What is an above-the-knee leg amputation?
An above-the-knee amputation is surgery to remove your leg above the knee. Your doctor removes the leg and keeps as much healthy skin, blood vessel, and nerve tissue as possible.
Having your leg removed is traumatic. You have to learn to live with new limitations. This can be hard and frustrating. You may feel depressed. Or you may grieve for your previous lifestyle. Talking with your family, friends, and health professionals about how you feel may help. You may also find it helps to talk with a person who has had an amputation.
Even though losing a limb is a challenge, it does not change who you are. It doesn't prevent you from enjoying life. You will have to learn new ways to do things. But you will still be able to work and take part in sports and activities. And you can still learn, love, play, and live life to its fullest.
Many organizations can help you get used to your new life. For example, you can go to amputee-coalition.org for information and support.
Your doctor will tell you how much of your leg should be removed. Your doctor will leave enough healthy skin to cover the remaining part of your leg (residual limb). You may get an artificial leg. This is called a prosthesis. If you get one, your doctor will shape your residual limb for the best possible fit.
Your doctor may sew together the skin to cover the residual limb. Or your doctor may leave it open to make sure it heals as it should. In this case, the skin may be sewn together 10 to 14 days later.
After surgery, you will stay in the hospital for several days. How long you stay depends on your general health and the way your doctor does the surgery. You may spend part of your recovery in a rehabilitation (rehab) facility.
Your residual limb may heal as soon as 4 to 8 weeks after surgery. But it may take longer. You will need physical rehab. The rehab can sometimes start within 48 hours of your surgery. It may last as long as 1 year.
How do you prepare for surgery?
Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.
Preparing for surgery
- You may need to shower or bathe with a special soap the night before and the morning of your surgery. The soap contains chlorhexidine. It reduces the amount of bacteria on your skin that could cause an infection after surgery.
- Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
- Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
- If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
- Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
- Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.
What happens on the day of surgery?
- Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
- Follow your doctor's instructions about when to bathe or shower before your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
- Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
- Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.
At the hospital or surgery center
- Bring a picture ID.
- The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
- You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
- The surgery will take about 45 to 90 minutes.
When should you call your doctor?
- You have questions or concerns.
- You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
- You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
- You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.
Where can you learn more?
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