In the United States, there are approximately 1.7 million people living with limb loss either due to amputation or a congenital condition. Regardless of how people lose a limb, they have one thing in common: they never expected to find themselves in this situation. Facing limb loss can feel overwhelming. Consulting with a prosthetist as soon as possible will help you understand what lies ahead. It is also very important to talk to other people who have gone through this process, recovered and moved on with their life. Any Hanger Clinic can connect you with an Amputee Empowerment Partners (AEP) visitor.
Facing Your Situation
The idea of selecting a prosthetic provider can be overwhelming. People are often faced with this choice while in a state of shock, grief or serious illness. If this describes your situation, rest assured that you are not alone and that thousands of others have found their way through. Take a deep breath and remember: you will too. At times you may feel anxious and confused. Try to move into this experience just one moment at a time, one question at a time.
Many people make their first appointment at a Hanger Clinic before they have actually lost a limb. Whenever possible, those who are facing surgical amputation are strongly encouraged to seek a preoperative consultation with an experienced, certified prosthetist. The mere thought of making an appointment for this type of frank discussion might be extremely unsettling. In spite of how difficult it seems, it is vital to understand that the earlier you begin working with a prosthetist, the better your outcome will be as a prosthetic user. Hanger will provide you with a thorough preoperative prosthetic assessment to discuss with your surgeon. We don’t pretend that any of this is easy—but we do pledge to devote our care and expertise to help you cope with this life-changing experience.
Learning About Immediate Postoperative Care (IPOCare)
There are many reasons to seek a preoperative consultation, and one of the most important is to learn about Immediate Postoperative Care or IPOCare. IPOCare involves a protective dressing that is applied in the operating room or during the first day or two after surgery. IPOCare consists of a rigid socket that is hand-molded from plaster bandages or fiberglass, or prefabricated from plastic. IPOCare may be available to both upper and lower extremity patients. IPOCare helps protect the healing residual limb and also reduces postoperative pain. Studies have shown that people who have IPOCare are more optimistic about the future, have shorter hospital stays, and begin to focus on rehabilitation sooner. There is a significant psychological benefit to IPOCare compared to spending days, weeks or months with no limb replacement, as some people do.
From the moment you enter a Hanger Clinic, our goal is to provide a calm and welcoming experience. That first visit to a prosthetist/orthotist is stressful for new patients. If you are a new amputee, it is natural to feel a little frightened, anxious and even sad when coming face-to-face with the new realities of your life. If you are an experienced prosthetic or orthotic user but are now looking for a different provider, it can be a real challenge to think about stirring up the energy to begin again with a new prosthetist/orthotist. Regardless of your circumstances for an initial visit at Hanger, our wish is to counter any stress you feel with a renewed sense of hopefulness.
We take a team approach to caring for people. It begins when you call a patient care representative to ask questions, request additional information or to schedule your first visit.
Your initial consultation with Hanger is offered free of change. For experienced prosthetic users, Hanger offers Patient Evaluation Clinics at different locations across the county. Patient Evaluation Clinics are free of charge and open to anyone who has a concern or challenge regarding their prosthesis, support or brace. Many of the people in attendance are prosthetic users who are not currently Hanger patients. However, Hanger patients may also take advantage of this special opportunity to consult with one of our national experts. For locations, dates and times, see the Hanger PEC schedule or call your local Hanger office.
For lower extremity amputees, one of the big concerns during this preparation phase is how to get around. One option is a wheelchair, however many people prefer to use crutches. If the individual has recovered enough to get out of the wheelchair, crutches are a better choice because moving, exercising and staying in shape helps people recover faster. Even after becoming a prosthetic user, it is a good idea for people to have a pair of crutches around to use when they are not wearing their prosthesis, like when they first get up in the morning or before going to bed. It may sound somewhat startling to the new amputee, but when relaxing at home, some people find it easier to crawl. One practice that is strongly discouraged is hopping around on the sound leg. This can lead to falls and serious injury; hopping also places too much strain on the back and on the joints of the sound leg.
While the physical loss is tremendous, the emotional toll of amputation can be equally devastating. Many people experience depression and must endure a grieving process similar to what occurs with the death of a loved one. Losing interest in life, withdrawing from others, and crying are all normal responses. Family members and friends will also struggle to cope with feelings of anxiety and sadness. Remember that each person will process their feelings in different ways and in varying time frames.
Acceptance of what has happened is a key element in both physical and mental recovery. Initially, most people who lose a limb are angry and may direct their anger and blame towards their friends and family. Some people focus on external things as a way to avoid dealing with their own inner feelings. In the words of Bill Dunham, an above-knee amputee, “You have to focus on what you still have and what you can do, and stop thinking about what you don’t have.”
A change of this magnitude may take a long time to accept. Some people quickly take it up as a challenge and move on with their lives, while for others, the road to acceptance may be long and arduous. Continuing to fight against the situation is emotionally draining, and ultimately, self-defeating.
Finally, keep in mind that both physical and emotional recovery can be complicated by other difficult health challenges. After amputation, many people are still facing a serious illness and on-going medical treatment. If the amputation was the result of traumatic injury, there may be additional injuries to deal with. These kinds of issues can slow down the process of acceptance and recovery.