How to Deal with Sudden Limb Loss 

Wednesday, 19 February 2020 12:16

When you are coping with the sudden loss of a limb, the physical aspect is challenging enough. Pain, discomfort, and perhaps uncertainty about your health occupy a lot of space in your mind. But, often, it is the emotional and psychological struggle that is even more difficult to deal with. There is a grieving process, and it looks different for everyone. What should you know, and how can you take steps to move through this period?

About 30 percent of people who lose a limb experience depression and/or anxiety. When limb loss is sudden (e.g. the result of trauma), those figures can increase because there is little or no chance to prepare. Suddenly, your life has changed. It is common to experience depression. Symptoms include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or worthlessness
  • Flat emotions (you may feel numb)
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Sleeplessness or excessive sleepiness 
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities 
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • Irritability 
  • Restlessness 
  • Excessive worrying 
  • Agitation 
  • Tense muscles 
  • Fear
  • Panic attacks

These symptoms are frightening, frustrating, and stressful. Do not ignore them, and do not feel ashamed or embarrassed. Losing a limb is one of the most difficult experiences one can deal with, and you cannot just “shake off” depression and anxiety. These are very real conditions, and getting help is the ultimate sign of strength.

Working Through Depression and Anxiety After Sudden Limb Loss

Taking care of yourself physically is essential, and it will help you deal with emotional and psychological issues as well. Be sure to:

  • Follow your medical team’s instructions for care. When you are coping with depression and/or anxiety, taking care of your body is difficult. Try, and if you have a good support network, ask trusted friends/family members to help. Take your medication, go to your appointments, do any physical therapy “homework” you are given, etc. 
  • Eat well. Again, depression and anxiety make this hard, but food can contribute to negative feelings and emotions - and they can also help alleviate them. Try to avoid sugary, fatty, salty foods with little health value. Now is really the time to fuel yourself with quality nutrition. 
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages, which are depressants. 
  • Do physical activities that do not cause you pain. Ask your doctor and/or physical therapists for recommendations. Swimming, for example, is wonderful because it does not put pressure on your body, and you can accommodate your lost limb. 
  • Breathe. Deep breathing helps relax your muscles and decrease pain. It also relaxes and focuses your mind. 

Take time to care for your emotional, mental, and spiritual needs as well:

  • Recognize you are not to blame. This is not your fault, and while it is natural to feel anger, it is not productive in the long-term. 
  • Start a journal. Studies show that writing down your thoughts and feelings can relieve symptoms of depression.
  • Increase social contact with friends and family. At first, it takes effort but starts small. Invite a buddy over for a movie. Make dinner with your partner, parent, or child. Have a neighbor come by for a glass of lemonade. It doesn’t have to be for long, and it doesn’t have to be intensive. Surround yourself with people you don’t have to work to be around - the kind of people who will just sit with you if you don’t feel like talking.
  • Be clear about what you need and what you do not. You may need help with certain tasks but not others. You may want to talk, or you may want to just rest. You may not want people to hover, or you may want your best friend to ask, “Are you ok? What can I do?” every day. It is up to you. Just make sure your support system knows. They can’t read your mind, and this is new for them too.
  • If you need something, ask.
  • If you feel sad, angry, frustrated, or scared, don’t try to talk yourself out of it. Acknowledge those feelings. This is the only way to work through them. 
  • Contact the Amputee Coalition to find a support group near you or to join an online group. It is helpful to talk to people who are experiencing limb loss too.
  • Seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed. A therapist or counselor can help you work through your feelings and learn how to replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk.
  • Do not make any big decisions as you are recovering from sudden limb loss and experiencing depression. 
  • Reach out to your worship community for support. You can speak to your pastor/priest/rabbi/imam/spiritual leader, volunteer your time, or simply attend services.

Physical recovery is often the easy part - or at least the easier part - when you are dealing with limb loss. Coping with the loss, grieving, and adjusting is hard work. You are capable. You are strong. You can get through this and while your life may look different, it can still be active, fulfilling, and happy. When you are preparing to consider an artificial limb, contact Orthopedic Appliance Company.