Written by Alexandra Boutte:
The big chop, life-saving procedure, amputation- no matter how you put it, limb loss is not for the faint of heart, even though it can and does happen to just about anyone, so how do we cope when it’s our leg the doctor marks a big X on?
1. Find your support system-Who is there for you when things get tough? No matter how independent you may be, you will want to make sure you surround yourself with the kind of people who have your back. They will help fill the void left after amputation and make it a safe place for you to land on your worst days. You might be surprised to find support not only comes from family, but also from friends, therapists, prosthetists, your medical team, and even the online community of other amputees. Don’t be afraid to use all of the resources at your disposal.
2. Grieve- Losing a limb is like losing a loved one. Just as you take the time to grieve when a friend has passed, allow yourself to feel the sadness of losing a part of you for good. It’s easy to want to skip past this stage, to avoid the pain that inevitably comes with it, but If you bury your emotions too deep, you won’t heal enough to move forward with your life. The goal isn’t to forget what happened to you, it’s to feel at peace with it and with your new body and find ways to accept it and love yourself, despite looking different. Different is beautiful too.
3. Get back up – At the Hospital there will be a nurse or a physical therapist forcing you to get up after surgery to start taking steps within 48 hrs. When you get home, the pressure is gone. It’s up to you to keep yourself moving and pick yourself back up when you fall both literally and figuratively and fall you will – trust me. Over time, moving will get easier and if you put in the work, your strength will begin to return and everyday tasks will require less energy. You might even find you learn a few hacks from fellow amputees!
4. Celebrate the wins- your first unassisted steps, no longer needing gabapentin to manage your phantom pain, receiving your first prosthesis, learning how to maneuver your wheelchair without help, clean post-op scans, celebrate it all. Life is short and parts of it are so messy, why not soak up the good parts. When you reach a goal, celebrate it. There is nothing too small to celebrate over a coke float with your bestie.
5. Never give up on yourself- You are a gift to this earth just the way you are, one leg, maybe none, none of that determines your value. You will face plenty of challenges and maybe even some setbacks. You will likely come across some strangers that stare and ask rude questions about your limb loss. Don’t allow another person to make you feel any less powerful. Learning to shake off others’ opinions will be one of the most important steps you take towards getting your life back. There is so much beauty and magic ahead of you if you only allow yourself to experience it all.
I don’t have it all figured out. I still fight with my shoelaces every morning and curse at my jeans as I try to slide them over a foot with no ankle joint, but life’s still good. My new perspective has allowed me to see life through a different lens, one where I don’t miss an opportunity for a good coke float.