7 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Being An Amputee

The various nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and prosthetists that dealt with me in the immediate aftermath of my amputation did a wonderful job of preparing me for life as a member of the hoppy brigade.

They used their time effectively, making sure I knew all the important facts about how to look after my residual limb, what exercises were good for improving walking and posture, etc.

However, once I was let out into the big wide world it became clear that there were a number of unexpected (and often ridiculously simple) issues that I would now be needing to consider.

Here are seven…

1. Say Goodbye to Loose Underwear.

I can only speak for the guys who have had an above knee amputation on this particular subject but as somebody who made this critical error very early in my days of using a prosthesis, it is deeply important to me that the message reaches any new amputees before they repeat my mistakes.

Boxer shorts and any other similar loose underwear DO NOT mix well with an above knee prosthetic leg. You need something more secure, such as briefs, to make sure that anything important is kept as far away from the pinching edge of your socket as possible.

2. Your Door Frames Will Take A Lot Of Abuse.

Not just door frames either but the corners of walls, protruding skirting boards and many coffee tables have all been brutalised by the metallic edges of my prosthesis.

It was especially an issue in the early days when I was still learning to understand the positioning of my new leg but even now I still find myself occasionally misjudging the amount of space between my ankle and the wall, resulting in a small chip of wood being flung across the room.

After taking out the first few chunks of wall you start to pay a bit more attention to where your foot is going but even that cannot prevent the occasional misstep.

To any new amputees out there reading this (or those who live with them) I’m sorry to tell you that, unless you are constantly focused on your wall to leg positioning, you’ll find that everything around ankle height will slowly become decorated with a personalised wood chip pattern.

3. Your Prosthesis Might Not Fit As Well in the Evening.

After an amputation, the residual limb will be very swollen but slowly decreases in size over the course of a few months. This means that you can go through several different sockets in a short period of time.

Eventually it will shrink down its natural size and that is where it will usually stay, unless you lose or gain a significant amount of weight.

However, what I did not realise at first was that, even when the size of the residual limb has settled down, it can still change due to outside factors. Such as wearing a prosthetic leg over it for a whole day.

The pressure from this can actually cause some shrinkage, meaning that in the evenings your prosthesis can feel a lot less secure than it did in the morning.
There are ways to remedy this, such as wearing stump socks to pad out the socket but it is something to be aware of.

I remember being ready one evening to call the hospital and ask for a new socket, only to find the next morning that it was once again feeling tight and secure.

4. Sometimes, It is Okay To Be Legless.

It takes a while to get used to wearing a prosthetic leg and at first you can only have it on for a short amount of time each day. This can get frustrating as you find yourself wanting to use it more but your body isn’t quite ready yet.

So, when it finally gets to the point that you can wear the leg most of the day, it can feel like you never want to take it off again.

In the first few years I was adamant that no matter what, I would use my prosthesis as much as possible. It would be put on first thing in the morning and not take off again until bedtime.

I’m not saying that this was a terrible attitude to have but what it did mean was that on the inevitable days when wearing the leg was not possible, I would feel very down and pretty useless.

As time has gone by, the idea of having a few one leg days here and there has become far less upsetting. Occasionally, if I don’t need to leave the house, I’ll keep it off just to give myself a bit of a rest.

It doesn’t feel like a failure anymore to not always be on two legs.

5. Keep It Above The Waist.

Collecting pots, pans and other kitchen utensils from low cupboards will start to make you feel like you’re doing a full body workout. Especially as you crouch down and use one arm to blindly feel your way to the currently necessary equipment.

This is potentially a useless suggestion to make as, short of a full refit, it can often be quite difficult to alter an already built kitchen to accommodate the amputee lifestyle.

However, if the option is there, keeping your most often used utensils and ingredients in places that don’t require you to bend down is going to save a lot of back pain and cursing.

This also applies to most other places in the house but a kitchen seems to be the most used and universal example.

6. The Phantom Likes to Drop In Unannounced.

Do you have that friend or family member who, without any warning, will drop in on you and throw any plans you had for the next day or even week out the window?

Phantom pain is a bit like that.

A crude drawing of Darth Maul from Star Wars shouting surprise. He is holding a luggage bag with a red lightsaber hanging out.

The Phantom Menace returns.

Now, to make it clear, they absolutely do warn you about phantom pain in the hospital when you are having (or in my own case have already had) an amputation. In fact, one of the first things that my doctors did was make sure I was taking a healthy dose of medication to help keep it at bay.

Still, that doesn’t stop it altogether and what I wasn’t prepared for was just how random the episodes of pain can be.

I can go weeks without any bad flare up and then I’ll be sat having a coffee with friends when my whole body jolts from what feels like a bolt of electricity shooting through the area where my leg used to be.

Sometimes that will be it and the pain goes as quickly as it comes. Other times it stays for a while and you just have to grit your teeth and ride it out.

Painkillers help too.

7. You Can’t Do Everything That Everyone Else Can Do.

This fact does not fall into the category of ridiculously simple but it is one that new amputees aren’t necessarily properly prepared for. In fact, a lot of the time people seem to try and convince you that the opposite is true.

It will come as a surprise to precisely nobody that losing a limb prohibits a person from doing a lot of the things they may have been able to do beforehand. That isn’t to say that it’s the end of the world and there are still a great many things that we can accomplish, even with such a life changing disability.

But I feel very strongly that the reality of an amputation must be made clear from the start, no sugar coating and acting like everything will be back to normal in a few months.

It never will.

Knowing this from the beginning will go a long way to dealing with any obstacles that you come up against further down the line. It will still be upsetting when you meet them but at least you won’t also be dealing with the shock of finding out that there actually are some things you cannot do.

There you have it, those were seven things I wish someone had told me about being an amputee.

I hope you enjoyed the lighthearted points of this post before being backhanded with the seriousness at the end there. If you want to see more like it be sure to subscribe below and follow me on social media to keep up to speed with all the latest shenanigans

Thank you for reading folks, stay safe and be excellent to each other.

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