One unknown, estimated female. That description was on Gill Hicks’s wrist band.
It was the Adelaide expatriate’s only identification on arriving at hospital; a brief summary of what the London terrorist bombings in July 2005 had done to her.
“I can smile about being described as one unknown, estimated female now,” she said.
“But at the time, it gave me a very, very good indication of just how bad my body was.”
Ms Hicks was close to death because of the worst of human behaviour, but she survived because of the best.
“It’s the thing that I will never tire of talking of from that day,” she said. “People that risked their lives; the paramedics, the police who went into a situation in that carriage, in that tunnel not knowing if there’d be a secondary device, not knowing if the tunnel would collapse.
“They all did that to save this ‘one unknown, estimated female’ and to save as many lives as they could.”
To move forward with the life so many people struggled to save, Gill Hicks needed new limbs.
The bomb so badly injured both her legs that doctors amputated below the knees.
Once she was well enough, prosthetic legs were fitted in London.
Now a new set has been made in Adelaide and the ABC 730SA program was there as the legs got some adjustments, but not the one adjustment Ms Hicks would like most.
“I tried to make sure I got a bit more height but they saw through that,” she smiled.
“I tried to stretch as much as I could but I didn’t fool them but I did manage to bag a bit more height, so in my totally human life I was 5’1″ and I was then 5’6” (in London) but then Australia brought me back down again because they said I was too tall.
“So now I am back to a normal level, but not 5’1″, which is good.”
Body mechanics up for any challenge
The legs were made at the Orthotics and Prosthetics Service at the Repatriation General Hospital.
The unit is run by Sally Cavenett. If you’ve lost it Ms Cavenett, the self-described body mechanic, can probably make it.
“To be able to take someone from, it’s not always a place of despair but at the very start of their process, to enable somebody to just stand again is wonderful,” she said..
“Normally everyone has a goal. It might be to see one of their children get married or to walk back into work, that’s a big one, or I want to be able to grasp my own cup. You know, very simple things that we as prosthetic technicians can enable the attachment of the physiological to the mechanical and to actually have a useful device. It makes you feel very useful,” she said.
A team of seven technicians works with Sally Cavenett, including Brenton Hoffmann who joined the area as a 16-year-old.
“That was in 1978, it was very different then. Most limbs were made of wood, there was a lot of woodwork then different material. Leather work was important too,” he recalled.
For Vietnam War veteran Graham Harris, the first legs he received from the Adelaide service were made of wood.
Back in 1971, prosthetics were crafted in the tradition of one-size-fits-all.
Mr Harris has lost count of how many legs he has used in more than 40 years but his current set is made of titanium, with powered joints and on-board computers.
“You’ve got to plug them in every night to recharge them because it’s got a little lithium battery in the computer, he explained.
“The computer’s got all the information for the leg, so they are brilliant, Rolls Royces. Just [for] walking, it’s made a big difference.”
The prosthetics service gives a second chance to people who have lost so much.
Gill Hicks says there is a certain loneliness to being an amputee that others cannot quite appreciate.
But she is appreciative of the work of the service and will host a Remembrance Day breakfast in November to raise money for the organisation and its valuable work.
“For my life it means everything … not to do amazing, challenging things but just to have a normal life,” she said.
“I hate to use the word normal, but to do a normal thing like pick clothes up from the floor and put them in a washing machine is pretty amazing!”