Communicator - Volume 3 No. 2 -  April 2002

Dear Dee

The Communicator has established this regular feature to help you deal with the common, and sometimes uncommon, questions you may be asked as a support group leader. We hope that Dee's expert and insightful responses to the "model" question each issue will contain will enlarge your repertoire of tools for satisfying your members' informational and support needs.

. . . . Editor

By Dee Machlow

Dear Dee,

Today is the first anniversary of my amputation surgery and I'm really bummed out. It took a couple years after my injury before I decided to go ahead with the amputation. I thought all these feelings were behind me. What's wrong with me?

Bummed in Boise


Dear Bummed,

Well, first of all, let me tell you that nothing is "wrong" with you; you are very normal. The feelings that go with an amputation are intense and individual. In most cases it feels like a death in the family. Something near and dear is gone, not to return in this life.

It has been said that it takes two years just to start to get over a death of someone dear. In truth, we really never do "get over" the death of someone precious, nor do we truly ever get over the loss of part of our body. Fortunately, for most of us, the feelings of grief diminish over time. We move on and a new life develops. But our senses will often remind us of our loss:

- the flat sheet where a whole body once was; 

- the difficulty in finding a comfortable sleeping position;

- the inability to rub your feet or hands together;

- the "looks" and comments or questions from people;

- the odor from the prosthetic socket, liner, or suspension sleeve; and

- the artificial sounds from your artificial limb.

These changes at first can be highly annoying if not overwhelming. We may be constantly comparing ourselves to others or how we used to be. The grief can and, perhaps, should be intense in the beginning. After months, and finally years, pass, the nuisances of this life as an amputee may only bring up brief twinges of emotion. A brief twinge when we see shoes or clothes that just don't work well with this new body. An ache when we see someone move effortlessly on the dance floor, the ice skating rink, or in the gym. A sentimental sad thought when we realize that today is the tenth anniversary of our amputation. We usually don't go farther than a brief pain because we've learned that there is nothing to be accomplished by dwelling on it. And, truly, it really doesn't hurt that much after a while; it's just the way our new life is.

So Bummed, go ahead and have some down time on this first anniversary of the ablative procedure that has impacted every area of your life. Allow for some emotion on the second and third anniversary too. Let it out in whatever way works best for you; talking, crying, writing, praying, painting. The main thing with feelings is that they go away quicker and are easier on the body if they have a way of getting out. The worst thing to do is to stuff them inside indefinitely. They will still be there and they will ultimately give your body a hard time (ulcer, stroke, tumor, etc.) if you don't let them out.


Do you have a question you would like Dee to address? If so, we invite you to ask Dee directly at

Dee Malchow, MN, RN, is a nurse case manager who is self employed and specializes in the care of amputations. She experienced a right below knee amputation at age 19 from a boating accident.

Over the past 37 years she has come into close contact with over 2500 amputees through organized skiing and soccer, mission work in Sierra Leone, research for Seattle Foot, and her position as a Clinical Nurse Specialist at the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, a Level I Trauma Center. In 2001, she retired from Harborview after 34 years. Dee served as the facilitator for the weekly Harborview Amputee Support Group for 22 years and has taught several peer visitor training classes. She has written several related articles and is currently working on a book about the emotional impact of limb loss.

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Send address changes and membership requests to the Amputee Coalition, 900 East Hill Avenue, Suite 205, Knoxville, TN 37915-2566. This publication is partially supported by Grant No. US59/CCU41-4287-03 from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Its contents do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC. ©2000 by Amputee Coalition; all rights reserved. Articles may be reprinted with proper acknowledgements unless otherwise specified by author.