Near the beginning of my story, my main character loses an arm, and is going to get a prosthetic replacement. I've done some research on prosthetic limbs, and as one might expect, you're not good to go in a week.

The problem is, I had intended for everything to be occurring during a serious winter storm, in order to limit communications in a fairly remote area. I'm willing to scale this back to an especially bad winter season, but I still don't seem to have enough time for recovery. I'm somewhat limited in using different ways to knock communications out, because the story is drawing a parallel with a storm, and doing almost meta-commentary with it.

The good news, is I'm operating maybe 5-15ish years in the future, so that I can have some more advanced genetics/biotech stuff going on. I don't mind saying that the hospital he will be at is the world's leader, as a major plot point is a nearby top-tier research lab.

Is it plausible that prosthetic technology might advance enough in that timeframe, so that I could have my main character up and active in 2-3 weeks? I wouldn't even mind if he has some ongoing pain/fatigue from cutting things a bit short.



3 Answers 3



Screw an ITAP into the bone stub, reinforce it with some titanium bands, take some drugs, and pet a kitty with your new cyborg arm.

Ah, cyborgs. Personally, I design the electronics (neurostimulators) for cyborgs (usually old people), but the mechanical stuff is pretty rad, so I follow it too. There are some relatively recent advancements in prosthetics that you should be aware of, though it doesn't currently reduce healing time, I think this method would be the easiest to start with in order to accelerate healing time.

The Prosthetics

Intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthesis or ITAP. Translated to English that means, in-the-bone and through-the-skin limb replacement. The very cool thing about these prosthetics is that they attach directly in the bone and don't rest on a healed over stump. This means that loads experienced by your character, such as shoveling snow, can be taken through the skeleton rather than through soft tissue. The lost limb is better replaced because the user regains sensory signals to the bone; so called osseoperception. This reduces the learning time compared to normal prosthetics, because it's much more like the original limb.

The most famous patient, currently, for these special prosthetics is a cat named Oscar.

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There are several human patients, and most of the photos for them are a bit more gruesome looking, so I won't add them here. But have yourself a google image search.

Accelerating Recovery

The main concern you'll have is allowing sufficient time for the bone to heal and hold onto the titanium bone implant. I think you can accelerate the bone healing with drugs and by reinforcing the bone with a custom boot or bands. There are a few examples of this with femur fractures or hip replacements, but typically medicine is not concerned with making someone better in three weeks, because we're still working on the getting better part. The best path for further research, since ITAP is still fairly new, is with osseointegrated titanium implants in general. Any advancements there will, for the most part, also apply to ITAP devices.

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Once the bone part is taken care of the rest is not as much of a concern. The skin and other soft tissue around the titanium will not be load bearing, so it can take longer to heal. This can be made easier for your character by having a 'convenient' amputation location, like just below the elbow.

  • $\begingroup$ This is very nice, I'll be looking into it more! I'll probably accept eventually, but waiting a bit for now. $\endgroup$
    – grymble
    Feb 13, 2015 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ Wait a few days, for certain, people are much more likely to add their own ideas when they can still 'win' the acceptance. This isn't my field, so someone out there likely has a much better idea. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Feb 13, 2015 at 19:58

Nueroscientist Miguel Nicolelis has been working on a brain machine interface. He claims this interface has allowed monkeys to control robotic arms. Here is a Nicolelis TED talk.

Dr. Nicolelis is hoping this will restore ability to those with spinal cord injuries.

It might also be an interface to remotely operate tele-robots. I am hoping tele-robots will become more common in industry doing work in hard to reach or inhospitable places. ROVs are already doing work on the sea floor.

If someone has grown practiced at using a Nicolelis cap to operate a tele-robot, it would be a small step to use the same interface to operate a robotic arm prosthetic.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ So essentially you are saying that they are already used to using a remote of some sort, so adapting to the new one comes much faster? Nice idea. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Feb 14, 2015 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that's right. Use of robotic arms would take practice and a tele-operator would already have many hours under his belt. The more usual tele-robots rely on motion capture suits. And how are you going to operate a robotic right arm prosthetic via motion capture if you don't have a right arm? But a direct Brain-Machine-Interface would overcome that obstacle. $\endgroup$
    – HopDavid
    Feb 14, 2015 at 15:41

Now available! 3D printing for all your instant prosthetic needs.

In just minutes your patient will be moving around with his new leg thanks to our patented technology.

We are not responsible for broken prosthetics; pressure sores; nerve damage or bruises due to bad fit or misuse. Home-printed 3D prosthetics are not a long-term substitute for actual medical care.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The man loses an arm, and you want to replace with a leg? It's mad, I tell you! Mad! $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Feb 13, 2015 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ As an aside: Some 3d printed prosthetics are truly beautiful. I never expected that to be a sentence I'd type... $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Nov 12, 2015 at 11:51

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