Writers always try to research things when we write about them. When I wrote about a character who had suffered an amputation during war time, I tried to do my due diligence, reading up on how characters who endured a Civil War Era amputation survived the surgery, the infection, and the terrible conditions. And then there’s the struggle to live on with the change in one’s state, both the physical and mental aspects of that.
In a piece I’ve been working on, I have a character with an amputated arm. (The setting is 1815 Russia, but the medical process then wasn’t too different from the Civil War US.) My character was lucky both because it was his left arm, meaning that he kept his more dexterous hand, and because they didn’t take his scapula and clavicle, and thus his shoulder still filled out a jacket or shirt.
In a lot of ways, it’s easy for a writer to figure out what a character with a missing arm can and cannot do. For me it was a matter or strapping my arm to my side and trying to do things one handed. I’ve had a cast before, but in that case I could use my fingertips and the cast itself to hold things. With my hand secured to my side, however, I had to improvise quite a lot. Try it. Try dressing yourself using only one hand. The zipper is your friend, but they didn’t have those in 1800s Russia. The button? It’s actually not too hard to undo, but a real struggle to fasten. Laces? Hah! Laces and drawstrings require pressing one string between one’s hip and a hard surface (like the edge of the dresser) while tugging on the other. I tried a lot of things that I have my character do, and there are an astounding number of challenges just getting up and getting dressed in the morning.