Undergoing an amputation is a life-altering surgery. Some amputations are a result of trauma such as an industrial or motor vehicle accidents. Others are scheduled amputations due to disease or other reasons the limb is malfunctioning. A scheduled amputation allows you time to prepare for what to expect. Here are some things to know.
If your surgeon has not already explained what will happened during and after the operation, schedule an appointment to get the information you are entitled to have. Before your consultation, think of any questions you may want to ask and write them down.
- How long will the surgery last?
- What type of anesthesia will be used?
- After the surgery, how will my pain be controlled?
- When will I be able to get out of bed?
- Who will help me?
- How long will I have to stay in the hospital?
- What is the plan for my rehabilitation?
Take notes during the discussion. It’s always a good idea to take a trusted family member or friend with you to help you remember what was discussed.
Ask the surgeon for a referral for a prosthetist or search the internet. Below are some professional organizations that have listings of certified prosthetists and facilities:
- American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics
- The Board of Certification/Accreditation (BOC)
- Prosthetist Finder
- The American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (AOPA)
- The Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists (AAOP)
It’s very important to work with a prosthetist you are comfortable with and have confidence you will receive good care. So check their credentials to make sure they are in good standing with their professional organizations.
Schedule a pre-amputation appointment so you can get a good feel whether or not you and the prosthetist are in sync. Discuss whether the prosthetist has experience in the type of amputation level you will have. Ask what type of device you might be fitted with. Ask if they are they certified to provide specific components like computerized knees or bionic ankles.
As important as a good fitting prosthesis is, it’s also key to have good follow-up care. Ask how often they will see you and what happens if you have issues with prosthetic use. Again, feel comfortable with the feedback you are getting.
Equally important, the prosthetist should be asking you what your goals for rehabilitation are. For example, going back to your job or any athletic or recreational pursuits. The prosthetist should be able to explain, not only the prosthetic process, but what you can expect as you adjust to your prosthesis and realistic outcomes.
Your Healthcare Team:
Besides your surgeon and prosthetist, there are many other professionals who will be involved in your care. They may include the following:
- The nursing team to help you with hygiene, medications, wound care, etc.
- An occupational therapist (OT) to help you adjust and manage everyday activities.
- A physical therapist (PT) to help you regain strength, balance, flexibility, and stamina. A PT will also help you to use mobility aids such as wheelchairs, walking frames, crutches, and other assistive devices.
- A social worker to offer counselling and emotional support.
- A case manager to coordinate care and assist you in connecting with needed services.
Depending on your amputation, there may be other healthcare professionals involved.
Your Overall Health:
Things will go better before and after surgery, if you can be as healthy as possible. For example, follow a healthy diet, stop smoking, and keep any underlying conditions under control, such as diabetes and heart or lung disease.
It’s helpful to seek physical therapy before the surgery. A physical therapist can guide you through a general and specific exercise program to maintain or increase muscle strength, flexibility, and range of motion. The stronger and more flexible you are, the better you will be able to use your prosthesis.
Another pre-amputation recommendation is to contact a peer visitor, which is someone who has already undergone an amputation and understands what you are going through. Peer visitors can tell you what it’s like living with amputation, offer emotional support, and help to keep you positive. You can find a peer visitor through a database maintained by the Amputee Coalition, which also has many additional articles and educational materials on coping with limb loss.
Before returning home, there may be some changes that need to take place to make sure you can get around safely. Having a scheduled amputation gives you a bit of time to implement them. Here are some general tips:
- Set up a comfortable, convenient place on the main floor to rest as you recover.
- If your bedroom is on an upper level, consider renting a hospital bed for the main floor until you are able to ascend and descend stairs.
- Remove all mats or throw rugs as they are a tripping hazard.
- Furniture like coffee tables or anything else in the middle of the room are a navigation hazard. Either remove them or place them near walls.
- Install grab bars in the bathroom around the toilet and shower.
- An extra high toilet seat can make rising and sitting easier.
- Put anti-slip mats in the shower.
- A bath transfer bench can help you maintain your balance when transitioning from a wheelchair to a shower seat. Even if you are not using a wheelchair, a shower seat will make bathing easier.
- Nightlights and motion detectors to so you don’t stumble in the dark.
- Rental ramps to help you access your home when using a wheelchair.
While you will be anxious to regain your independence, don’t hesitate to reach out for help until you do. If more modifications or services are needed, your OT or case manager can offer advice and facilitate help.