A Creative Response: The Repair of Amputees

Repair and rehabilitation, what are the implications of this word grouping? Both of these have cross-overs in meaning; they both relate to each other in some way. It seems almost impossible to think of an object, person, or anything else that does not have the potential to one day be repaired, rehabilitated. These words suggest fixing, but each could imply different acts of repair, due to nuance of language and the numerous words in the English language. In a similar way, one person could find themselves needing a form of repair and rehabilitation simultaneously. Different forms of repair or any mode of fixing, can be needed for physical, emotional, spiritual, and many more disrepairs or flaws of this world. Humans demand and need repair, so one will find these needs for fixing very apparent in their everyday life. “How?” is the question everyone will ask; how can we repair, and what is involved in the process of repair? What are the agents of repair for my specific case? Should this process be internal, or will outside forces contribute to my return to normal? These questions posed provide us with ideas for methods of repair and hopefully solutions to disrepairs. This thought process is necessary in structuring modes of repair because it inhibits a more creative approach to the repairing process. Spelman introduces the idea of the necessity for creativity in repair, “For one thing, a lot of repair work requires a great deal of creativity if it is to be successful” (Spelman 128). Effort and creativity combine to create an environment of repair and possibility for change. This is seen very clearly through AmpSurf and it’s interesting and innovative approach to the multiple repairs/rehabilitations that eventually prove beneficial to amputees. A change in overall stability as a person, through the AmpSurf organization, is an intended desire for the amputees, and no simple method will solve this undeniably serious issue.

Over a summer vacation, I encountered a project of repair (or project of multiple repairs) through a non-profit organization known as AmpSurf. This program was and will forever be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life; AmpSurf was the best display of repair I have ever witnessed. On their website, AmpSurf.org, a brief excerpt captures the essential goals of repair:

Whether they are an autistic child or young woman who has lost a limb to cancer, AmpSurf offers a unique program to bring the healing power of the ocean and adaptive surfing together for an experience that is both mentally and physically one of the best forms of rehabilitation on the planet.

Amputees, a group largely under-publicized, experience many hardships in terms not only physical, but emotional and mental. AmpSurf does have many amputee participators; however, a person with any form of disability would be accepted to participate in the events held by the AmpSurf organization. Focusing in on amputees, the repair and rehabilitation they experience are extensive and from multiple sources. Amputees are challenged with recovering from the physical loss of a limb, while also recovering from the mental and emotional toll taken from the realization of a life without a certain limb. According to Pamela Gallagher, PhD and Malcolm Maclachlan, PhD, “As amputees begin to regain strength and develop some security in coping on a physical level, their focus shifts to learning how to survive emotionally with limb loss” (117). AmpSurf takes an approach that includes both of those forms of repair, proving to be an overall healing experience for the amputees. This organization attempts to repair the physical pains and struggles of amputations through surfing and the bodily benefits from the ocean. The repair of an amputee’s emotional state is attempted to be reached through a happy atmosphere and fun experience.

Understanding amputees and their struggles will lead us to a realization of how important a multifaceted rehabilitation program is. Specific psychosocial problems (psychological as well as social) experienced by amputees range from denial to depression, with a hope for achieving acceptance. Per research in the article, Reactions to Amputations: Recognition and Treatment, there are essentially five stages of grief, each occurring for specific reasons; disregarding possible subcategories, the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

This chart displays the stages of grief. For more information on the stages of grief, click here (the third section).

