Several times a week I am contacted by a new (or soon to be) amputee. Each contact reminds me of how I felt before my amputation. I will never forget the fear of both the surgery and of living my life with limb loss.
Although the stories vary, many of the concerns and questions are universal. I am often asked, "What questions am I not thinking of? What else should I be asking you?" My answer is almost always the same.
After the amputation surgery, there is little to do but wait for the limb to heal. During this time it is not uncommon for depression to set in. I know that this was one of the most difficult periods of my recovery. I was suddenly without my foot, but not able to actively work towards my recovery. Of course, healing is the first part of that recovery, but pointing out that technicality merely is sometimes perceived as negating the very real frustrations that are being felt.
I have started to encourage new amputees to use their recovery time to become educated about their prosthetic choices. Since we are the ones who are wearing and relying upon the devices, it stands to reason that we should have input into the components used for their construction!
Prosthetic components can be confusing, especially for the novice who is not familiar with the jargon. Prosthetic components are categorized by both weight limitations and activity level, referred to as the K-Level. In order to begin window shopping for a prosthetic, it is important to figure out your K-Level.
Here is a brief overview of K-Levels:
Those with a K-O classification are not ambulatory. They do not have the ability or the potential to walk.
K-1 amputees may benefit from a prosthetic to assist in transferring (such as from a wheelchair to a fixed chair). Walking at various speeds and maneuvering around environmental obstacles is not deemed feasible.
K-2 amputees are considered community walkers. They can walk for limited periods of time but cannot typically vary their walking speed.
K-3 amputees have the ability to vary their speed and can traverse through a variety of environmental obstacles. They are community walkers and considered to have a moderate ability to exercise.
k-4 amputees rely upon their prosthetic to complete high impact activities such as running and jumping.
Once the appropriate K-level has been determined, hop onto the Internet and visit the websites of prosthetic manufacturers. Here are links to the major component manufacturers:
As you shop, these questions might help to guide you through the options. What you want to get out of your prosthetic? (Do you want to walk to the bathroom or around the block? This answer makes a difference when choosing a component.) What aspects are important to you? (Do you want ankle movement at the cost of increased weight? Do you want something with a high energy return but not as reactive when walking?) How important is a cosmetic cover?
Once you are familiar with the attributes of a few different prosthetics, call your prosthetist and talk about them. You don't have to be "socket ready" in order to start the prosthetic process. Learning about the options available is empowering and may help fill the time void during recovery.