I have been a double above-the-knee amputee for about 8 years as the result of an IED in Afghanistan. The blast immediately amputated my left foot, but the result of the injury was bilateral above-the-knee amputations within two hours of the blast. I was evacuated to an airbase where an orthopedic surgeon was standing by, ready to complete the surgery.

My wife can tell you that one of the first things she did after receiving the news of my injuries was to search the internet for information on amputees. She was trying to prepare herself and quickly get up to speed on how she could help me. There wasn’t much information available at the time, and upon her arrival at Walter Reed Army Medical Center she was given less-than-encouraging information about the general rehabilitation prospects of a bilateral above-the-knee amputee.

Now, eight years later and unfortunately, many amputees later, there are multiple blurbs here and there with personal accounts of rehabilitation and physical therapy, or blogs that have been created to keep friends and family up to date on an injured soldier’s life. When I search the Internet, as I still do for useful tips and information that I can use to make my own prosthetic usage easier, more comfortable, or more functional, the basic information is still sparse.

I work 12-hour shifts as an emergency medicine physician’s assistant in my county hospital’s main emergency room that has 80-90 patient beds, so needless to say, I rely heavily on my prostheses on a daily basis. On any given work day, I am using my prostheses around 16 hours at a time.

Much to my dismay, in order to use prostheses, I have become dependent on technology and others to live my life. I have been extremely fortunate, though. Through trial and error, pure spite, and fantastic resources, I have learned the basics about prostheses and a few tricks that have allowed me to use them comfortably on a daily basis. I have also been witness to some horrible prostheses and met amputees who feel defeated and utterly discouraged.

Vietnam veteran John Loosen
Vietnam veteran John Loosen, who lost a leg in Vietnam, shows off a new X2 prosthetic knee during a photo opportunity with his physical therapist Lindsay Martin, right, Wednesday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Loosen is the first Vietnam Veteran to get this new technology in prosthetics. (Courtesy: Stripes)

Prosthetic usage is unnatural. Our bodies were not designed to wear prostheses, which makes them a drastic change from our baseline function and comfort level. But a prosthesis should never be painful, nor should they cause pain as you use them. As an amputee, we have to be able to differentiate between discomfort and pain. Given time and repetition, someone can become accustomed to a discomfort, making it no longer uncomfortable, but rather a new normal. Pain, on the other hand, means something is wrong. If pain is ignored, it can lead to injury, which will ultimately set your rehabilitation back.

I don’t feel that we as a medical community do a great job of giving information to new amputees in order to set them up for success. The lack of information might be an oversight, or due to a lack of knowledge, or something much more malicious. I was told by a physician in charge of an unnamed federal prosthetic department that I should get a motorized wheelchair rather than continuing to try and walk all day, everyday. His medical assessment was that I could never do it, and in fact would be killing myself slowly by overusing my body.

He used an eloquent analogy that I still remember today: