LAST week was Amputee Awareness Week and organisations like the Ballarat Amputee Group (BAG) see Amputee Awareness Week as a reminder of the struggles and triumphs of amputees everywhere.
Limb loss is not the end of the world but the beginning of a new life…admittedly one that is strange and challenging to start with. It’s estimated there are about 35,000 amputees in Australia ranging from partial to full limb loss. Bodies like BAG offer help and advice for those facing amputation. A volunteer peer group program co-ordinated by Ballarat Health Services is a self-help service BAG supports. BAG members are trained and accredited for the counselling service and matched with people with, or facing, similar limb loss. As well as local amputee self-help groups like BAG there are national bodies like Limbs4Life which also offer a wide range of services. Amputees come from many different circumstances cardio vascular disease, diabetes, cancer and road accidents are some reasons for limb loss most people are familiar with. Historically the greatest numbers of amputees have resulted from war. They’re still coming from armed conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq.
The development of artificial limbs was driven and is still driven by casualties of war.
With the innovations in prosthetics, artificial limbs are getting more amputees back to a normal life and back into work. BAG wants to celebrate the achievements of amputees, those who have regained their independence and contribute to their communities. As well as a self-help group, BAG is a good starting point for social contact. All arewelcome to BAG meetings. Alan Buchanan became an amputee in 1972 after a motorcycle accident. His philosophy is that it was ‘no-one’s fault, it’s just the way it is.’
Mr Buchanan said he had his ups and downs including phantom pains. “It’s an ache and I get excruciating pain. I think it’s the nerve endings reacting to nothing there,” he said. “Sometimes I feel an itch and I go to scratch my toes with my other foot and hang on, my toes aren’t there.
“It’s also remembering that you haven’t got a leg on, for the first two years I used to fall out of showers. I’d hold to the rail but then I’d go to walk out and there’s no leg there and next thing flat on my face.”
Alma, who has a below the knee amputation added, “I feel like my toes are all squashed in my shoe or it’s rubbing on my heel – it drives you crazy.” Joan also has an amputation below the knee and said the phantom pains are the worst part. “It just aches and there is nothing you can do. I was sitting reading one day and I would swear, I bent down to release my shoe because I thought it was too tight but there was nothing in it,” she said.
“I have acupuncture for the pain and it has really worked. I don’t care if its mind over matter, if it works it works. It hasn’t stopped the pain but made it a lot easier to bear. You at least get sleep.”
Sleep is also a problem for Alan, as is pain management. “I prefer to stay away from drugs (pain relief). I know people who have been a victim to them so I think to myself it will go (the pain) so I won’t take drugs to get rid of it,” he said. “So long as I can get to sleep I’m happy. The pain wakes you up a couple of times but I think it’s a combat with sorts of drugs – sleeping pill or a pain killer – find out what’s more addictive.”
The trio belongs to BAG and go and speak to people who may have an amputation coming up and they want to ask questions. “I suppose we are experienced. We’ve been through it.” Alan said. “I think its how you look at it and my train of thought is that’s the way it happens. What could have happened if I didn’t lose my leg? I was running wild; you sort of look at it as another life experience, that’s the only way to look at it.” Joan’s advice is not to stop doing things because you only have one leg. “I keep fit with the bike club –I couldn’t live without the bike club,” she said. “Not too much changes, once you put your mind to it, we drive cars, I could still dance, up to a few years back,” Allan added. “I think you really need to speak to another amputee if you are waiting or have just been done.”
Contacts: BAG Pres. John McGregor 0412611028. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or search Facebook or the web.