If you’ve read my previous post about Certified Peer Visitor (mentorship), you know that there were two “camps” as to why folks became CPVs – they either had a CPV who helped them negotiate their new life as an amputee, or they had no support and didn’t want anyone else to have that experience. Many mentees have become mentors because of one of these reasons.

There are two ways to become a mentee through the Amputation Coalition. One is through rehab (either in- or outpatient) from a facility that has joined the Hospital Partnership Program. Through this program, your PT/OT, a social worker, or a case manager, will ask you if you’d like to meet someone with the same circumstances as you. The Amputation Coalition then finds a CPV who is closest to your set of circumstances; they are masters at making these matches. As a mentee, meeting someone with the same level of amputation, same age, same gender, and same reason for said amputation, immediately puts the mentee at ease. As a mentee myself, I appreciated that instant connection with my mentor. He already knew much of what I had dealt with, and hearing his story made me realize I was not the “only one.”

The second way is to request a CPV yourself. You can do this at any time, not just directly after surgery. I cannot state this more emphatically – if you know you are facing amputation and have enough lead time (two weeks or more), you can get a CPV before your surgery. I realize that I’m preaching to the choir here, but if you know anyone facing amputation, please recommend this. The anxiety and fear before surgery can be greatly reduced by speaking with a CPV beforehand. I didn’t have (make?) time, and I wish I had. I know of a mentee who requested a CPV a year after their amputation because they were having a nightmare of a time finding a decent prosthetist. Their residual limb had changed shape after a year, requiring a new prosthesis, and because they lived in an extremely rural area, finding one was difficult. So if you find yourselves under different circumstances, even years after your amputation, you can still call the AC and make the request; they will be happy to help you find a match.

And just a note; once in a while, sometimes a match that looks good on paper doesn’t quite work out in real life. Feel free to part ways and ask for someone else. No harm, no foul; sometimes personalities just don’t click. It’s neither your nor your CPV’s fault. Just like breaking up with a prosthetist, request another one and move on.

Mentees also have questions that have nothing to do with the amputation itself, but deal with the emotional and psychological turmoil that we all feel right after the surgery. Why did this happen to me? How will my family and friends treat me? Will I be able to go back to work? How does insurance work? How do I find a prosthetist? The AC’s information packet is informative, for sure, but for me, reading it just raised more questions. As a mentee, I asked my CPV to field those questions for me, as he had already dealt with all of this in his journey. And sometimes you just need to talk to another amputee, especially if you live in an area where you are the only amputee that you know of. That’s when your mentor/mentee relationship moves beyond information sharing and becomes a friendship.

Lastly, there are the hard questions. One mentee was struggling with their prosthesis well after the initial amputation. They had several consults with their surgeon (resulting in revisions) and several failed attempts at socket fittings. When this mentee asked their CPV about options, the CPV told them that maybe it was time to take a good, hard look at going from BKA to AKA if the residual limb issues just couldn’t be solved. Not something this mentee wanted to hear. But the CPV just said out loud what was lurking in the mentee’s head. The mentee was grateful that the CPV put it out on the table as an option, among others. Talking about it reduced the fear around that kind of tough revision. Happily, the mentee was able to find a solution that did not result in a higher level of revision, but knowing that it was an option helped them find the right solution for their issue.

When you get right down to it, the mentor/mentee relationship is all about options. Mentees can consider those options and then make their own decisions based on them. The CPVs are NOT there to tell mentees what to do – the AC will revoke their credentials if that happens. About two years into my journey, I realized it was time to “break up” with my prosthetist and find another. This had been the source of many discussions in my support group, but I never thought I would need to do this. I turned to my CPV for options as to how to do this without burning the bridge. Even though I had already become a CPV at that time, I needed help to do this correctly. His invaluable insight helped me leave my prosthetist on good terms. I know that if something crazy happens and I need emergency help with my prostheses, I can still contact them; they would charge me my arm and my other leg for the service (sorry, had to!), but it’s good to have them as a back up. I was then able to take the options he gave me and put them in my proverbial CPV toolbox. Everything I have learned as a mentee has helped me become a better CPV.

For those of you who feel that giving back is part of your DNA and you’d like to help others who are not as far along on their journey as you are, or if you have been a mentee and appreciated the support, please think about contacting the Amputee Coalition and applying to be a CPV. It is a fantastic way to give back. And sometimes helping others is the best way to help ourselves, isn’t it?

And remember: You never know how much strength you have until you are called upon to use it.