Denial occurs during the first steps towards amputation, and usually involves the future amputee not accepting or speaking of his or her impending loss of a limb. Anger follows somewhere after denial; this entails the amputee feeling as though the amputation was not necessary and that he or she was treated unfairly. Anger is a difficult emotion to pin point or describe exact feelings; however, some form of anger in any varying degree may be experienced by amputees with psychological issues. Bargaining is also a stage of grief, where the patient suggests he or she cannot do the surgery for numerous reasons, all untrue, yet, future amputees will fabricate reasons to delay surgery. These fabrications and attempts to bargain only feed future disappointment and ultimately cause harm. Depression, the most prevalent and repair-warranted of all the stages of grief, occurs only to degrade a person’s mental status and cause damaging effects to the fabric holding together one’s sanity and daily coherence. Depression on its own is very complex and requires in-depth analysis and explanation of its causes and effects. Some effects of depression include feelings of helplessness, anxiety, constant sadness, and many more mentally-dissatisfying traits (Bhuvaneswar, et al. 303–08). The stages of grief are all too familiar for an amputee, as they experience this sometimes as a result of their amputation. AmpSurf does not want you to forget your amputation; rather, the organization desires the amputee’s reintegration to society through a process of physical activity and communication. With faith in time and rehabilitation, amputees will hopefully experience the stage of acceptance, and AmpSurf is fully prepared and equipped to aid them in that task. AmpSurf has historically benefited amputees in these ways and the leaders/staff of AmpSurf hope to continue this tradition of healing.

Amputees face many psychological and emotional/behavioral issues, but that is only half the battle for them. Physical pains brought about most commonly through psychosomatic pain prove to be a noticeable hindrance to everyday life. In the article, Psychological Adjustment and Coping in Adults with Prosthetic limbs, there are explanations of the effects of pain as well as specific types of physical pain experienced by amputees. Some examples of pain have ranged from mild to cripplingly severe, causing a requirement of extensive rehabilitation and prolonged recovery. Listed effects of physical pain are impairment of general functioning, ability to work, social relationships, and emotional adjustments; other effects are the psychological issues that coincide with physical pain. Different types of pain are categorized by two terms: phantom limb pain and stump pain. Phantom limb pain represents the psychosomatic form of physical pain, while stump pain is actual physical aching of the stump and surgery area (Gallagher and MacLachlan 118). This information only furthers the reasons to provide a form of physical rehabilitation for amputees who are under-looked and struggling. AmpSurf attempts to give comfort to these pains through the weightlessness effect of the sea and the soothing feel of the salt water. This idea combines experience with the ocean as well as with rehabilitation for physical pains; the founders of AmpSurf used their knowledge to creatively provide a service of rehabilitation for many participating amputees.

Without recognizing what amputees struggle with on an everyday basis, we would not know how to approach these problems correctly and efficiently to benefit everyone involved. Spelman wraps up her book Repair with a further in-depth analysis of the action of repair and its complications. She emphasizes the importance of continuity with the past, but why? Because of the importance in realizing that the original cannot be totally eradicated and continuity from the past is necessary, so one must figure out the individual parts that need to be replaced or improved to eventually reach an overall repair. For example, Amputees cannot have their memories wiped clean of their amputation, and they cannot simply pretend they don’t have the amputation. Finding repair for these amputees without the complete transfer into a lifestyle only as an amputee, and not as a normal functioning member of society, is a task that must be completed. How can we apply different ideas of repair to specific situations? The answer, Spelman suggests, is creativity. Understanding Willie and his creative responses to the many case-specific situations, we can realize that repair does not rely solely on the manual, expected approaches (Spelman 128). Improvisation is key in the real world when referring to repair. No situation is exactly the same, and different methods of repair must be taken into consideration if repair is a true goal.

Dana Cummings, co-founder of AmpSurf, joyfully assists a child in a very successful surfing lesson.

Creativity, compassion, acceptance, and change: all words that do not seem to be oddly clumped together in relation to this photo. The picture above demonstrates the very essence of the AmpSurf program. Cliche sayings sometimes seem wise because this picture really is worth a thousand words. Joy on the face of the instructor and confidence and determination seen on the face of the participating child amputee. This picture makes everything seem so simple, yet we know that a much more deep and complex history trails behind this heart-warming photo.

