What Not to Say to an Amputee

Written by Cynthia Marsh

Amputees face uncomfortable situations routinely. Whether it’s phantom pain, a prosthesis that isn’t fitting right and needs adjustment, or feeling fatigue and discomfort after a long day. But one thing that isn’t talked about too often is the uncomfortable comments or questions they are asked by people they don’t even know.

Below are some of the things people say — that they shouldn’t.

“What happened?”
This is not only an invasion of privacy, but also can cause the amputee to relive the trauma and pain.

“Were you in the war?”
Although the media frequently features wounded veterans, all amputations are not caused by war. Limb loss can be congenital, a result of disease, or traumatic accident.

“I know someone who lost an arm/leg, so I know what you are going through.”
No, you don’t unless you’ve lost a limb yourself.

“I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t live like that.”
A comment like the above certainly isn’t going to actually inspire an amputee. In fact, after time many amputees adjust to their new body image and live very normal lives.

“Let me help you.”
While the person who says that with good intentions, amputees are completely capable of opening doors, pushing a grocery cart, walking through a restaurant, and other daily activities. A better way to ask if you think someone is struggling is, “Do you need some help with that or are you good?” Let the amputee answer for themself.

“Can you still have intimate relationships (which is sometimes asked more crudely)?”
None of your business, but yes, amputees can have normal relationships, get married, and have children.

“You are so courageous.”
While you could say that is true, using a prosthesis does not automatically make someone courageous. It is almost an insult to praise an amputee who doesn’t consider themselves disadvantaged because they are missing a limb.

“Everything happens for a reason.”
This certainly doesn’t help someone who has undergone a life-altering experience. No one wants to hear there is a reason for their disability.

“Can I touch your prosthesis or see your stump?”
This is up to the individual, but a complete stranger or casual acquaintance asking this is very inappropriate. Body parts, biological or artificial, are not objects of curiosity. Would you be comfortable if someone asked to touch a part of your body?

“Don’t bother her/him,” says a parent to a child.
Children are naturally curious and in general amputees are happy to answer their questions. But ask if it’s OK to ask. Education is a wonderful thing!