How Families Can Cope With Amputation

Few medical conditions are more traumatic for both the family and the patient than amputation.

Caregivers and the family need to adopt a specific approach to physically assisting the amputee, as well as raising their spirits.

Take Heed Of Your Doctor

It is important to get as much information from your doctor as possible. To implement an appropriate Caregiving plan you need to get a frank, unabridged prognosis. It is far better to know the full extent your loved one’s injury and the side-effects of the medication he/she is taking. Furthermore, it is wise to consult your doctor regards your proposed Caregiving strategy.

Coping with Emotions

Amputees often experience extreme emotions. They can at various times during the healing stage be melancholy, angry, helpless and disheartened.

They are also likely to feel victimised and torture themselves with often unarticulated questions and statements:

  • Why did this happen to me?
  • It’s not fair?
  • My plans for my career and retirement are ruined
  • I am a burden on my family.
  • I will never walk again.
  • People will think I am a freak.
  • I don’t want special attention and sympathy
  • I would rather be dead.

If the Caregiving plan does not address these emotions then there is every possibility that your loved one will suffer from severe clinical depression.

Your response must always be positive without ignoring the emotional suffering that he/she is experiencing.

You are also going to have to be very patient. Never say things like, “Pull yourself together,” or “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

Rather get your loved one to articulate their fears, then acknowledge them and gently assure them that none of these are true and that you and the Caregiver will help them overcome these perceptions. But never lie to them or give them false hope.

Also, it is critical that you understand that despite the amputation they are the same person in every other respect. Do not be condescending and talk down to them.

Finally, remember that your loved one is in essence grieving. If they have tearful moments, comfort them and tell them it is perfectly okay to cry.

Coping With Physical Challenges

Once again, while they’re still recuperating the first rule is to heed your doctor or physiotherapist’s advice. Never force the amputee to do anything that the healthcare professional does not approve of.

Encourage them to do whatever they can for themselves, but not to over-do it.

Don’t try to move your loved one or assist them to get out of bed on your own. Your professional Caregiver will be fully trained in such techniques and will ensure that he/she does not fall, thus worsening their physical health.

Treat bedsores immediately and aggressively. The amputees comfort is paramount and they don’t need any further complications and distress.

If your loved one needs assistance with sensitive personal hygiene they may feel highly embarrassed. Your role is to assure them that it is perfectly normal and that you do not feel less of them. Most times amputees prefer a Caregiver to attend to bed baths and toilet assistance as they are not family and can be viewed as a professional just doing her job.

Make sure that you loved one’s bed is firm and placed for easy access to a wheelchair. You may also need to remodel living areas and the bathroom to accommodate a wheelchair

Let your loved one interact with children, grandchildren and other family and friends, preferably in the living area not just in the bedroom.

Look After Yourself

Having a loved one with an amputation is very stressful and the more anxious you are the less effective you become in the caregiving process.

Firstly, do not blame yourself – nobody is to blame. Secondly, use the presence of a professional Caregiver as an opportunity to live your life outside of the healing environment. Thirdly, meet with your friends, go for coffee at your favourite restaurant or see a movie. Fourthly, if applicable, seek the support of your religious community or support groups.

Implementing these tips and working as a team with your doctor and Caregiver, your loved one’s recovery and mental outlook will vastly improve.

Anna-Marie Mortimer (RN)

BA Nursing Science, Practice Number: O53O972