Friday, April 17, 2009

Great-Uncle Chester's Phantom Pain

Long before I was born, my great-uncle Chester, brother to Melvin and Mary (my maternal grandmother who was almost named Capitola - one wonders what force intervened there) - sawed his arm off at the elbow.

I was asking my mom for details a couple days ago and she clarified it was a power saw. I almost laughed. Who - besides wilderness victims of bear traps - saws off a limb with a manual saw?

Uncle Chester told me about phantom pain. If you have no great-uncle with a missing limb, who teaches you these things?

Here's a little explanation of phantom limb pain, compliments of WebMD, since I can't remember how Uncle Chester explained it: The nerve endings at the site of the amputation (or sawing accident, as the case may be) continue to send pain signals to the brain that make the brain think the limb is still there. Sometimes, the brain memory of pain is retained and is interpreted as pain regardless of signals from injured nerves.

Kinda freaky, huh?

During my time on WebMD, I came across some FAQs. Like this one:

What Are the Symptoms of Phantom Limb Pain?
In addition to pain in the phantom limb, some people experience other sensations such as tingling, cramping, heat, and cold in the portion of the limb that was removed. Any sensation that the limb could have experienced prior to the amputation may be experienced in the amputated phantom limb.

Even MORE freaky!

How Is Phantom Limb Pain Treated?
Successful treatment of phantom limb pain is difficult. (As one would expect since we're talking about a NON-EXISTENT body part, after all.) Treatment is usually determined based on the person's level of pain, and multiple treatments may be combined. Some treatments include:

Heat application
Biofeedback to reduce muscle tension
Relaxation techniques
Massage of the amputation area

Show of hands... when was the last time anybody here thought about phantom limb pain? Well, I, Teri, recently read an article in Runner's World about a leg amputee. So - perhaps this topic is not as obscure as you would think.

Two nights ago, I turned off my bedside lamp, ready to climb into bed, and paused to remove my eyeglasses as I have a hundred million times. My hands made it all the way up to my face before I realized there were no glasses to remove! I don't wear glasses!

Is this in any way related to phantom limb pain? I think so. Probably a closer cousin of "Old Habits Die Hard", though. Uncle Chester would probably shake his head at me to read of my comparison between his violently torn-off arm and my voluntary surgery. But maybe he'd just be glad I thought of him. Let's all agree that he'd laugh out loud at my mom needing to mention it was a power saw that got 'im.

How long do you think it will take for me to stop reaching to remove my specs? On a nightly basis, I also think to myself, "Gotta get these contacts out." Only AFTER I think that do I realize my eyes aren't bothering me, they aren't dry, and I can SEE!!!
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