Finding Hope And Healing After Amputation: The Best Resources
Amputation is caused by many different factors; illness, trauma, an accident. It can come suddenly in order to save the life of the patient or it can be planned. But no matter how it is done, losing a limb can be traumatic and forever alters the way the patient lives and views himself. It can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, isolation, and low self-esteem as the patient learns to live with this enormous change. However, with time and good care, these issues can usually be resolved.
“For many patients, the imagination is worse than the reality, and they quickly learn to cope with the new situation surprisingly well,” says amputation surgeon Thomas Böni. “Other people need a little more time and can, for example, not yet look at the stump at the beginning during changing the dressing. With patience and affection, the patient can usually accept his condition soon. It is important that we and the relatives can accept the patient as a full person; this transfers to the patient and his/her self-esteem.”
Dealing with the pain of the amputation is the first step. It can take a while for the body to heal, and during this time pain must be managed effectively with medication and rest. After surgery, patients may feel what is referred to as “phantom pain”, which occurs in the area where the limb used to be. New amputees may feel as though there is sensation or a deep itchiness in that area even though there is nothing there.
“If possible, patients must be informed about the risk of phantom pains even before the amputation. We expect about 10% therapy refractory phantom pains, which are a real problem. A good preoperative and postoperative pain management is important. Today, there are powerful drugs to combat phantom pains, along with those drugs, an early activity with the stump is important,” says Böni.
After surgery, patients will need to adjust to life without the limb. This can include learning to walk again, learning to use a different dominant hand to write or eat with, and figuring out family dynamics, which can be tricky. Therapy can be a useful tool here, and not just of the physical sort. Counselors can help a new amputee learn to cope with the changes and combat stress and depression.
Learning how to navigate once familiar places in a new way is also part of healing; preparing the home for safety’s sake is imperative. Many amputees have the most trouble in the bathroom, so making sure there are non-slip mats, safety bars, and a shower bench are some of the best ways to make sure everything will go smoothly upon returning home. Bigger changes may need to be made, and if finances are an issue there may be home modification grants available that will help ease the burden.
Not all patients will be able to prepare for an amputation, so it is important to have a strong support system of friends and family so that healing can be done properly. Some patients will be fitted with a prosthetic device, which will require physical therapy and lots of patience and self-care. Patients will need to ensure they get enough rest and, if they are well enough, exercise in order to build up much-needed strength.
The National Amputation Foundation has many resources for new amputees; this can be invaluable for patients and their families as they learn to live and cope with changes during this stressful time.
Patricia Sarmiento loves swimming and running. She channels her love of fitness and wellness into blogging about health and health-related topics. She played sports in high school and college and continues to make living an active lifestyle a goal for her and her family. She lives with her husband, two children, and their shih tzu in Maryland.
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