Stumpy: Dealing With Amputation

October 1, 2014. We were sad to learn of the recent death of Dick Miller. May his stories live on.

 Dick Miller   

© Copyright 2013 by  Dick Miller 

Photo of a handicapped little boy in a wrestling match.

In 2001, I developed an infection that worked its way into the bones of my left foot. In spite of a series of strong intravenous antibiotic treatments, it became obvious that amputation was the wise course of action. At that time, my wife related to me the following story.

The Story of Stumpy

Once upon a time, a little boy was born. He was a beautiful little boy, except, instead of regular arms, he had stumps. When most people saw him, they were aghast. But his mother loved him very much. She named him Sam, but she called him Stumpy. Her family and friends were quite disturbed at her calling him this name. “Why would you do that to this beautiful child?” they asked. She replied, “Because that's what the children will call him when he goes to school and plays with them in the neighborhood. I want him to get used to being called that name.”

The people shook their heads in dismay and went on their way. Sam's mother continued to call him Stumpy throughout his childhood. When he went out to play and went to school the other children did call him Stumpy, but it didn’t bother him.

The moral of this story is that things may not be as bad as some people think they are.

Preparing for amputation

How do you prepare to have a piece of your body removed? It's not an easy task. There is a lot of soul-searching that goes on before making the decision to proceed. Eventually, reason must win out over emotion and a trusted physician provides the input you need to make the decision.

Once you have made the decision, preparations for the surgery itself are fairly straightforward. Anyone who has had a hospital procedure performed understands what I'm talking about.

Show up at the appropriate time, and the next thing you know, you are in the recovery room.

Recovering from amputation

Recovering from amputation has two aspects: physical and emotional.

Physical recovery

I am a large man: about 6'3" and about 300 pounds. When I came out from under the anesthetic in the recovery room, I apparently did not have enough pain-killer. I was in a great deal of pain and cried out. I have a large voice to match my large size. Needless to say, I got immediate attention. Once all that was under control, I was taken to a room where I continued my recovery.

I had to wait a few days for the swelling to subside before I was fitted with a temporary cast. As this swelling continued to subside, the temporary cast was replaced and recast. Each time, a prosthesis post was added to the bottom of the cast so that a prosthetic foot could be added. As the incision healed, I was able to bear more weight on that leg and gradually learned to walk with crutches or a walker. Eventually, the cast was replaced by a custom fitted prosthesis.

Over time, the size of the stump continued to decrease, and new custom orthotics had to be made to fit the new size of the stump. In between new orthotic sizes, adjustments were made to the fit by adding several thicknesses of socks between the stump and the prosthesis.

During this recovery process, I had to spend a lot of time bedridden at home. If it weren't for my wife's help, I wouldn't have made it successfully. She deserves a huge amount of credit for my successful recovery.

Emotional recovery

Emotional recovery from amputation is much like the grieving process from any other major event in life. These stages of grief are well documented elsewhere and I won't go into them here. I will say that I experienced them all and, if you go through amputation, you probably will, too. For a reference, seeübler-Ross_model

Life after amputation

Here are some lessons I have learned after my amputation. I hope you can learn something from them, too.

Get over it

It's not going to grow back. Your life is different now. You have to do things differently. You may not be able to do some of the things you used to be able to do. However, you can still lead a useful, happy, productive life.

Learn to cope

Find out the best new way to do things, and stick with it until you can improve upon it. Always look for new ways to do things more easily, more quickly, or more effectively. Be open to new experiences.

Try to find the humor in things

It’s easy to play “Oh, poor me.” It’s a lot more beneficial to try to find the humor in what may appear to be a difficult situation. Here’s a case in point.

I had a cast that covered my stump from my mid-calf to my mid-thigh, with a steel post affixed to the bottom. I had an appointment with my prosthetist to have a prosthetic foot affixed, and my wife drove me there in her minivan. I’m a big guy, about 6’ 3”, but I was able to maneuver myself and my unbendable leg into the passenger seat.

We saw the prosthetist, who attached the prosthetic foot, and cautioned me to bear only about 25% of my weight on it for now. Using my crutches, I did my best to comply with his instructions as we headed back to the car. My wife brought the car around to the pickup area while I waited, and I attempted to get in. No matter how hard I twisted or turned, there was no way that extra length of prosthesis was going to let me drag it into the car. What was I to do? I was stuck!

I waited with the door open and my prosthesis sticking out while my wife scurried back up to the prosthetist’s office for help. I was beginning to get a little irritated when I thought, “Imagine what this must look like to someone coming up to the hospital entrance. Here’s this guy with his cast and artificial foot sticking out, catching a few breezes.” I was chuckling to myself as my wife returned with the prostetist in tow. He removed the foot and gave me a small hex wrench with which I could reattach the foot when I got home.

The lesson I learned from this experience is that, if you look hard enough, you can find something to smile about in what might seem the most unpleasant situation.

Get back to work

I was fortunate enough to work for an employer who had a program that retained my job for me while I recovered. As soon as possible, I returned to work. This did a great deal in helping me feel useful and normal. The income didn't hurt either.

If you’re not employed, get back to doing whatever it was that kept you busy before: housework, crosswords, whittling, singing, or whatever.

Find ways to have fun

In addition to doing useful work, be sure to have some fun. There are some activities in which you may no longer be able to engage (water skiing, for example), but try to find others that you enjoy just as much in which you can engage. There may also be activities in which you used to engage that are still viable. Be sure to continue those.

Keep in touch with friends

If your situation is like mine, you had a lot of friends wishing you well when you were in the hospital recovering from your surgery. They sent nice cards and made pleasant phone calls, saying things like, “If there's anything I can do, let me know.” Now is the time to take them up on their offers. Call them up and invite them over to play cards or a board game, or just for coffee. Watch a ballgame together. Go to church. Meet at the movies. Find a way to continue the friendships that you had before your surgery.

Spend time with your family

During your recovery, you may have seen a lot of your family members. This may not have been under the best of circumstances. You may have been in pain, you may have been grieving, or they may have been stressed. Take some time now to spend with each of them as individuals, relating to them on a personal level now that you are both past the recovery period. This will give you an opportunity to rebuild the relationships that may have been strained during your recovery.

What does this all mean?

The lesson I learned from this experience is that losing a limb does not mean losing a lifestyle. I was able to continue doing many of the things I enjoyed doing before the amputation. Certainly, there were a few activities that were no longer available to me, or that I chose not to do, but I think the essential ingredient in recovering from amputation is a positive attitude. Combine that with a willingness to try doing things in a different way than you used to, and you can lead a very happy life.

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