No matter what the cause, limb loss is a significant event in someone’s life. It may well be the most difficult or traumatic experience they face. And then, they are faced with the long, often trying process of adjusting to a new normal. It can also be trying, in very different ways, for those around them. How can you support someone who has lost a limb?
5 Tips for Supporting Someone Who Has Suffered a Lost Limb
1. Educate Yourself
Limb loss is a life-changing event. For many people, life gets even better! For example, people who elect to have limbs amputated to alleviate debilitating pain or prevent worsening medical conditions, often feel that it’s relief to move on. Others come to accept their limb loss, pursue their favorite activities, and try new ones as they navigate a new normal. Regardless, limb loss is always an adjustment. Educate yourself on what that looks like for them. This is the best way to really support someone.
2. Know What NOT To Say
Finding the right words to say to someone who has lost a limb can be difficult, especially at first. While you can stay on the right track by ensuring you speak with respect, you can also avoid potential emotional and psychological obstacles by knowing what not to say. This includes:
- “You’re such an inspiration.” This can be perceived as patronizing. Limb loss is a significant struggle, and people are at all different stages of their journey. They may not feel like much of an inspiration or they may feel like it’s not their job to inspire you! They may also feel like you're being condescending.
- “So… what happened?” If you’re a loved one, you will know. If this is someone you are meeting in a casual manner, then it is none of your business!
- “You can’t do that!” Well… sometimes, they can, in fact, do whatever activity is in question. And if they can’t, they may be working hard with their physical therapist or other medical experts to work on building that skill and capacity. It’s not up to you to decide what they can and cannot do.
- “I know someone who lost an arm/leg. I understand what you’re going through.” No, no you don’t! If you have lost a limb yourself, then you have a very good idea. But you never know the full extent of someone’s struggle, their progress along their journey, and their thoughts and emotions.
- “Let me do that for you.” As a person adjusts to their limb loss and/or new prosthetic, there may be tasks that they have difficulty with. For now. Don’t step in every time they struggle. This is part of the process, as well as an important part of re-learning how to complete certain tasks and building confidence.
Of course, you will talk differently to a loved one versus a casual or new acquaintance. But generally, don’t minimize their experience, don’t offer medical advice (unless you are a doctor trained in limb loss and they ask!), and don’t confuse curiosity with concern.
3. Realize That This Is a Process
People don’t recover, accept, and move on from limb loss overnight. It takes time - and often, the journey is not linear. They may feel depressed one day, ok the next, great the next, and depressed the next. They may feel all of this, and much more, in a single day… in a single hour! There are ups and downs, and you cannot expect someone to deal with limb loss the way you think they should. You cannot rush the process or their progress.
4. Pay Attention to Your Own Feelings
If you are seeing a loved one go through limb loss, it is difficult. No, it’s not the same kind of difficult - not by any means. But it can be challenging to handle your emotions, questions, concerns, worries, and frustrations while being supportive of them. It’s hard! Remember that and recognize that you might make missteps, you might say the wrong words, and you might feel stressed or even angry at times. That is normal.
Be sure to get the support you need too. Don’t put this burden on your loved one; instead, seek help from a counselor or support group. This will better equip you to help your loved one and maintain your own mental health and strength.
5. Have Resources On Hand
Neither you nor the person who has lost a limb is in this alone. Isolating yourself is sure to make everything more difficult and contribute to negative feelings and emotions.
The good news is that there is support out there to help. Here is a great list of resources curated by the Hanger Clinic. The Orthopedic Appliance Company team is also happy to answer questions that you and your loved one have about limb loss and prosthetics. Please do not hesitate to contact us.
To support someone who has lost a limb, think about how you would like to be treated. And then think about how they would like to be treated. If you’re not sure, ask. We would be happy to answer any questions you have at Orthopedic Appliance Company.