You’ve Already Lost It
There are countless ways a person can become an amputee. Most don’t have much choice in the matter. Car accidents and disease can quickly alter the wholeness of one’s body. But there’s another type of amputee, the voluntary amputee. When injuries refuse to heal or infections won’t clear up, sometimes amputation is an option to consider. But it isn’t an easy choice to make.
It’s hard to wake up from a car accident with one less limb, but it’s a different kind of terrible to make that decision yourself. Because I’m an elective amputee, my prosthetist has often asked me to talk with people who are considering this drastic change of life. They have a lot of the same questions I had before my surgery. They want to know about phantom pain and post operative pain. They want to know about the hardware and how an artificial leg feels. But mostly they want to know about quality of life.
They ask specific questions, usually starting with, “Will I still be able to…?”
My gut answer is that quality of life depends on you. If you’re patient with healing time after surgery and are willing to work hard at the gym once you have your new leg, you can reach about any goal you desire. Amputees have climbed mountains, run in marathons, swam with sharks: you name it, they’ve done it. But sometimes logistics get in the way.
A few weeks ago I met with a guy who asked if he could still water ski after an amputation surgery. Technically, yes. Realistically he might need to put that hobby on the shelf. Sure, the technology is out there, but unless he is a die hard skier, the cost and training involved will probably keep him from pursuing it. This is when I throw in the big ‘but…’
This is the point in our talk when I remind them of an important fact. Anything they lose from being an amputee, they’ve probably already lost. The person with the luxury of choosing whether or not they amputate has usually spent a lot of time on crutches already. They’ve been in and out of hospitals, braces and casts.
My water skiing friend lost that sport at the point of his non healing injury. He hasn’t been able to participate in that activity for the nine years he’s hobbled around on crutches. Amputation isn’t the reason he’ll probably never water ski again. His injury was.
If he can see it that way and realize that his surgery will give him more than it will take, only then can he see it for what it is - a chance to start again. Amputation is the answer, not the problem.
I am also asked about the surgery day. They want to know how it feels to hobble into a hospital, lay down on a bed and sign away a body part. I remind them again, they’ve already lost it.
The freedom of mobility, already lost.
The sense of feeling able bodied, long gone.
The ability to run around the yard with their kids, already vanished.
But there’s a good chance they’ll gain a lot more than they lose on surgery day. They’ll gain hope and opportunity. If they’re willing to reach for it, they can feel able bodied again. If they want it bad enough the ball is finally in their court; whether or not to jump in and play the game is totally up to them.
People called me things like brave and strong after I decided to have my leg amputated. It was a risk, there’s no doubt about it. But by keeping that leg that didn’t work I knew my future would definitely be a life of immobility. With a prosthetic leg there was a good chance things could improve. I preferred ‘good chance’ to definite immobility.
I have a leg that snaps on in the morning. Most of my days are spent like every other two-legged person I know. Besides the occasional ‘bad leg’ day, when I need an adjustment of some kind, I don’t miss out on much in life.
As an amputee I have found a life of victory. I don’t run marathons or climb mountains but I have found success in my own way. I never think of my amputation as having lost anything.
In my mind it was pure gain.