When Leon (35) had just had his lower legs amputated, he found it difficult to accept that he would never make beautiful trips again. Because: that couldn't just happen, could it, traveling with prostheses? Until he and his girlfriend Jony decided to go to Sri Lanka after all. A good preparation, positive mindset and realistic view of the world have literally taken him far.

 

Travel with a visible prosthesis

When I first started flying with my prostheses, I found it very exciting. I went to visit one of my best friends, Maurits, who lives in Copenhagen with his family. I discussed my tension with my best friend Just, who is a pilot. And he asked me the most important question so far: “Why don't you just travel in shorts? Then it is immediately clear to everyone at the airport and during your trip what is wrong with you.”

Since then I always fly privately in shorts. Of course that is exciting in the beginning and everyone looks at you, but my experience is that it really helps. You get priority everywhere, you don't have to wait anywhere and you can always board first. Very nice for me: standing still for a long time causes pain. For me it feels good that it is visible at once.

Incidentally, I do not recommend removing your prosthesis during the flight. Yes, it is nice to give your leg a rest, but due to the pressure difference and the long sitting, moisture goes to your stump, so it is questionable whether you can still get your prosthesis on properly when you have landed.


Accept that things are different everywhere

What strikes me most is that they deal with prostheses differently in every country you visit. Especially with security. In the Netherlands they often want to take a sample of your prostheses to check for explosives. In some countries you walk straight through, without anything being checked. But in Qatar, for example, on our transfer to Sri Lanka, I was taken and had to take off my prostheses. That requires some flexibility. Shorts are also very useful in those situations. They can easily reach everything and you can easily remove your prostheses if necessary. Stay friendly and answer questions openly. Then people quickly start to see it as something normal.


Prepare well

Don’t be afraid to travel with a prosthesis. Make sure you are well prepared. I always make sure that I have cream for my stumps in my hand luggage, neatly in a resealable bag. And for me, every big journey starts a few days in advance with a visit to my prosthetist. Just checking if everything is in order, checking if I need to bring anything extra (such as a few spare sleeves) and asking my last questions or discussing doubts. This ensures that I travel carefree and do not worry about my stumps, my prostheses and whether everything is going well.

 

But I also make mistakes

On my trip to Sri Lanka I forgot to bring my little three-pointed thingy, to unscrew my valve and clean it. During a walk on the beach and a swim in the ocean, a lot of sand got into my valve. As a result, I had largely lost my vacuum. That took a while to switch. Together with our guide we bought some small pliers locally and I had to struggle a lot to open and clean my valves. My left leg has not had a super good vacuum for the entire journey. After a day or two of stress, it was time to get over that too. And to accept that it didn't matter, because I still ran fine.

 

Accept that a prosthesis is not known everywhere

In Sri Lanka I was often a bigger attraction for the locals than what we went to see for ourselves. People came up to me, approached me very kindly, asked questions, wanted to shake my hand or blessed me out of nowhere. Special to experience. At the same time very confrontational: I met two other young men without legs in Sri Lanka, with whom I had a chat. Despite our similar situations, our perspective is completely different.

It made me realize again how lucky I am to live in the Netherlands, where prosthesis care is part of the basic insurance. And losing your legs doesn't have to mean anything to your participation in society. It is terrible to see how this is not the case in other countries. And where you can easily get condemned to begging just because you lose your legs.

 

Don't let that stop you...

My first foreign city trip with Jony was to Porto. We came across a nice offer for the flights and found a very nice apartment in the city through Airbnb. We both love port, the weather was nice there in October and it is a city with plenty to do. We would certainly have fun. One day after we had booked everything, I suddenly read everywhere that Porto was completely unsuitable for people with reduced mobility, because of the enormous height differences. I panicked slightly, but Jony convinced me that it would be all right.

And it came! Yes, on paper and in terms of the city's layout, Porto is indeed completely unsuitable if you have difficulty walking. It has very steep slopes and a lot of stairs. But Porto is also a city where Uber taxi service is great and you can transport yourself for next to nothing. So we took an Uber more often to get around, walked when we could and had a lovely short trip.

 

...but be realistic

When someone says something might be difficult for me, my first reaction is always, “What do you mean? I'll show you that I can do that!" This is also the case in Sri Lanka, where one of the major attractions is the Lion Rock in Sigiriya. To get to the top and enjoy the view, you have to climb 1200 steps. And it is about a 20 minute walk before you even get to the stairs. After much deliberation, we decided not to climb this rock. I had come up fine (I find it more difficult going down), but the question is how much energy it would have cost me. And what risk I would have taken. The risks, such as overloading my stump, a wound from the heat or a few days of pain were not worth it to me.

 

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