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Frequently Asked Questions
I am often contacted by others who are facing the same choices that I dealt with years earlier.  I cannot tell them if they should or should not lose their limb.  All I can do is offer a sympathetic ear, offer suggestions and support, and answer questions.  After several years, I have learned to anticipate most of the questions.

1.  How long is the recovery?

The length of the recovery is dependent upon the circumstances behind the amputation.  Generally, it can be expected that the new amputee is hospitalized for 2 to 5 days, depending upon the need for infection and pain control.  Most amputees spend the remainder of their recovery at home.  The severe pain lasts for approximately 10 days.  It gradually decreases and, barring any complications, is minimal at 30 days post-op. 

2.  When is the prosthetic received?

The first fitting for a prosthetic occurs after the surgical wounds have healed.  Typically, amputees are fit with their first temporary prosthetic, commonly referred to as a check or test socket, between 6 to 8 weeks after the surgery.

3.  How is the prosthetic attached to the limb?

There are a variety of suspension systems.  Suction, vacuum and pin-lock systems are the most common.  Many new amputees don't realize that a liner is worn beneath the prosthetic.  The liner serves to cushion and protect the limb as well as to provide the foundation for the suspension system.    It is not uncommon for the amputee to try several suspension systems until they find one that works for them.

4.  Does it hurt to walk on a prosthetic?  And what does it feel like?

The first few days on a prosthetic can be both painful and frustrating.  The body is still recovering from a traumatic experience, and the nerves are angry.  Weight and pressure are being put on a newly formed appendage.  It can be painful and sore, but that shouldn't last for more than a few days. 

It is difficult to describe what it feels like to walk on a prosthetic.  Each amputee has his own analogy, but we all admit that our descriptions cannot be 100% accurate.  It is a sensation which does not lend itself to being verbalized.  For me, it felt like I was walking on my foot after it had "fallen asleep" from cutting off the circulation.  Others describe the feeling as being similar to having a shoe tied too tight. 

5.  How did I accept my new body shape?

Body image is an issue that I did not fully appreciate before my surgery.  I never realized the struggle I was going to have relating to my new residual limb.  I have written about this struggle in the My Story section of this page. 

6.  How do you prepare for the limb loss?

I recommend getting a shower chair, wheelchair or walker and bars on the toilet before the amputation.  I no longer need any of these devices, but I relied upon them for several months following the surgery.

If the amputation is elective, use the time preceding the surgery to prepare.  Talk and meet with other amputees.  Reach out through support groups or the Internet to connect with those who have been down this path.  Become educated about various procedures and prosthetic components.  Ask for recommendations for prosthetists, and interview several before the surgery.  Find somebody with whom you feel comfortable.  Click here to read about this topic. 

7.  Do I have phantom pain, and how do I deal with it?

I differentiate between phantom pain and nerve pain.  I have had very little phantom type pain.  I occasionally have the sensation of having my foot, particularly my big toe.  Immediately after the surgery I was comforted by these feelings, but they have decreased with time.  Nerve pain is an issue for many amputees, especially for the first 18 months.  Although each amputee experiences it differently, many describe stinging or biting sensations on the limb.  When I am having a "bad leg day" my limb feels as if it is being stung by wasps. 

Nerve pain is not pleasant, but it is manageable.  Compression and massage help to alleviate the intensity.  If the pain becomes an issue medication can be prescribed.  Medicinal marijuana has proven to be an effective treatment for nerve pain.  You may wish to discuss this option with your physician if it is legal in your state.

8.  Do I regret my decision to amputate?

There are times I resent the fact that I am an amputee, but I have never regretted my decision.  I am now walking, running and living without pain.  I am no longer taking pain medication and I don't have to use crutches.  I was given my life back after I gave up my foot. 

Click here to learn more about these topics.

Odds and Ends

Everybody who calls me receives the same piece of advice.  I recommend that they write a letter, explaining the pain, the difficulties and the obstacles they are facing living in their current situation.  Write down the reasons behind your decision to amputate, and your dreams for the future.  Time has a way of fading memories and, although I thought that I would never forget the pain, the frustrations of living as an amputee can overshadow the past.  The letters have helped me immeasurably, especially during difficult moments.

I didn't know that it was going to be painful when my residual limb was below my heart for the first time.  It felt as if it was being stung by hornets and the pain took my breathe away.  Had I known that this is normal, and had I been prepared, I doubt that it would have been as traumatic. 

Sleeping was an issue for me.  I struggled to find a position that was comfortable and did not amplify the missing limb.  The quiet of the night used to haunt me, making my limb loss seem insurmountable.  As I adjusted, it became easier to sleep. 

Lower extremity amputees pose a 100% risk of losing bone density.  This is due to the unequal weight bearing when ambulating.  Knowledge is power.  Stay vigilant and receive scheduled bone density screenings.  I, along with 86% of all lower extremity amputees (at least 5 years post op) have osteoporosis.  I am being treated and my prognosis is good because it was detected relatively early. 

It is recommended to avoid shaving the residual limb, especially if you plan on using a prosthetic.  Shaving leaves the area vulnerable to ingrown hairs, which can lead to infection. 

I regret that I never received formal physical therapy training after my amputation.  Like most below-knee amputees, I received my prosthetic and was given a brief gait training experience in my prosthetists office.  I wish I had pursued formal physical therapy to instruct me on how to properly load weight into my prosthetic and to develop an appropriate gait from the beginning. 

It sounds obvious, but it needs to be stated.  Many amputees become addicted to their pain medication.  After the surgical wounds have healed, speak with your doctor to wean off the narcotics.  Turning to the drugs to numb the emotional pain left by the amputation does not work.

Don't be discouraged.  Many new amputees believe that they are somehow "healed" once they receive their first prosthetic.  In many ways, the opposite is true.  Receiving the prosthetic is another milestone along the journey, but it is not the end destination.  It is not uncommon for the new amputee to become frustrated or depressed several weeks after receiving their prosthetic.  After the congratulations and celebrations by friends and family members, the amputee is faced with the reality that life as an amputee is more difficult than anticipated.

Time, experience and patience all help the amputee make the adjustment.  As they become more comfortable using the prosthetic everything becomes easier.  Talking with other amputees or professionals can help to alleviate fears and anxiety. 

It is difficult to believe when the amputation is still new, but it does get easier.  There will be a day when you wake up, slip on your leg and go about your activities without lamenting or thinking about the reality that you are an amputee.  The focus of your life will no longer be your limb loss.  It takes time, but it will happen.

Video Gallery

My Walking Day Video

My First Day on the Proprio Ankle

Walking Now

Learning to Run

My First Race (my little boy jumped into the action)