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1407 E. Michigan Ave., Jackson 517-784-1142 770 Riverside Ave., Suite 101, Adrian 517-263-3310
CHAPTER XVII - Hands And Arms, Natural Compared With Artificial
HISTORY. - Artificial hand and arm construction has advanced with that of artificial legs. The modern arm is calculated for general purposes, the ancient had only one object in its design. M. Sergius (167 B. C.), referred to by Pliny, wore an artificial arm, with which he held his shield while in battle, and released Cremona from siege. The artificial arm made for a celebrated tenor of the sixteenth century was used successfully in his histrionic gesticulations; the arm of the celebrated Surgeon Pare, as well as the productions of Lorrain, Sebastian, Baliff, Verduin, Serre, Wilson, and De Graef, and all the early makers, had but few functions to perform.

There is a strong inclination to the belief that artificial arm construction has retrograded, and that those of modern times are not as useful as those of the early masters. Visitors to European museums, where many of the archaic substitutes are exhibited, are impressed by the profuse and extravagant labels and catalogues, ascribing to the wearers miraculous deeds of valor, performed in battle.

We are in position to state that historic substitutes were useless beyond the specific purposes for which they were designed, and were greatly inferior to those of modern construction. The ancient arm weighed from twenty to thirty pounds, was made of steel, copper and leather, and could be worn only on a long and powerful stump. The modern arm weighs from one to two and a half pounds, is made of rubber, wood, rawhide, leather, and metal, and can be worn on short, enervated, and nervous stumps to advantage. They have a range of utility infinitely greater than those used by warriors centuries ago.

The need for artificial arms has never been as great as now. The incentive to invent and improve is always responsive to demand. Want begets supply, and competition is the stimulus that carries improvements close to the goal of perfection.

THE DEMAND GREATER. - The demand has increased in direct proportion to the utilization of machinery and the industries and to the expansion of methods for rapid transportation. As the mileage of railroads increases, the mutilation of the human body is more frequent. The electric trolley has maimed more than the horse-cars of a decade ago. The mowing machine and the reaper have cut off more limbs than the scythe or cradle, dynamite has mutilated the human body more than the black powder of former days. These agencies, necessary for quick results, are dreadful implements of death and mutilation.

SIMPLICITY. - In recent years the tendency of the arm manufacturer has been to simplify construction; the earlier devices were complicated, burdensome to carry, expensive to maintain, and unreliable. No one will now tolerate a clumsy, heavy, noisy, complicated, and unwieldly arm; neat adaptation to the stump, lightness and naturalness of appearance, durability and utility, are the only essentials that will satisfy.

WHAT AN ARTIFICIAL ARM MUST DO. - The artificial arm must conceal the loss, protect the stump, restore a natural appearance to the dismembered side, provide a medium that will force the stump into healthful activity, and, in the way of utility, it must assist the opposite hand, carry articles of moderate weight, and, if the stump is powerful, the hand must be capable of cutting food on the plate and carrying the morsels to the mouth. The modern arm is capable of all this, and still more. A pen can be placed between the finger and thumb, and, after a little practice, the wearer will learn to write quickly and legibly. Implements capable of specific functions can be held in the hand or in the socket. A ring will help the farmer in guiding the handles of his farming tools; it will assist the blacksmith in wielding the sledge. A pair of pincers is capable of holding the work of a jeweler, a claw hook, a clevis, a hand vise; in fact, a great variety of implements have their distinct uses. While these attachments are capable of a large range of adaptation, there is a limit beyond which art and science cannot go. These operations of the natural hand that depend on the brain for their functions cannot possibly be performed by mechanical devices.

THE NATURAL HAND A MARVEL. - The intelligence with which the natural arm is endowed is the result of the system by which mental force is carried from the brain to the distant fingers. The human hand and arm are marvels of mechanism, their combinations of motions are almost limitless, their functions vast, their capabilities beyond comprehension. The motion of the shoulder is circumrotary; those of the elbow, flexion and extension; those of the wrist, rotary, circumrotary, flexion, and extension, and the fingers are capable of a range of accommodation almost limitless. Every joint is connected by powerful sinews, tendons, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels, which perform their work in conveying the commands of the mind to the most distant parts, and in compelling an instantaneous obedience. The hand that is capable of placing the delicate works of a watch is capable of placing the stones of a cathedral. And yet the human arm is but a machine, useless by itself.

THE BRAIN. - The brain is the vis-viva that renders it capable of its wonderful work. If the medium that conveys the wishes of the mind to the arm to be destroyed, if the co-ordination be impaired, the natural arm ceases to be any more valuable than an artificial one of the crudest type.

An artificial arm, no matter how ingeniously it may be constructed, pales into insignificance when its functions are compared with those of the healthy arm nature has given us. Nevertheless, it is far more useful than the natural arm that has become palsied.

SELF-REPAIRING. - The natural arm has other endowments, aside from its responsiveness to the will. The power of repairing itself is one of its mysterious attributes. The bearing surfaces of the bones would stretch and become inert if this process were not in constant operation. If a muscle becomes lacerated, or a tendon detached, or a bone broken, the work of reparation soon restores the injured part to its normal relations. Every drop of blood that flows through the veins carries away the particles that have become diseased and detached. In old age, when the human repair shop becomes disorganized, the entire physical mechanism breaks down, and the end soon follows.

SENSE OF TOUCH. - Another great and important endowment of the natural hand is the sense of touch. This sense is susceptible of cultivation. The contact of the fingers will convey the information that the substance is soft or hard, liquid or solid, dry or wet. The blind man is capable of reading by the tips of his fingers. When we place our hands in our pockets, we know by this sense whether we take hold of a key or a jackknife, a handkerchief or a lead pencil. The moment we touch the object we know what motions the fingers are to make and the strength required to put that object within our grasp.

An artificial hand is absolutely devoid of sensation. When we call to mind the fact that an artificial arm, made with joints, springs, and cords cannot be endowed with mental sympathy or with the power of repairing itself, or with the sensation of touch, we must become reconciled to the fact that it is necessarily of limited capacity.

STORIED MISLEADING. - We are frequently amused by reading newspaper articles on artificial arms, made by forgotten mechanics, “that are fully as good as natural arms.” We frequently have to listen to the narration of some magical performances of men who wear artificial arms. We recall an article that appeared in a Canadian newspaper, of a woman who had a pair of arms adjusted to her person, supplementary to her natural ones. She became so dexterous in manipulating them that when in a public conveyance she would hold a book in her artificial hands, and, while apparently reading, would, with her natural hands, pick the pockets of those who sat next to her.

We have also read the story of a politician who lost his arm in the Civil War, and who had an ingenious artificial one applied that enabled him to shuffle a deck of cards, pick up a glass of beer and carry it in his mouth; and, on one occasion, when in a bar-room brawl, he liberated a spring, and the arm immediately began its pugilistic movements, with more vigor and more deadly results than possible for the natural arm. Quite recently a New York paper gave a page to the description of an artificial arm, made by a German prothesist, that incases the undeveloped arm of the Emperor of Germany; the description of the arm and the functions it was capable of performing were extremely absurd and amusing to those acquainted with prothesis, but to laymen unacquainted with the subject, there was a strain of plausibility that must have made some persons believe that at last a mechanic is on the earth who is as skillful as Divinity Himself.

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