I often get asked this simple question – what things would I tell to new amputees. Since I’ve been an amputee my whole life, I think I can say that I have some knowledge of how to live as an amputee.
Boiled down to five simple things, this is what I’d say:
1) Take a deep breath. It will be okay.
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Take the time to let your body heal, really heal, and take it one day at a time. Don’t pile the fear and expectation for the rest of your life in a big heap on yourself today. Tomorrow will come. Today needs to be about healing. Look around your hospital bed and see the people who will be there as you face tomorrow and the next day. Because they will be there. The people who love you will help you through this thing, as long as you will let them.
2) You might not realize it yet, but there are a lot people rooting for you – maybe some you don’t even know. You know how jazzed up people get when there is an amputee soldier who needs encouragement? That’s your gift, too. Every amputee worldwide and every able bodied person who has a heart, is hoping and praying for you right now. Close your eyes and feel our support. If you are going to let anything weigh you down, let it be the blanket of love and encouragement that your supporters are weaving today.
3) This life with one less limb isn’t so bad.
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Even if you’ve lost two, don’t lose heart. There are many stories in the news about the amazing developments in the prosthetic world. When you’re ready, the life-restoring prosthetics are there.
4) You have a lot of support out there, from people who truly understand, if you want it.
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I found amazing answers and encouragement from websites like Wiggle Your Toes and Empowering Amputees. The Amputee Coalition of America is a great resource for answers you and your loved ones have. Also, their Facebook page is a community of amputees from around the world who ask each other questions and give honest, heartfelt answers. When you’re struggling, someone there will understand. When you’re confused, someone there will say, “I’ve been there. Here’s what helped.” Don’t forget to reach out, even if it’s just anonymously at first. You may be surprised how many people do understand exactly how you’re feeling.
5) This is your experience, and your experience alone. Just because other amputees climb Mt. Everest, doesn’t mean that it has to be your goal. Just because some amputees run marathons, doesn’t mean you have to. Your life is your own. Your injury is unique. If you need a fitness goal to keep you motivated, talk to your physical therapist and come up with something that fits you. But you don’t have anything to prove to the rest of us. Don’t let that pressure weigh you down. Yes, there are endless activities available to amputees today. Organizations like The Challenged Athletes Foundation can help you get back to any activity you might want to try. But every goal should be about what you want, not about what you believe others think you should do.
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Your main goal should be to get back to life. You know, the part of life that is about making memories with the people you love, and doing the things that make you happy? Whatever it takes to get you there, is perfect. It might mean walking unassisted on a prosthetic leg by Labor Day. Or it might mean getting used to a comfortable pair of crutches, or a wheelchair. But never forget what really matters. You’re alive. You’re surrounded by people who love you. The world is cheering for you. As long as my fellow amputees and I are around, we will be encouraging you, and you will never be alone.