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The emotional challenges faced by amputees

The emotional challenges faced by amputees

October 29, 2020

Losing a limb is arguably one of the most challenging obstacles a person is ever likely to face. Our clients overcome many emotional hurdles during their amputation journey; from the early days leading up to surgery, right through to the many adaptations and little milestones that come with their new way of life. They do this with the support of their family and friends, with the empathy of their legal advisors, and with the services offered by their medical team – but mostly they do this by finding an inner strength they never knew they had.

Here, we outline the various emotional stages of losing a limb, and the incredible courage shown by our clients.

How do I adjust to this new reality?

There are various stages of emotional recovery following an amputation; all of which can present their own challenges. Often, amputees will experience some shock and denial following an amputation. Patients can sometimes grieve the limb and experience phantom sensations which only add to this. As an amputee, it is important to have a strong support network around you, both in the early days of your recovery and beyond; as you shape your new reality into something more positive.

Below are some concerns and considerations you may have:

  • Leaving hospital: Will my home need to be adapted? Am I going to have to move?
  • Going back to work: Can I do the same job that I had before? Will I be able to retrain?
  • Moving forwards: Do I need specialist equipment? Can I manage it myself? Do I need help?

With a full multi-disciplinary team around you, these concerns can be addressed head-on; and solutions provided. A multi-disciplinary team includes not only your immediate medical team; but also specialist legal advisors, rehabilitation support, prosthesis specialists, expert witnesses, architects and building contractors. Having the right people on your side will help you take the emotional weight of the challenges you are facing, knowing that the logistics are being taken care of.

How do I prepare for surgery?

Richard Nieveen is a specialist at Proactive Prosthetics. He explains that when a patient is seen prior to amputation, there are numerous things to think about; and understanding the post-surgery process is extremely important.

“The most important areas (for an amputee to consider) are surgery and rehabilitation. That means ‘good surgery’ in terms of socket design and fit; followed by the physiotherapy, retraining and re-education.”

Meeting with your surgeon to discuss how the surgery will be performed and how the limb will be finished is extremely important. A good surgeon will be to advise on how best to prepare for your surgery, what to expect following the operation and recovery time.
This is also important, not only to help you understand the physical process, but to help you prepare for the emotional aspects of the surgery. This can be an extremely daunting and stressful time, so it is important to communicate with your medical team and ask any questions that you might have. Understanding the process can help to ease any anxieties you may be facing.

You might also want to consider speaking to a therapist in the time leading up to the surgery, and in the months afterwards during your recovery period. A good therapist will help you to work through these issues in a proactive way.

Things to consider prior to surgery:

  • Ensure you have a conversation with your surgeon around socket design and fit. The way your surgery is performed will impact this, and the socket design is key to a well-fitting and comfortable prosthetic.
  • Consider the type of prosthetic most suited to your needs; if you enjoy a particular sport or hobby, you may need to consider this in the prosthesis you choose.
  • Meet with your rehabilitation team in advance where possible to discuss post-surgery expectations, how the team will support you in retraining the body and what obstacles you may come up against.

Will my family be impacted by all this?

Iain Dodd, Medical Negligence Solicitor, explains that families do tend to absorb the worries and anxieties of the injured party. “It impacts wholly on their lives, so it can be quite a distressing time not only for the client, but also for their friends and family. As legal representatives, it is therefore important that we take a flexible approach; communicating with the family and really just having that one-to-one approach with each person in that wider circle.”

How families can be supported during this time:

  • Include your key support network in as many meetings with your medical team as possible. Your family and friends will likely be the people closest to you following your recovery time in hospital, and will need to understand your circumstances fully in order to provide the best support at home.
  • Talk to those closest to you. Losing a limb is not only a physical challenge; it is a psychological one that can impact the whole family. Try to remain as open an honest with your nearest and dearest as you can throughout this time. Open communications will help to ensure those around you can adapt to your needs, and allows family members to communicate their thoughts too.

But what about when an amputation isn’t planned?

A planned amputation at least allows the patient to be involved in the decision-making process and offers some adjustment time prior to the surgery. However, some of our clients do face the unfortunate reality of going into surgery with a limb and coming out without one; perhaps because the limb could not be saved following medical complications. In these circumstances, an amputation might have been the last thing the client expected and therefore, the emotional challenges are very different.

Losing a limb without any pre-warning can be very traumatic. Michael Gray, Medical Negligence Solicitor at Fletchers Serious Injury, explains that it can be really hard to see clients at their lowest point:

“In the early days following amputation, clients struggle to adjust to their new life. It takes a lot of time, a lot of talking and sometimes a lot of therapy for our clients to adjust to this new reality. In my experience, it’s only once we get over the psychological hurdles that we start to make some ground on the rehabilitation; enabling our clients to live the best life that they can.”

Louise Riley, Serious Injury Solicitor, agrees with this sentiment: “Amputation is a very traumatic life event. It is not just a physical challenge; it is a psychological challenge as well.  And people react in different ways. I have seen people grieve the loss of a limb, in the same way you might grieve the loss of a loved one. It is a great life challenge, and it takes a great deal of strength.”

This grieving of a limb is an emotion that is typically prevalent for those who were not given a pre-warning about the surgery – and therefore were not offered support about what to expect and how their life might be impacted following the loss of a limb.

Michael explains that there is a big difference in emotional responses across the two client types: those that don’t get the opportunity to be involved in the decision, and those who are actively involved in the process.

“It can be hard for someone to wake up from surgery not having been expecting to lose a limb. Whereas those clients who get to hear what the doctor has to say, weigh up the pros and cons, and are fully involved in what is going on, tend to adjust better.”

What ongoing support is available?

Regardless of the circumstances, the emotional challenges for any amputee will be significant. It is therefore important to know that support is available. When processing your legal claim, your legal representative will be on hand throughout the journey. And we have strong relationships with professionals across all key touch points; empowering you to rebuild your independence through ongoing rehabilitation support, home adaptations, emotional support and counselling; and for many of our clients – with the additional support of our Court of Protection Team.

We work closely with the Amputation Foundation, who provide a support network for amputees – managing social events, outdoor activities and emotional signposting from other amputees who understand the challenges that come along the way.

It is important to understand, that through this most challenging of circumstances – you are never alone.

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