Quality Life Without a Limb
“CLIMBER is back on top.” So declared one newspaper when Tom Whittaker reached the top of Mount Everest. Many have ascended that lofty peak before, but Tom Whittaker was the first amputee to do so! Whittaker lost his foot in a traffic accident. But an artificial foot, a prosthesis, made it possible for him to resume his sport. Similar devices are allowing thousands of other amputees to enjoy a high quality of life. In fact, it is no longer unusual to see amputees sprinting, playing basketball, or riding bicycles.
Early versions of artificial legs and hands were crude wooden pegs and iron hooks. But improvements came as wars left thousands mutilated. Not surprisingly, it is an army surgeon—16th-century Frenchman Ambroise Paré—who is credited with introducing the first generation of true prostheses. Today’s prosthetic devices utilize hydraulics, sophisticated knee joints, flexible carbon-fiber feet, silicone, plastics, and other high-tech products that enable many people to walk and move more naturally and comfortably than was ever dreamed possible. Advances in microelectronics allow artificial arms and hands to be manipulated more naturally. Prostheses have also improved in appearance. Modern artificial limbs incorporate fingers and toes, and some even appear to have veins. In fact, a female model who lost a leg because of cancer was fitted with a prosthesis so natural looking that she was able to continue her modeling career.
Mental Attitude Is Important
Nevertheless, mental-health expert Ellen Winchell cautions: “When you undergo a personal crisis such as amputation, you are profoundly challenged on every plane of your being—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.” Consider William, who lost a leg to gangrene following an injury. He says: “One of the keys to overcoming any challenge in life is our mental attitude. I have never viewed my disability as a liability. Instead, I have kept a positive outlook regarding any setbacks that I have had since my accident.” Ellen Winchell, herself an amputee, concurs, saying that people with a positive outlook are likely to adjust better to limb loss than pessimistic people. As the Bible says, “a heart that is joyful does good as a curer.”—Proverbs 17:22.
Awake! spoke with a number of Christians who have adapted well to losing a limb. Most suggested that amputees avoid being overly self-conscious or secretive about their disabilities. “It would bother me more if others had the feeling that this was one of those forbidden subjects,” said Dell, who lost his left leg below the knee. “To me, that just makes everyone uneasy.” Some experts recommend that if your right hand is missing and you are introduced to someone, you should go ahead and initiate a handshake with your left hand. And if someone inquires about your prosthesis, tell him about it. Your being at ease helps the other person to relax. Usually, the conversation will soon drift to other topics.
There is “a time to laugh.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4b) One woman who lost a hand says: ‘Most of all, keep your sense of humor alive! We must always remember that our attitude about ourselves largely determines the world’s attitude toward us.’
“A Time to Weep”
After losing his leg, Dell initially said to himself, “This is it. My life is over.” Florindo and Floriano both lost limbs to land mines in Angola. Florindo says that he cried for three days and nights. Floriano similarly had a battle with his emotions. “I was only 25,” he writes. “One day I could do everything, and the next day I couldn’t even stand up. I was depressed and discouraged.”
There is “a time to weep.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4a) And it is only natural to go through a period of grieving when you have suffered a serious loss. (Compare Judges 11:37; Ecclesiastes 7:1-3.) “The way out of grieving is by going through it,” writes Ellen Winchell. Expressing one’s feelings to an empathetic listener is often quite helpful. (Proverbs 12:25) But grieving does not go on forever. Some individuals may temporarily become more volatile emotionally, critical, anxious, or withdrawn after the trauma of limb loss. However, these feelings usually subside. If they do not, clinical depression may have set in—a malady generally requiring medical intervention. Family members and friends should be alert to any signs that their loved one is in need of such help.*
W. Mitchell, who is paralyzed in both legs, writes: “We all need people who care. Almost anything can be borne if one feels surrounded by a network of friends and family, whereas a minor setback can derail a person who is trying to muscle through life alone. And friendships don’t just happen, they must be actively started and actively maintained, or they wither.”—Compare Proverbs 18:24.
Quality Living, Without a Limb
In spite of their disability, many with missing limbs lead quality lives. Russell, for example, was born with only the top part of his left leg. At 78 years of age, he still exercises regularly and lives a full life, although now he uses a walking stick. Cheerful by nature, Russell confessed that his long-standing nickname is Happy.
Douglas, who lost a leg in World War II, walks with the aid of a modern prosthesis. As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he has enjoyed serving as a regular pioneer, a full-time evangelizer, for six years. And do you recall Dell, who thought that his life was over when he lost his leg? He too lives a satisfying life as a pioneer, and he is able to support himself.
How, though, do victims of limb loss fare in poor or war-torn lands? Says the World Health Organization: “The reality today is that only a small percentage of people with disabilities get assistance.” Many have to rely on canes and crude crutches to get around. Nonetheless, sometimes help is available. Floriano and Florindo, the Angolan land-mine victims, both obtained prostheses through the International Red Cross and the Swiss government. Floriano happily serves as a ministerial servant in the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Florindo serves as an elder and full-time evangelizer.
An association that cares for the disabled puts it well when it states: “The only handicapped people are those who have lost heart!” Interestingly, the Bible has played a big role in giving disabled ones heart. “Learning Bible truth while I was recovering helped me tremendously,” says Dell. Similarly, Russell says: “My Bible-based hope has always helped me through difficulties.” Just what hope does the Bible hold out for disabled ones?
See the article “How to Help Depressed Ones Regain Joy,” in the March 15, 1990, issue of The Watchtower.
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Phantom limb sensation refers to the very real feeling that the missing limb is still present. It is the normal feeling that amputees have after surgery, and it is so real that a booklet for amputees says: “Be aware of phantom sensation when getting out of a bed or chair without your prosthesis. Always look down to remind yourself that your foot is absent.” One patient who had lost both her legs went to stand up to shake her doctor’s hand but, instead, fell on the floor!
Another problem is phantom limb pain. This is the actual pain that is perceived as coming from the removed limb. The intensity, type, and duration of phantom pain varies from person to person. Happily, both phantom sensation and phantom pain usually decrease with time.
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Modern prostheses make life much more enjoyable for many disabled people
Photo courtesy of RGP Prosthetics
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Grieving is a normal reaction to serious loss
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Many disabled people enjoy a quality life