One of the favorite aspects of my job lies with the people whom I meet. I enjoy meeting with individuals who have just become amputees, or those who are considering a delayed amputation, primarily because I lacked any one-on-one support when I started my journey. Remembering the isolation and fear that I felt continues to push me towards reaching out to offer support, insights and answers.
Although each individual is
unique, some aspects seem to be universal. I find myself offering the
same advice, so I thought it might be valuable to write about it. Below
are my primary tips for adjusting to and living with limb loss.
yourself time. Everybody heals at a different rate. Just because
somebody is up and using a prosthesis within six weeks does not mean
that you are a failure or weak because your body hasn't recovered. The
physical trauma that is sustained by the body when losing a limb is
profound, so try to relax and remove the timeline from healing.
is okay to grieve. I find that this needs to be stressed to those whom
have undergone a delayed amputation. Just because you had some control
over the timeline of your limb loss does not mean that the loss is less
acute. It is okay to miss your limb; it was part of your body your
Give words to your emotions and find people to whom
you can express them freely. When asked about my recovery, I would
always smile and say, "I'm doing okay." While this answer seemed to
satisfy the question, in reality it was far from the truth. I was sad,
angry, scared, in pain and feeling ugly. Worried that nobody would want
to be around me if they knew that I wasn't nearly as well-adjusted as I
seemed, I continued the charade. I spent the first 18 months of my
amputee life feigning happiness and suffering silently.
I had to give myself permission to talk about my true experiences. Not
feeling compelled to hide my true feelings to spare the discomfort of
others has been liberating and supported my emotional recovery. If you
don't find talking comfortable, try writing. In my opinion, the emotions
will become toxic if you don't find a way to give them a voice.
body is different and it is normal to have body image issues after an
amputation. The physical form that you've had for your entire life has
been altered. It takes awhile to learn to adjust and to accept the
changes. Although it might seem impossible, eventually living without
your limb will feel normal.
Bad days are inevitable, and you are
entitled to feel them. It is okay to visit the sadness and grief from
time to time. I am a firm believer that we all have to visit those dark
places in order to rally and come back stronger. I've been an amputee
for a decade, yet I still experience those "I miss my leg" moments. I
have learned to allow myself to wallow and feel sad, but I am also
careful to pick myself up the next day and move forward.
an open dialog with your prosthetist is paramount. Relying upon an
ill-fitting socket can be painful and disabling. If you can't talk to
your prosthetist or if you feel that you are not receiving quality care,
it is your right to go somewhere else. The amputee is the consumer in
the relationship. The prosthetist is not giving you a prosthesis; you
are buying it and you deserve to be happy and comfortable.
support system to help you transition and adjust. Having not only
cheerleaders but also individuals who are able to provide first hand
experience can be extremely beneficial. Solicit the input and
experiences of others who have been living with limb loss.
it does get easier. I remember everything feeling laborious and
exhausting. Nothing felt normal and I felt foreign in my own body. I was
certain that I had made a huge mistake and was destined to live the
remainder of my life in misery. One day during lunch I realized that I
hadn't yet cursed my prosthesis. In that moment I realized that I was
adjusting and that I was going to be okay.
It takes time and it
isn't always easy, but life can be fabulous after limb loss. Eventually
the limb loss will not define you but it will be relegated to a part of
what makes you unique. Adjusting to a major life change is never easy,
but know that you aren't alone and that there are legions of people who
are willing to help.