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Strange Sensation

 My right arm and hand, from a few inches below my elbow to my  fingertips, were encased in a hard cast and held by a sling.  My thumb was completely immobilized by the cast. The sling held my hand as if I were saying the pledge of allegiance. Twelve hours earlier, a surgeon had repaired my thumb joint that had been destroyed by arthritis.

My arm felt like a heavy cement log. I looked at my bent fingers and told them to be straight. They didn’t move. I couldn’t move my right hand and arm.  While I appreciate the effects of a nerve block for surgery, I was anxious for my hand to wake up. 

I stretched my left arm, spread my left fingers wide, and made a fist. Rolled my head forward, backward, side to side. Lifted my shoulders and straightened my back. I breathed deeply.  Blew out slowly.

Then I experienced strange feelings. It felt like I stretched my right hand, held my fingers and thumb wide apart, and made a fist. Then my hand opened, palm up. Shocked, I looked down. My arm and hand really were in a cast and sling.  What was this? 

During the next hour, I felt my right thumb tuck under my palm, a position that I’d often used unconsciously to protect my thumb. But my thumb was really in its cast and not near my palm. Another time I was sure my right index finger pointed straight at my waistline, several inches below where my hand was immobile and all my fingers were bent and numb.  

I’d read and heard about phantom pain.Is there such a thing as phantom movement? Is that possible? The next day when I had feeling in my arm and hand, I searched for answers. 

According to the National Institute of Health website, Phantom Limb Syndrome is a condition in which patients experience sensations, whether painful or otherwise, in a limb that does not exist. It’s possible that nerves in parts of the spinal cord and brain “rewire” when they lose signals from the missing limb.

My arm and hand exist, but because they were numb I wonder if my brain worked as if they were amputated. Several times during a two hour period, I felt movements. Seeing my immobile arm and hand in a sling didn’t align with what I felt. These were strange, unsettling sensations.  I’ve heard of pain in an arm or leg after amputation and always wondered if it was real.  How was that possible?

Now, I’m sure phantom pain is real. This experience makes me sympathetic to people who suffer from phantom pain. Imagine feeling severe pain in a leg that had been amputated. Because my brain told me that my fingers and thumb moved when they were in a cast, I know amputated limbs can hurt. 

Our bodies, our brains work in miraculous, mysterious ways.  And I wish my brain would miraculously tell my left hand to hold a pencil and write like my right ha