Written by Beth Hudson:
I see this question very often in online amputee support groups, so I’ll give it a shot.
First, this is a very difficult question to answer. If you ask twenty leg amputees how long it took before they got their prosthetics, you will get twenty different answers.
Every amputation is different. This includes why the amputation is being done, how high the amputation is, the age of the soon-to-be amputee, relative health at the time of amputation, activity level, and whether or not it must be immediately removed due to trauma or if the patient is able to schedule it electively. I’m sure there are other factors, but you get the gist.
My medical team asked my husband about amputation before I was brought out of my semi-coma (which lasted a month). My husband was horrified at the thought of my being brought around, lifting up the sheet, and saying,”WTF?” Because my life wasn’t threatened by keeping the leg, and because hubby wanted me to make that decision myself, the team kept my leg. In hindsight (always 20-20, right?) I wish they had amputated it immediately. I believe my body spent a great deal of time and effort trying to heal the unhealable, thereby keeping my body from putting its energy into healing other medical issues. I do wonder how that would have affected my emotional state of mind. Would love someone who has had that experience to share it on The Liner Wand’s platform.
My amputation and TMR (at the same time) was textbook. No issues. I was hopping with a walker within 24 hours and discharged to short term rehab after three days. I was home 3 weeks later. Six weeks later, I began the prosthetic process, and a few weeks later, I was in a test socket. A week later, I had RHO (yes, I named her) and was breaking her in. In all, it was approximately eleven weeks. The timing couldn’t have been better as I received RHO near my birthday. That being said, I know folks who have been in their prostheses much earlier, and those who had to wait much longer.
The biggest factors in getting your first prosthesis is waiting for the incision to heal, getting the staples out (bee stings, every single one of them!), and shrinkage time. Shrinkage time varies widely depending on the factors mentioned in the first paragraph. This time should be used to interview and find your prosthetist. The Amputation Coalition has an entire list of questions you should ask when you interview prospective prosthetists. You can also go to “A ‘How do I find a prosthetist?’ Primer,” in the “articles” section of The Liner Wand to find that list of questions.
So the answer to this question is that there is no answer. Your surgeon should be the one to ask, as you see them regularly afterwards. They will tell you when they believe your residual limb has shrunk enough to begin the process. And a word of advice from my own experience – I went through three sockets in 18 months because my residual limb continued to shrink. Check with your insurance to see how many sockets they will foot (ha ha!) the bill for during your insurance calendar year.
Do not, I repeat, do not compare yourself to other amputees about this. You are a unique human being who will heal at whatever rate your body needs. Everyone is different in this respect. Listen to your doctors. Healing well is far and beyond better than pushing your body, causing other issues down the road. And I’ll say it again – contact the Amputee Coalition for a Certified Peer Visitor. They can help you with this very emotional time; they’ve been there.
And remember: You never know how much strength you have until you are called upon to use it.