Two queries have brought people to this site in the last couple of days:
1. "How to have confidence of not falling after amputation," and
2. "Learning how to walk on crutches after having lower leg amputated."
Good questions, both of them -- and kind of related. I'll answer the second one first. Just note one thing: how much of your leg came off has no bearing on the answers to these questions.
If you are lucky enough to have access to physical therapy, use it. You may start off with a portable wheelchair and a walker (and to give yourself the maximum number of options, you should ask for both before you leave the hospital, as well as a sturdy pair of aluminum crutches; your case worker will order them for you and bill them to your insurance, if you have any). When you are ready, though -- and it might be immediately or it might be awhile, depending on your overall health and the presence of other complications -- your physical therapist (PT) will be more than happy to help you learn to use crutches on every kind of surface and even on stairs. Your competent and useful PT will also be happy to work with your friends and family to teach them how to help and protect you while you are still learning or in dangerous situations where you may require help. Using everything from special straps to the waistband of your pants, the people around you can help you over the scary bits until you don't need them to anymore.
My PT showed my boyfriend, for example, how to support me from behind over stairs and rough or slippery spots by grabbing onto my waistband. There was one day in New Hampshire during the first deep winter after my then-recent amputation when we went out to eat after visiting my prosthetist. The snow had melted and refrozen, thick, hard, slippery, and uneven, up to and over the curb. Still, I'd been on crutches for a few months and wanted to try to navigate this treacherous terrain. I made it up onto the curb and into the restaurant. However, once we were leaving it proved too difficult for me to go back, off the curb, over the slick and sloping ice mass and down to the car door. I felt myself start to fall, face forward, very fast toward that rock-hard ice. And then, a miracle: I was flying! No part of me was touching the ground, and yet, I was not traveling downward! How could this be? I'll tell you how: My boyfriend was paying attention, holding onto my waistband, and right when he saw me start to go off balance, he hoisted me off the ground, using his other hand to stabilize my torso much like the man in a figure skating pair stabilizes his flying partner. He set me back down on solid ground to wait while he went to get my wheelchair. How did he know what to do? Well, heck yeah he's a smart cookie, and years of tai chi practice have taught him how to brace himself. But also, he had bothered to ask my PT to teach him how to help me in just this kind of situation and many others.
So the answer to the second question, learning how to walk on crutches, is a three-parter:
1. Get instruction.
2. Get instruction for the people around you.
3. Get out there and use the dang things.
(Oh, and it doesn't hurt to have a back-up plan. Get out there and use the dang things, but make sure you've brought something else along, just in case.)
As it happens, number three here is also the biggest part of the answer to the first question, how to have confidence around the issue of falling:
Get out there. Get out there and try stuff. Go as slowly as you have to. Go as carefully as you must. But get up, get out, and try new stuff all the time, at least one new thing -- and it can be a tiny thing -- every single day. You will be terrified at first; almost everybody is. However, a basic fact of life is that the only antidote to fear is knowledge. Knowledge in this case translates as experience.
You will only get experience by getting off your backside and trying stuff out. Learn how to fall so that you will know that you will be safe if your experiments don't work out as you might hope; that's a huge part of the experience you will need. Use all the help learning that you can get -- from doctors, from PTs, from OTs, from prosthetists, from nurses, from other amputees... Every little thing you can glean is useful. But ultimately the bottom line for confidence is experience, and experience is something you will have to be brave enough to give yourself. Sorry, that's the plain truth.
A lot of people have a hard time finding the courage to move forward after a brutal physical experience such as traumatic amputation. This is normal. One answer to this problem is to find a goal. There's got to be something you want to do which is more important to you than holding onto your fear.
Being too depressed and/or frightened at first to fix upon a goal is also quite common, but if it goes on for too long you may wish to consider psychiatric assistance. But also, remember: you don't need to be shooting for some TV movie of the week kind of experience. My first goal after amputation was to get all the tubes and lines off of me so I could go to the bathroom to toilet and bathe myself. Not glamourous at all, but oh so satisfying when I attained it! Start small like this, and work your way upward and outward, back into your full life one little goal at a time.
Maybe you are a parent and you want to be able to walk and hold your child in your arms at the same time. Maybe you are an athlete who wants to return to his or her sport. Maybe, like me, you just want to have an ordinary, boring life. And maybe for right now you just want to figure out how to cross a room with a cup of hot coffee (incidentally, try a thermos). It doesn't have to be a noble goal, and it should not be one you devise for the sake of pleasing someone else, or your dedication may be in danger of crumbling under immense artificial pressure. Remember, the people who love you want you to be happy and well. They aren't really that picky about what else you accomplish; those specifics are totally up to you, though they will be eager to help you achieve them.
When you have a goal, it gives you a reason to try. When you try, you learn. The more you learn, the less fear you will keep. Knowledge really is power; experience is confidence. Think of something you want to see just past your current horizon, and then just start stepping -- and stumbling, a little -- toward it. Strength will come, even if you fall sometimes along the way.