The ideas on repair presented by Spelman can be seen in action through the organization AmpSurf. AmpSurf embraces creative methods for the rehabilitation and repair of the amputee’s physical and mental state. The amputees are humans, living lives similar to ours and only viewed as different due to their affliction, but the ‘repairers’ see them as equals, not believing they are required to fully change themselves. The goal is to keep and preserve their mindsets from the past and to prevent and comfort the despair brought on by not having a specific limb. This goal is difficult to obtain, causing the creation of AmpSurf as a new and ingenious program for rehabilitation. Volunteers of this program understand the ‘case-specific’ situations of the amputees, and they offer services to each participator in individual surfing lessons as well as simple conversation. Giving these participators an opportunity to take part in athletics gives them a sense of confidence in themselves. An amputee who has suffered emotional and mental problems such as low self-esteem and depression, may be healed or repaired through the community experience and freeing qualities of surfing. In an interview with a leader of the AmpSurf Organization, Dana Cummings (an amputee) spoke of the effect that this experience has. “We bring people together to feed off each other and swap stories about what they’re going through,” he said. “For me, this was the biggest mental rehab I could have ever had” (Clarke par.10). In regards to physical rehabilitation, AmpSurf has proved beneficial to the amputees. It is proven by my witness account that the weightlessness of the ocean soothes pains felt by the amputees and provides them with relief for the time spent in the ocean.

Dana Cummings provides surfing lessons to the amputees. The link to the full video and article can be found here.

Anthony Davis, an amputee and participant in the AmpSurf organization, said this in regards to this experience: “Surfing makes me feel like I’m flying,” Davis said. “I feel like I don’t need my legs. It changed my life by making me feel a lot stronger and more confident” (Clarke par.12,14). This effect has not only been felt by Anthony Davis, but by many of the amputees. A ‘creative’ response, in line with the ideas of Spelman, was applied to the physical rehabilitation of the amputees within the AmpSurf program.

Spelman speaks of creativity in repair during the last few pages of the book, which should imply the importance of that reality. Spelman, the seemingly omniscient oracle of repair, included this topic in the last chapter for a reason, and the reason is to make sure the reader leaves with the most important information about the subject of repair. Combining Spelman’s beliefs of creativity as a necessity in the process of repair/rehabilitation (indirectly) and the necessity for the rehabilitation among the amputee community, AmpSurf formed as the stepping stone from isolation to reintegration, from suffering to acceptance, and from damaged to repaired. AmpSurf combines multiple forms of repair for a very specific group of people in this world, amputees. AmpSurf is uniquely talented through the member’s abilities to use personality and experience to provide an emotional and physical rehabilitation for these struggling people. Through the volunteer’s experience, creative and personalized methods of rehab are offered; these methods hope to give relief on all sides of the spectrum for the participants.


I would like to thank the members of my group for assisting me through various activities in class. Gabby, Ariana, and Andrew offered insight that aided me in writing my paper, as well as encouragement to continue with my topic. I would also like to thank my TA, Seda Oz, and my English teacher, Professor Harris, for influencing my writing through the semester, allowing me to more adequately present my ideas and offer an interesting reading piece. I would also like to offer my friend and roommate, Kyle Baker, for editing my grammar and punctuation. I would also like to thank Dana Cummings, a co-founder of AmpSurf, for guiding me during my sessions with amputees and for providing me with an experience I will hold in my heart forever. Also, to the amputees themselves, for giving me inspiration in times of need through stories of true dedication and hope- in many ways, repairing me. My thanks and praise for the people who influenced this piece is unparalleled; a little help over time increased my writing proficiency immensely and I cannot be more grateful for this support.


Bhuvaneswar, Chaya G., M.D., Lucy A. Epstein, M.D., and Theodore A. Stern, M.D. “Reactions to Amputation: Recognition and Treatment.” The Primary Care Companion: To the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (2007): 303–08. US National Library of Medicine. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.

Clarke, Erika. “Surfing Makes Me Feel like I’m Flying” CNN. Cable News Network, 14 May 2010. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.

Gallagher, Pamela and Maclachlan, Malcolm. “Psychological Adjustment and Coping in Adults with Prosthetic Limbs.” Behavioral Medicine. 25.3 (1999): 117–24. Taylor And Francis Online. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.

Goldberg, Joseph. “Side Effects of Untreated Depression.” WebMD. WebMD, 25 Aug. 2015. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.

Spelman, Elizabeth V. Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World. Boston: Beacon, 2002. Print.