Prosthetic Categories

Elective Amputation: Navigating the Emotions and Making the Decision

    It's part of the conversation now—elective amputation surgery. And you’ve been thinking about it for some time or you're in the process of doing your homework. Taking the next step and deciding to go through with an amputation is undoubtedly an emotional one. In this article, we can only begin to skim the surface on elective amputation.

    Elective amputation is an emotional and difficult decision.

    The decision to amputate can either be medically necessary or matter of improved function and quality of life. This is a tough emotional decision, and considering the probability that you either are in discomfort or under heavy medication from infection makes it all the more critical.

    Your decision to amputate may boil down to either medical necessity (i.e., to prevent the spread of an infection) or improving quality of life. Patients who are confronted with the former often— along with their physicians—choose to amputate immediately. Their decision—driven by the need to protect the rest of the body from the infection—is usually swift. However, for those whom amputation is a matter of improving quality of life, the decision can drag on for years.  

    Deciding whether to save or amputate a limb comes with a flood of emotions and questions, and there is no doubt that some will be more challenging than others. 

    If this is you, you can start your process by talking to your prosthetist. Ask him or her to present the entire picture to you, such as what level of functionality can you expect if you choose to save your limb, what level of pain can you expect after the surgery if you decide to amputate, and what your "new normal" will look like if you choose to save your limb vs. post-amputation. 

    You can also call Amputee Coalition and ask to speak to a Peer Visitor. They will then match you with someone whose background and lifestyle closely matches yours. This way, you can talk to someone who has gone through almost the same experiences as you.

    Not the Same for Everyone

    However, it’s also important to consider how you perceive “normal” can be different from how another person defines it. So, listen to your prosthetist and peer visitor and spend as much time in research as you want. Then collate all this information and try to see which situation is better for you. 

    Also, take into account the fact that the grieving process can start even before you decide to amputate your limb. This can make the decision process difficult. However, the great thing about talking to your prosthetist or a peer visitor is that it sets you up for realistic expectations. When you have an idea of what to expect and what your options are post-amputation, the emotional part of the healing process will be a bit easier. In reality, the emotional healing and acceptance process can take upwards of 5 years on average.

    Lastly, focus on the long-term benefits—not the short-term—of choosing to amputate vs. saving a limb. The path towards amputation is not going to be easy, but it’s undoubtedly a well-traveled path. So, you will never be alone on your journey to adapt to your new lifestyle. Many amputees quickly adapt to their new normal. Many of them also find that they can do a lot of things they did and enjoyed before amputation, such as working out and participating in sports.  

    Did you have the option to elect to amputate? What was your process like? Please share your experience with us in the comments section below.