Many of us get elective amputation for one reason – cessation of pain. We have been in pain for too long, perhaps have not been able to manage it well, and know that it will never go away, even if we are on medications for the rest of our lives. We also know that our ability to function has become limited, and our quality of life has severely diminished after whatever monster caused our decision to amputate in the first place.
Going in for surgery, any surgery is not to be taken lightly. Especially when we know that our surgery is not reversible, and this is a decision we make with life-long implications. We need to own that before we go under. And because we have been in pain, many of us look forward to the day, albeit with the trepidation that any surgery brings.
On the day of, expect a looong day–for you, and for those who support you. Can’t say I got much sleep the night before, and I had to be at the hospital before the crack of yesterday. The amount of time for pre-op, surgery, and post-op is highly variable, depending on which limb and how much of the limb has to be removed. Make damn sure that the pre-op team asks you multiple times which limb is being amputated – no margin of error allowed! Nervousness, and perhaps some anxiety, will follow you into the hospital as well. Normal!
Pre-op means exactly that. But before you go through those double doors, getting hugs from your support people is an absolute must (let’s hope we can all do that soon, damn Covid!) A team will make sure that you are ready for your surgery; you will speak with your surgeon, your anesthesiologist, and any other team members (for example, if you are having TMR, your neurosurgeon). Into the OR you go, and let’s hope there are no complications. At All.
After post-op, you will be brought to your hospital room, where you will stay for a few days eating wonder food. Once you come to your senses, you will, of course, check it out – looking right or left, or under the sheets. You’ll see bandages and the negative space where your limb recently was. That’s when reality hits you, and this can be a time of great emotional distress. When I looked under the sheets for the first time, my first thought was, “Wow, I will NEVER be able to do anything again!” And it doesn’t matter that it was elective and you knew it was coming. There is an emotional letdown, and it’s very normal. If you haven’t asked before your surgery, call the Amputation Coalition and ask for a Certified Peer Visitor – they will help you negotiate what’s next, both physically and emotionally.
The next day, the nurses will sit you up, and if you are a leg amputee, there will be a walker in front of you, and off you go, hopping down the hall and back, trailing that wonderful IV rack with a nurse on one side and a PT on the other – and look, you did it! If you are an upper extremity amputee, I assume you will work on some range of motion – and look, you did it! For the next day or two, you will start to get used to your “new normal.”
That first day is tough; for some, one of the toughest. But you’ve been through the hardest part and that pain that plagued you? It will be replaced by the freedom of knowing your pain will dissipate, and your previous limitations are a thing of the past. Welcome to a very elite club.
And remember: You don’t know how much strength you have until you are called upon to use it.
So if you are preparing for your amputation or are waking up the morning after having one, please consider writing to us and sharing your experience. Sharing your story may not only help you but could also help other people in The Liner Wand community.