If you’re getting a foot amputation due to diabetes, you probably have a lot of questions, especially about what will happen after the operation. Some of the things you can count on in the days, weeks, and months after surgery: medicines to fight pain and infection, help and advice on caring for your leg, and rehab with your new, artificial foot.
It’s natural to feel scared or worried, but you won’t be alone in your recovery. You’ll work with a care team including your surgeon, your diabetes doctor, experts in artificial limbs, physical therapists, and others. They’re going to help you heal from surgery and get back to the things you love as quickly as possible.
In the Hospital
After your surgery, you’ll go to a recovery room. There, someone will monitor your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing. When those vital signs return to normal, you’ll move to your hospital room, where you can expect:
- Medical care, such as changing wound dressings and medicine for pain
- Physical therapy, such as gentle stretching and special exercises
- Information about your prosthetic, or artificial foot
Your First Days at Home
If the hospital sends you home after a few days, you’re off to a good start. That means your care team thinks you’re healing well and can take the lead on caring for yourself. To continue your progress, follow all your doctor’s instructions on bathing, activity, physical therapy, and caring for your wound.
If you feel pain, don’t reach for whatever’s in your medicine cabinet. Only take what your doctor recommends because some pain medicines, even basic aspirin, can raise your chances for bleeding.
Call your surgeon if you have any new symptoms, such as redness, swelling, bleeding, pain that gets worse, or numbness or tingling in the rest of your leg. Any one of these signs may be normal, but in some cases, they mean you need medical care right away.
Need Inpatient Rehab?
Some people don’t go straight from the hospital to their homes after an amputation. Those who can’t get around well after surgery, or who have a few health problems, may stay in a rehabilitation, or rehab, facility instead. During rehab, your team may focus on:
- Wound healing
- Building your strength
- Preparing your leg for your prosthetic, or artificial foot
- Helping you get around on your own, with or without an artificial foot
- Teaching you how to care for your leg and your prosthetic
Ongoing Recovery: Body and Mind
Rehab will be an important part of your recovery after a foot amputation, even if you don’t go to a facility straight from the hospital. Rehab may be inpatient or outpatient, or you may get home care.
If you plan to use an artificial foot, rehab will include getting it properly fitted, learning to walk on it, and learning how to care for both your limb and the prosthetic. If your leg gets swollen, you may have a temporary prosthetic within the first 3 months of your amputation until it gets better. You may not get your permanent one for 6 to 12 months.
Another important part of your rehab may be taking care of your mental health. Losing a foot can take an emotional toll on anyone. After amputation, it’s common for people to have:
- Suicidal feelings
Talk to your care team about how you feel after your surgery. They can help you find counseling resources, like support groups, or even medication that can make you feel better.
Any surgery comes with risks, such as infection or blood clots. A foot amputation can lead to:
- Nerve pain
- Phantom foot pain (You think you feel pain in the foot that is no longer there.)
- Bone spurs at the end of your leg
You may need more surgery to treat these issues, but they may also be minor. Some people can get pain relief without medication. Ask your doctor if you might feel better with massage, acupuncture, using heat or cold, or changing how your artificial foot fits.
Questions for Your Doctor
Before your surgery, write down any questions you have for your doctor, then bring them to your appointment. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- How long will I stay in the hospital?
- What happens if I have a hard time handling the loss of my foot?
- Will I be getting an artificial limb? If not, why?
- What can I do to avoid another amputation?
- How much will it cost?
- When can I return to work after surgery?
- Is there a support group that might help me?