I had the opportunity to meet with a new friend over the weekend. She is readying herself for an amputation and is scared. Her feelings are raw. I remember being in her situation.
I have learned that I belong to a small subgroup within the amputee community. My amputation was not the result of a traumatic accident or from the ravages of a disease. I had an injury to my foot and endured years of "limb saving" surgeries. After five years and nearly 20 surgeries, I came to the conclusion that I would live a more fulfilling life without my limb.
Yes, in one sense I "chose" to amputate. Although technically accurate, I shudder when I speak those words. I worry about being confused with the "wannabe" group of devotees who actively seek to amputate a limb because they believe they were born with one foot too many. This was not my situation!
I feel my defenses rising when I am questioned about my surgery. When acquaintances learn that my amputation was the result of an injury that occurred years earlier, many people immediately begin to inquire about the medical treatment I sought and received as if to determine if I truly had exhausted all avenues. I am often told that they "never would have amputated," and seem to be condemning my decision without knowledge of the constant pain I endured. I feel judged.
My surgeons abilities are often called into question. "You should have gone to Dr. Whoever. He is the best and would have helped." I assure you, I sought the best medical opinions available. I did not come to the decision to amputate lightly. I also should not be called upon to defend my decision.
My new friend is confronting the same issues from well meaning co-workers, friends and family. She has struggled with the prospect of an amputation for many months. She has done the research, and spoken with doctors as well as other amputees. Both she and her surgeon agree that it is an appropriate time to amputate.
In addition to dealing with the personal anguish the accompanies the decision to amputate, she is now forced to contend with naysayers. I suppose that it is human nature to cast judgment upon others. In an ideal world, my friend would receive only support and love. We do not live in an ideal world.
I suspect that others question the validity of the decision to amputate out of their own personal fear. After all, the prospect of an amputation is terrifying for the majority of people. Most cannot contemplate sacrificing a damaged limb in order to resume a life void of the pain and frustrations brought about by the injury. For most, the prospect of amputation is just too overwhelming, so they immediately question the decisions made by the person actually living with the limb.
I know that my friend is at peace with her decision. Her immediate family is supportive, and she is in the midst of all of the heart-wrenching preparations. Sadly, few will ever know the fear that she is feeling, and, because of well-meaning naysayers, she does not feel free to express those emotions.
It is a shame that we live in a society that immediately casts judgment and blame. She should be showered with love and support during this difficult time. She should not be forced to constantly defend her medical decisions nor should she be forced to console those who are frightened by her amputation.
I wish that I had the words to help, but I know that there are none. The days before my amputation were, without a doubt, the most terrifying of my life. I feel her anxiety and anguish because I truly have been there.