5 Tips to (Re)living as an Amputee

Losing a limb whether you are expecting it or not is no joke. It is hard to imagine what your “new normal” will look like. There are so many questions running through your head, “what am I supposed to do next? Will I be able to live on my own? How do I get a prosthetic? Do I want a prosthetic?” It is daunting to think about the next steps after amputation, or how you will be taking those steps. Luckily there is a lot of support for you along the way. Most amputee’s report the first year is the most difficult – getting adjusted for their prosthetics, learning how to live with a prosthetic (walking, eating, driving, etc.), and adjusting to body image with a prosthetic. There are lots of questions running through your head before and after an amputation but there is one big one.

The big question: How functional will I be?

While you won’t get around the same as you used to, you will still be able to live a ‘normal’ life. Sidebar, I dislike the phrase “live a normal life.” How can one say that any of us live a normal life? What does “normal” mean anyway? My normal is completely different than another person’s normal, even when from the outside, they may seem similar. I think defining life as normal and abnormal is painting a picture black and white when life is full of different shades of gray

. Alright, my rant is over. Let’s get back on track. Depending on your lifestyle before your amputation, the cause for amputation, chronic illness versus trauma, and where your amputation is may change your lifestyle. In general, as an amputee you can: work, date and maintain healthy relationships, exercise regularly, play with your kids, drive a car (maybe with the addition of some fancy new devices), enjoy outdoor recreational activities, the list goes on and on. You will be able to live “your normal”.

With time, you will create your new normal. I do not want to make light amputations or sugar coat the situation and say that it is easy. While in the trenches, the unknown can be terrifying, it is physically and emotionally painful, and the process can seem never ending. But it is not anywhere near impossible to live the life you want to live.

5 Tips to Re(Living) as an Amputee:

  • Do your homework. Alec, an above knee amputee suggests learning as much as you can after going through a life-changing injury. Take the time to get valuable information from your doctors, physical therapists, counselors, and prosthetist. Look for reputable sources online for help too. There is a lot for you to learn, how to bandage, what therapy exercises you should be doing before and after amputation, coping skills, what you will have to do to obtain a driver’s license, the list goes on and on. The more you can learn about the process you can avoid making mistakes, like not finding a prosthetist as soon as the doctor writes a prescription, and make a smoother transition.
  • Find a good prosthetist. It is important to find a good prosthetist, but also one you can communicate well with. While all prosthetists must have a graduate degree from an accredited program and a board certification from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) that does not mean that one size fits all (How To Become a Prosthetist, n.d.). The process of making a prosthetic is comprehensive. The goal is to have a limb that is comfortable and useful. It takes precision and attention to details to make a great prosthetic.
  • Find a support group. While physical and occupational therapy is crucial for your recovery, it is important to take care of your mental health as well. Emotional recovery similar to physical recovery will depend on you as an individual. Your health before the amputation, age, gender, socioeconomic status, and support system. If you find yourself struggling to cope with your new amputation, joining support groups may be helpful. These groups provide rehabilitated individuals available for emotional and educational support. It will provide you the opportunity to build your support network with role models (Gallagher, P., Desmond, D., & MacLachlan, M., 2008). You will also be able to talk about the nitty gritty questions that keep you awake at night, with someone who can relate to where you are now. Though you are the only one going through the physical pain, your support system will be struggling too. Support groups for your family and close friends may help them cope with the adjustments and grief they are feeling.   
  • Respect the process. Remember that it took you a long time to learn to walk the first time. When a small child is learning a how to walk we don’t berate them when they fall, we encourage them to get up and keep trying. Somewhere along the line to becoming an adult, we lose that mentality. We tear ourselves down instead of encouraging ourselves to keep trying. Healthy behaviors are just like any skills, we have to practice. Eating veggies, financial wellness, being active, you ought to keep practicing. When we are new at something we are pretty terrible at it. That’s why we must keep practicing. Having a growth mindset is a buffer against defeatism. It reframes failure as a natural part of the change process. And it is critical because people will persevere only if they perceive falling down as learning rather than as failing. It is good to put things into perspective and calculate how many times have you practiced that bad behavior. The saying that it takes something like 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at something, whether it’s true or not, is a good reminder that it takes a lot of time to become proficient at a skill. For example, on average it takes 17 times to quit smoking. 
    1. Tips on how to change fixed mindset to growth mindset:
      1. Recognize when you’re using a fixed mindset and name it. 
      2. What are the conditions when fixed mindset whispers into your ear?
      3. What does it say to you?
      4. How do you feel when it is speaking to you?
      5. How can you gently respond to this voice and help it develop a growth mindset?
    2. Change your words.
      1. Re-write your story, add words like yet, or right now. 

Comment below with any of your tips for new amputees!

 

References

Gallagher, P., Desmond, D., & MacLachlan, M. (2008). Psychoprosthetics. London: Springer.

How to Become a Prosthetist. (n.d.). Retrieved June 19, 2017, from http://www.besthealthdegrees.com/careers/how-to-become-a-prosthetist

 

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