Preparing for Amputation Surgery
As you prepare for your amputation surgery, you may worry about what’s ahead and what to expect. We recommend that you keep actively communicating with your doctor and other members of your healthcare team.
You may feel sad, lonely or isolated; the chances are you may not personally know anyone else who has experienced amputation surgery or can relate to the idea of living with limb loss or limb difference.
One resource you can turn to is the nonprofit Amputee Coalition, which provides extensive information for patients, family members and caregivers. The Amputee Coalition can provide access to support groups and volunteer peer counselors who can directly share their experience of living with limb loss with you.
The Pro-Op Consultation
Prior to your amputation surgery, you may want to meet with your doctor and members of your healthcare team for a pre-surgical meeting, also known as a pre-op consultation. During this meeting, a detailed plan for your ongoing care and rehabilitation should be discussed.
Before attending the pre-op consultation, it is a good idea to write down any questions you have. You may want to ask a friend or family member to accompany you, to support you through this process. You can decide whether they should simply listen and take notes, or actively participate in the conversation. Either way, you want to ensure all of your questions or concerns are being addressed during the pre-op session.
If your amputation surgery occurred as the result of an accident or medical emergency, a pre-op consultation is unlikely. However, it is still a good idea to schedule a meeting with your medical team soon after your procedure so you can learn details about your rehabilitation plan.
Recovering from Amputation Surgery
After your amputation surgery, your doctor will provide specific instructions for your post-op care. Because each person is unique, your personal treatment methods, post-op healing regimen and rehabilitation experience may vary.
If you have not already met a prosthetist – a certified medical professional who is specially trained to help people with limb loss be fitted for artificial limbs – you may receive a referral to one during this time.
You may want to visit our specific content on Living With Lower Limb Loss and Living With Upper Limb Loss for more details about what to expect during surgery and recovery from these types of amputation surgery procedures.
The primary goal immediately after amputation is healing and protecting your residual limb. Volume fluctuation is common for months to years after amputation so the goal of a care team working with a new amputee is managing the volume of that healing limb.
At this point, you’ve healed from surgery and are ready to begin rehabilitation and learn how to adapt to life with a prosthetic limb. The care goals in this phase are simply to don and doff (put on and take off) your prosthetic limb safely, to learn how to sit and stand with your prosthesis, and to learn how to ambulate without falling. It’s easy to get caught up in the end goal at this phase but the habits you develop during rehabilitation set you up for success and health in the future so it’s ok to take your time, be patient, and always listen to the advice of your physical and occupational therapists.
It’s maintenance time! You’ve gotten back some old independence, are moving comfortably about in your community, and adjusting to life with a prosthesis (or prostheses). The goals of this phase are focused around being aware of your skin health (i.e. are you experiencing hot spots or discomfort), is your prosthesis operating like it should (i.e. are things loose or clicking?), and are you as mobile as you usually are (i.e. are you getting tired more quickly or just walking less than usual?). It’s important to check in with yourself so you can catch small problems before they become big problems.
Working with a Prosthetist
A huge part of life with your prosthesis is life with your prosthetist: when to call them, how to communicate with them and work with them while also advocating for yourself, and how to appropriately rate and express if you are in pain. Last post, we talked about being aware of your prosthesis, skin health, and overall mobility, and these are great starting points for being able to say to your prosthetist “I used to be able to walk x number of steps comfortably and now I’m at y” which gives them data points to try and work with you to improve your experience. Finding a prosthetist who you feel comfortable with is so important to staying mobile and independent as an amputee. Find more resources on finding a prosthetist from Amputee Coalition. Here are other helpful resources on questions to ask when interviewing a prospective prosthetist from Amp'd.
Returning Home After Amputation Surgery
When you return home from the hospital or rehab facility, be gentle with yourself and allow yourself some time to acclimate.
Many people experience backtracking or pain, especially during the first few months after their amputation surgery. Be sure to keep communicating with your healthcare team about any pain or discomfort, and try to keep a positive outlook and stay consistent with any recommended exercises.
You might find that friends or family members have questions or are uncertain about how to talk with you about your amputation surgery.
Open communication can be an important aspect of healing, but remember, you can go at your own pace in opening up and disclose only as much as you feel comfortable sharing.
You also may want to contact the Amputee Coalition, which can provide resources, including connections to local support groups and volunteers who are willing to share their experience of living with limb loss to help you.