Recently Amputated or Facing Amputation?
I had nearly a year to prepare myself. Yet, the morning after my amputation, I looked down and said, "(expletive)...I hope I made the right decision!"
The finality of the decision hit.
And then, there was incredible pain, though that did subside daily. The physical therapist came in the first day and insisted I sit on the side of the bed and stand one-legged in the walker. I told her I felt very sick and she reassured me that it would pass and that I was still going to have to get up. I proceeded to vomit all over her, but then felt better, and did stand up in the walker.
I'm sorry that an acute rehabilitation program, such as the post-amputation or post-prosthesis fitting programs offered at many Vibra hospitals, wasn't available to me. There may be days when you think, "I may be better off dead." Or, "I'd rather be dead than have to live without my leg, legs, arm, arms..." But life, even without limb, has been positive, all-in-all.
And I'm thankful that those thoughts passed.
One significant impact on my outlook happened when I reached out to the Amputee Coalition and attended a national conference. There, I met other amputees and professionals in the business of prosthetics. They were open to answering my many questions, and shared tips and suggestions for how to face and tear down barriers.
This brings me to why I'm writing this little note. This connection with a peer is HUGE, but missing in most settings.
Recently, I was driving from Durango, CO to Tuscon, AZ for this year's Amputee Coalition National Conference when my cousin contacted me. She wanted to connect me with a friend, who had a friend in Farmington, NM they wanted me to meet. I made the arrangements, and met with her for two hours.
This woman had her leg amputated above-the-knee after a motorcycle accident nearly two years ago. She also suffered a fractured pelvis, along with several other injuries. Worst of all, she lost her husband in the accident. Her entire life was turned upside-down.
Today, she's wearing a prosthetic leg, walking pretty well, and doing her best to adjust to her new life. But her journey is incomplete, due largely to a lack of support. She's only encountered one other amputee -- a lay male -- who didn't provide any emotional or psychological support. I was the first female amputee she has met with. Her clinical teams were inexperienced with amputees. And so her story goes...
We should -- no, we need -- to do better by amputees. We have technology like Skype and social media at our disposal. We should be using this technology to "walk them through" their adjustment from beginning to end.
I wish she was closer to me, so she could complete Phase II at San Joaquin Valley Rehabilitation Hospital, where I volunteer.
Amputees need to connect with their peers. It's an important part of adjusting to their new lives. But as this story illustrates, those connections, unfortunately, are often not made. Peer visitors are one great way of supporting amputees, and I'm proud to be a part of that at SJVRH. The Amputee Coalition is another terrific resource, with over 260 registered support groups throughout the United States.
If you, or a loved one, is a new amputee, or facing amputation, please, seek out this support. Speak with your physician. Check out the Amputee Coalition's website. It's so important you take care of the emotional component of being an amputee!
Liz Zemke has been an RN for 48 years and an amputee for 23. She spends much of her time volunteering to facilitate support group services and peer visitation for amputees. Liz coordinates many events for amputees, including a Fun Day for kids with limb loss at Valley Children's Hospital and a Gait and Mobility Clinic at CSUF. Liz is also as the Amputee Liaison and a Peer Visitor at San Joaquin Valley Rehabilitation Hospital in Fresno, CAPosted By Liz Zemke