After an amputation, you could be left uncertain about how to go about life. Here are answers to some of the frequently asked questions from amputees
For any new amputee, the event of losing a limb is in itself a very traumatic experience. It immediately raises hundreds of questions and it’s easy to be overwhelmed with uncertainty during this difficult time. With this in mind we would like to answer a few of the most common queries:
How soon can I get a prosthesis and start walking?
A million-dollar question, and the one I get asked before I even introduce myself. It’s also the one question with no definite answer. Generally, rehabilitation after an amputation is best regarded as a marathon and not a sprint. If patients are in overall good health and are generally fit, a prosthesis can be fitted within three to four weeks after the amputation.
Thereafter, a few days of standing and shuffling follows before patients start taking assisted steps between the parallel bars and crutches. It is best to tackle the first phase of rehabilitation with a strong interdisciplinary team behind you. Some patients are able to walk confidently almost immediately.
Will the prosthesis allow me to do the things I used to before the amputation?
You should be able to get back to a normal functional level within a few months of rehabilitation. Your overall wellbeing plays an important role in how active you will be with a prosthesis. From a prosthetist’s point of view, I will always try to supply you with components that will match your pre-amputation functional level, so there should be no reason why you can’t get back to driving a car, gardening or playing a sport.
Does it hurt to wear a prosthesis?
No. It should not hurt. The first and most important part of prosthetic fitting is socket comfort – and this should be the main priority of any prosthetist. A comfortable socket provides the foundation of successful prosthetic rehabilitation; to get the perfect fit may take a few attempts. You will probably have to make multiple visits, especially in the early phases of rehabilitation, to attain a comfortable socket fit and correct.
How often will the prosthesis need to be replaced?
Depending on your age, physical health and activity level, your prosthesis can last anywhere from a few months to several years. The initial stages of rehabilitation bring many changes to your residual limb, accompanied by weight fluctuations, muscle atrophy or growth and swelling, so the socket might need to be replaced more often. In general, taking good care of your prosthesis will help it last as long as possible.
How much will it cost?
It’s important to realise that the cost consists of manufacturing cost and components combined. A below-knee prosthesis, for example, could cost anything between R35 000 and R180 000. Expensive advanced components usually make life a little easier but they don’t guarantee successful rehab. A Toyota will get you to the same place as a Merc but if you want to bundu-bash or race, you might need a more expensive 4×4 or sports car!
Cost should not affect the quality, however – only the function. You can always upgrade to more expensive, or more functional, components at a later stage. Do discuss this candidly with your practitioner. He is likely to work with you according to your budget to get you mobile again.
Heinrich Grimsehl is a prosthetist in private practice and a member of the South African Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (SAOPA). email: email@example.com