"Amputation" is a frightening word. Many people find the instant images presented in their minds as unpleasant and uncomfortable. When it is a medical treatment possibility for you… it is even more fearful. A person may anticipate a great amount of pain and fear that they will forever appear disfigured.
There are obviously many levels of amputation - we usually think of the more obvious such as arms and legs, particularly as a military casualty.
But much more common are the the amputations involving a person's digits - the fingers and toes. These amputations come about from the accidents of everyday activities. Working with a saw, putting up a fence post, or - even - petting a dog that is a little on edge. It happens.
While initially thought of as a scary and life-altering incident, amputations of the digits are actually quite common and people get back to living their life at just about the same speed as before. Your body and mind are capable of working together so that you'll develop new, slightly different movements to compensate for the new biological logistics.
In situations where we are removing digits such as fingers, hand surgeons perform an operation called 'ray amputations'. In a finger example, ray amputations are the removal of an entire finger along with the corresponding metacarpal bones in the hand. They are same-day surgeries with the patient going home with a bulky soft dressing.
The recoveries can vary, but light use of the hand is almost immediate. Once healed, patients work with hand therapists to work on strength of the hand and range of motion. The exercise can help reduce any swelling present as well.
Cosmetically, it's not too bad either. Especially when the amputation involves a border digit such as the pointer finger or the pinky. The amputation can be performed so that it takes several looks to notice that a digit is missing. The middle digits are a little tougher, but the gap created can be closed so that the cosmetics and functionality are positive.
Also, even for people who work with their hands, you're back at work fairly quickly. I once performed a ray amputation on an office secretary who was back at work in a few weeks, and she barely lost a few words per minute typing. A good example of how the brain and body worked together to overcome the change.
So if you or someone you know is presented with a situation where they may lose a digit due to an accident, stay positive with them and help them know that it's not the end of the world. They'll be fine, functional, and back to normal in no time.
- Dr. Ostrowski