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As much joy as there is to be found on the open road and the camaraderie of the biker community, it has to be acknowledged that riding a motorcycle can have its hazards and that when things do go wrong while you are riding there is a much greater chance that you are going to suffer a severe injury than you would face riding in a car or truck.

Being closely associated with the biker community here in Florida and being a personal injury attorney means that unfortunately, I see more than my share of people who have lost limbs in motorcycle accidents. Most, I’m proud to say, adjust well, given time, and serve to inspire me in my work on their behalf.

I won’t pretend to know what these brothers and sisters go through, but from the time I have spent with them, I know that it can be an ordeal very akin to losing a loved one. After all, with a death, people may feel as if a part of them is gone. When they lose an arm or leg they literally have lost a piece of themselves and they must go through the physical adjustments, of the loss, as well as dealing with the emotional trauma.
In the interest and hope of helping them and those around them a little, I offer this short primer on dealing with the loss of a limb.

Cycle of Grief

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, MD, says that most amputees will go through the same cycle of grief that we have become familiar with;

  • Denial and isolation: “I can’t believe this is happening.”
  • Anger: “Why me?” “I can’t stand this.”
  • Bargaining: “If I do this, will I get well?”
  • Depression: “What’s the use?”
  • Acceptance: “Nothing I can do about it. I may as well make the best of it.”

And warns that the cycle does not flow smoothly for everyone. She said, “Emotional recovery is the same as physical recovery; it is based on one’s own timetable.”

Psychological Barriers

In a recent article appearing in the Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics, Malcolm MacLachlan, PhD and Deirdre Desmond, BA (Mod) noted that people who have suffered traumatic injuries struggle with many of the same issues as those diagnosed with PTSD, namely hopelessness, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation being common barriers to psychological adjustment and rehabilitation efforts.

How You Can Help

For family and friends, helping a new amputee can be difficult. On the one hand, you want to keep the lines of communication open in both directions; sharing your own fears and insecurities, as the victim can handle them and at the same time allowing them to express their feelings without guilt or condemnation, but you don’t want to overburden them with unnecessary stress.

What you don’t want to do is empower their disability. In the words of Kevin Carroll, MS, CP, FAAOP: “Enabling the patient by saying, ‘Oh, poor baby, you lost your leg. Let me do that for you,’ will only prolong recovery time.” What you do want to do is empathize with them, but at the same time let them know that you have a high level of expectation for them and every confidence that they can and will meet those expectations. Let them know that, yes, things are going to be different, in some ways, but that there is no reason that they can’t still live a full life, do the things that they love and are still just as much a man/woman as they ever were.