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A life in the service of the feet
Tore Tommelstad's path into the profession began when in 1964 he became an apprentice at an orthopedic company at Kampen in Oslo, where they made orthoses and prostheses.
Tore Tommelstad, AND

Text: Bjørnhild Fjeld - Photo: Tore Fjeld

A life in the service of the feet

- You brush your teeth even if you do not have holes? Why should there be something different with the feet? It is far better to prevent before you get ailments, than to repair afterwards, says Tore Tommelstad (76), who has worked as an orthopedic engineer since he was 18 years old.

Tore Tommelstad's path into the profession began when in 1964 he became an apprentice at an orthopedic company at Kampen in Oslo, where they made orthoses and prostheses.

- At that time it was a craft where you were first an apprentice for 4.5 years, then you became a journeyman, and could go on to become a master. We did not distinguish between orthopedic engineers and orthopedic technicians as we do today. It was one profession, and everyone did everything, he says.

Tore is a major in the industry, and he was involved in starting up what is today OCH Orthopedics. It is no exaggeration to say that he has been involved in a rapid development in the industry - from pure craft companies, to the health technology clinics we have today.

Petter Smart and Gustav Vigeland

He himself had spent two years in the surgical instrument-making line at the Oslo Elementary Technical School and learned to use tools, before embarking on his apprenticeship.

- I had actually got an apprenticeship as a surgical instrument maker at the hospital, but there was a waiting time of 3-4 months. My father thinks it was a little too long to go without working, so then he found the position at OBA at Kampen, he says.

The materials at the time were steel, iron, leather and wood, so that a prosthesis weighed more than today's aids in carbon, kevlar and titanium.

- It was some proper blacksmithing, but still with great demands for accuracy. We used a micrometer to measure, it can measure down to a hundredth of a millimeter. I have always loved working with my hands, it came in handy. And then you have to be a little Petter Smart, that also applies today. Everything we make is prototypes, he says.

The new materials, in addition to the electronic knee joints, he believes are the biggest development that has taken place in the orthopedic technology industry.

- It raised the subject when orthopedic engineering became a college subject. But you still need to be practical, because there is a lot of personalization. Sometimes you have to be a bit like Gustav Vigeland, Tore thinks.

25 years at Sunnaas

For 25 years he worked at Sunnaas adapting aids to those who came there for rehabilitation stays. Very many of the patients were spinal cord injured, who had been in motorcycle accidents. The job was a lot about making prostheses and long orthoses for those who could manage to walk again.

- I have always loved people, and have had an incredible number of nice conversations with nice and interesting patients. Sometimes I laughed out loud in the car on the way home from work, of a story I have been told, he says.

In recent years, the work has mostly revolved around footbeds, which Tore believes is an underestimated aid.

- A small error load and lack of correction can be the difference between a good and poor quality of life - a life at work or as a disabled person, he points out.

The first footbeds to come were made of stainless steel, and upholstered in leather.

- There are still some who want a new cover on the old footbeds, Tore says.

For many, it is important to be allowed to keep an aid that works, even if there are more modern solutions.

The patient has the last word

- The relationship between me and the patient is important for several reasons. First and foremost, it must

build on trust and professional authority. The patient should feel that he or she is in the very best hands. We work with the individual as well and are a bit of psychologists. The relationship should be good, without being too close. Certain principles are inalienable, for example it is the patient who largely decides what works. The relationship must be such that the patient dares to speak out, even though we have gone many rounds, he says.

But even though "the patient is always right", Tore has also learned that it is sometimes allowed to say the other way too, if he feels that the patient is unreasonable.

- There are some who just never get satisfied. There are some patients who have given me sleepless nights, he says.

After 58 years in the profession, Tore now resigns and retires full time. He does not think it will be so difficult to come up with something to fill the time with.

- I have a cabin in Rendalen, and both a sailboat and a kayak, and I like fly fishing. Another hobby I have got is that I build a model railway, it is in the living room at home, he says.