The anniversary of my amputation was last week. It is hard to believe that it has been seven years. In many ways I am amazed with how far I have come, yet I find it odd how raw my emotions become when I remember that time. I have found my mind wandering to the time immediately following my amputation.
I have had several friends who have recently amputated a limb due to injury or disease. The emotions before the amputation, although expressed differently, are universal. I have written a lot about the struggles before my surgery. I realize now that I have been remiss in exploring the issues I encountered after my amputation.
It is easy for me to tell my friends, who are struggling with bandages or new prosthetics, that it is going to be okay. I have made the adjustment and, although I am still learning everyday, I have transitioned into a happy amputee woman. This was not an easy journey.
From a physical perspective, the hard part is over. The surgical pain will heal and, barring any complications, the limb will be ready for a prosthetic in a relatively short time. I anticipated my first prosthetic like a young child readies for Christmas. I was certain that my life would become "normal" as soon as I could walk. In retrospect, it is easy to see how my expectations could not possibly have been met.
After I received my leg and the celebration of my "walking day" subsided, I was smacked in the face with an uncomfortable reality. I was an amputee. Yes, I knew that I was going to have my leg amputated, and that I would need a prosthetic. For some reason, the gravity of living without my limb wasn't realized until after I had my leg.
I guess I just never realized how different everything was going to become. Each step was awkward and labored. Yes, I was happy to be mobile, but I never anticipated it being so hard.
Every aspect of my daily life seemed to be more difficult. From getting off the toilet to standing in line at the grocery store, simply living became a conscious effort. Nothing seemed natural, and I was cognizant of every movement. I faked a lot of smiles during this period of my life.
I remember actually thinking through whether or not I was going to get off the couch to get a drink of water. Was I really that thirsty, or could I wait until I had another reason to get up so that I didn't have to do it twice. I became discouraged and began to view myself as lazy. I was mentally and physically drained by the simplest of activities.
I was comparing myself to an unrealistic standard. I was looking at other amputees, seeing how much they were doing with their lives, and becoming frustrated that everything just seemed to hard for me. I assumed that I was a failure, and that I was doomed to live an uncomfortable and mediocre life. What I didn't realize at the time was that it takes years of experience before walking on a prosthetic becomes natural.
I wish that somebody had told me that it could take years to adjust to an amputation. I thought that once I was done with the surgical pain and fitted with my leg, I would be fine. I failed to realize that the events were merely milestones on a long journey.
With time and practice, walking on my prosthetic has become second nature. My improvement was not a drastic event which could be pinpointed. Rather, I made incremental improvements every day and, over time, I started to become more confident and comfortable.
I remember feeling alone and ashamed, thinking that I was a failure. I wish that I had known that surviving the surgery and receiving my first prosthetic was not the end of my journey but the beginning. I think I could have saved myself a lot of heartbreak had I known that each step was not going to feel like a celebration.
I tell my friends that they are going to be okay, but assurances sometimes have little value. Perhaps knowing that what they are feeling is natural, and letting them know that they are not alone in their prosthetic struggles can help ease the transitions. I have been through the battle and have emerged as a stronger and better person. Sometimes giving the pain a voice helps, and I'm always willing to listen.