jaybern is also as keen on science as I cf. the image of a technically equipped "handicapped" athlete running with prothesis

    Read more:
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Share Alike

    1. Thank you for your kind comment James.

  4. I used to work with a disability non profit and the greatest advancement would be to bring new technology to people in this part of the world at affordable rates. Thanks for writing this.

    1. Hi Thotpurge, since I wrote this poem the increase in 3-D printing technology has made it possible for cheap prosthetics to be made. I believe a number of organisations are now offering the plans for these prosthetics free of charge to enable better access to this amazing technology. This is proving particularly useful for children who have to replace the prosthesis as they grow.

  5. What a fascinating history of prosthetics. I especially like the team "developing a person an rebuilding their soul". Well done, John.

    1. Hi Sherry, Thanks for your kind comment.

  6. Really enjoyed this poem, John. Don't know if 'enjoyed' is the right word; but I appreciated reading the history of prosthetics in poetry form. I like the idea that poetry can be used to educate...or as a way to display one's research. More of this kind of writing should be done in schools. It really IS interesting to see how runners with prosthetics can RUN. I am glad for the advances, but you are right about lifestyle choices......better to KEEP one's own limbs than to have to use prosthetics of any kind!

    1. Hi Mary, Thanks for your comment, I'm glad you enjoyed the use of poetry as an educational tool.

  7. You made me stop, when you said doctors were, "developing a person and rebuilding their soul," when we can't see it, don't know where it is....and yet, we think we can rebuild? You make me wonder how this can be done?

    1. Hi Annell, Thanks for your comment. I guess I'm working on the assumption that the soul is the essence of a person. If you can appreciate that, it is not hard to see that someone who is struggling to see a point in continuing, having lost limbs sight or hearing might be given a new sense of purpose if they receive the right support and care. In my personal experience being able to walk and then eventually run on my own damaged legs made me feel like my soul had been repaired. It also stopped me killing myself which probably saved my "immortal soul".

  8. Such an enthralling journey through the different phases of prosthetics!!

    1. Hi Sannaa, Thanks for your kind comment, I'm glad you found it interesting.

  9. Thank you for this lesson. I learned a lot. Good day John!

    1. Hi J.T, my pleasure, thank you for your comment.

  10. It's wonderful to learn something new. Thanks for the enlightenment. I like the flow of the poem. And the last two lines go straight into the heart.

    1. Hi Sumana, My pleasure I'm glad you learnt something. Thanks for your comment.

  11. an immense undertaking to write this history and say it all in rhyme - a most telling couplet

    "from replication of nature
    to functional relief"

    and then there is the difficulty of adopting the prosthetic as truly part of the identity

    1. Hi Telltaletherapy, it was a bit of a chore, but the research was interesting. Thanks for your comment.

  12. A fascinating story and interesting on the advances of war... this made me think of Tycho Brahe who lost his nose in a duel and had an artificial one for the rest of his life... not the same as other limbs but still the same thing... after a violent loss, it's more likely to be cured

    1. Hi Brudberg, thanks for your kind comment. I have a friend who lost his nose in a swimming pool, fortunately they managed to stitch it back on... Sort of! never did look quite the same again!

  13. A history well documented in your verse John, inviting and readable
    And thank you for dropping by my Sunday Standard today

    much love...

    1. Hi Gillena, thank you for your comment.

  14. Wow. You did a fantastic job of documenting this history while writing and rhyming an excellent poem.

    1. Hi Myrna, Thanks very much for your kind comment.

  15. That was a most fascinating read – and more interesting to me in verse than if you had written a scholarly treatise.

    1. Hi Rosemary, Thanks for your comment, I am glad you found my poem interesting, I enjoyed the challenge of putting it together in this way.

  16. I enjoyed this edifying and engaging post. You took a challenging theme and made an awesome job of it.

    1. Hi Wendy, Thank you for your kind comment, I am glad you enjoyed the poem.

  17. Wow. So much research has gone into that. Thanks John for condensing down all that information into a poem for us. Was interesting reading it. Especially like the part about how they rebuild the entire person and how now sensors are used to detect brain signals. Fascinating

    1. Hi Namratha, thanks for your comment, The progress in this field has been staggering in recent years to be able to feel what a metal or carbon hand is touching must be really strange but also very rewarding.

  18. I suppose it's fair to say that sometimes good things come out of wars and the losses they cause. But surely there's a better way...

    1. I fully agree MMT, thanks for your comment.


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