Amputation is a permanent alteration to one’s body that can be extremely traumatic. Despite this truth, it is time that we stop labeling amputation as “failure.” I have heard too many stories of doctors doing everything medically possible to “save” a person’s limb even when the known outcome of such “saving” is a barely functional limb riddled with pain before ever giving an individual the option of amputation. This person’s limb may be “saved” in the sense that they get to keep their biological parts, but their life can be fraught with limitations (and sometimes countless surgeries).
I’m not saying that life as an amputee is all sunshine & rainbows, and there are definitely aspects of it that are very hard both physically and emotionally, I just think we need to reframe the conversation. Instead of looking at amputation as a last resort (aka doctors have “failed”), we need to look at it as a viable option that should be objectively presented to those who are having to make such a tough decision.
My friend Alina went through years of trying to save her limb, only to rediscover all she was capable of doing after she amputated her foot (you can read more about her story here). I knew a few guys at Walter Reed who went through years of limb salvage and were only able to walk with the assistance of a cane. They ultimately chose amputation and both were back up and running within a few months.
My parents, too, had to make a difficult choice when I was a baby. I had a perfect little left foot with 5 healthy toes, and they could have chosen years of lengthening surgeries and bracing in order for me to keep my biological left leg (to read more about this decision, check out the interview I did with my mom at this link). Lucky for me, my parents understood that amputating at a young age would enable me to grow up without knowing any different, without the years of painful surgeries, and with the ability to climb trees, play sports, and keep up with my friends on the playground. This was the right decision for me (although lengthening is right for others), so I’m grateful to my parents for being able to see through the initial shock of cutting off part of my body in order to give me the opportunity to be as functional as I am today. Today I run, bike, swim, have a husband and 3 loving cats, work as a disability rights attorney, and serve as an ambassador and occasionally model for Skirt Sports. Did amputation equal failure in my case? I’d like to think not…
Is success after amputation everyone’s story? Of course not. Should individuals faced with this decision be provided all options with the good, bad, and ugly facts of each option presented in an honest and objective manner? Absolutely. Nothing is guaranteed, but individuals making this decision should get all options without any negative opinions from doctors and medical providers cast onto any one specific choice, which is what classifying amputation as failure does. Thus, we must start thinking of amputation as an option that could potentially present an individual with a good functional outcome rather than as a failure.