After Amputation

Have you ever recoiled at the thought of having to get a haircut, shave off a beard, or break a fingernail? How much worse would it be if the body part were an arm or a leg? Billions of years of evolution make for a visceral feeling of revulsion. Soon patients wonder how they will cope at work or doing things they used to like to do. How will people perceive them? How will they perceive their own body images?

As in all things, some people are able to cope better than others. Some see themselves as permanent patients who need constant nursing care and are unable to be rehabilitated. Others withdraw psychologically and emotionally, feeling that they are not whole. Difficulties with intimacy and sexual function are common. Others visualize a future in which they regain mobility similar to what they enjoyed before and plunge into rehabilitation. Humor can be a big help toward coping and continuing to enjoy life. In short, those best equipped to cope with life in general are best able to cope with amputation.

Age and future plans can affect how people deal with amputation. When Dwight Eisenhower faced the possibility of amputation he was a young man desperately wanting to attend the US Military Academy at West Point. He risked death in refusing to have his legs amputated. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt had polio he kept his legs, but might as well have lost them for all the use he had of them. At that point he was already educated and married with children, so the paralysis was less devastating than it might have been had he been younger and still unproven.

Social support systems matter in coping. Socially isolated individuals are vulnerable to all the problems of life, but having caring friends and family who value us can help to lessen the blows. Family or friends who can take patients to their therapy sessions and provide a cheering section can be a big help. Individuals who are already isolated can become discouraged having to meet the practical demands of taking care of themselves after amputation, and problems that isolated them before the surgery will be added to by the new challenge.

The amount of pain perceived and how it is dealt with can affect overall coping. Some individuals report less pain than others. Since pain is subjective it is difficult to know whether some actually feel less or simply deal with it better, but it can be a factor in coping.

Before planned amputation patients need to discuss with specialists how they will cope physically, emotionally, and socially. Planning their use of prostheses, their exercise and rehabilitation program, their continued relationships with friends and family, and how they can continue to perform as many activities as possible should help future amputees to accept the situation and learn to deal with it effectively. When amputation is unplanned, of course there is no time to prepare. In the book and movie King’s Row, Drake screams, “Where is the rest of me?” on waking up to find his legs gone. Patients in that situation need time to adjust, and plan their future simultaneously. Both kinds of amputees can gain valuable insight from seeing and reading about others who have been through the same troubles and managed to triumph.

To speak with a prosthetic specialist about finding the best prosthetic to help you or a loved one cope with your loss and regain mobility contact Teter Orthotics and Prosthetics at one of our 20 Michigan locations including Grand Rapids, Cadillac, Petoskey and Traverse City, Michigan.