It was doing something very strange, my missing limb. It was living a life all its own.
Many people who lose a limb suffer from phantom pains. Not me, though. I experienced something far more peculiar: its phantom life.
Ever since my bastard ex tried to kill me with his car, and I lost my right arm, my more dominant hand, I had been aware of it. I was always aware of where it was, and what it was doing.
When I first woke up at hospital, the doctors had a really hard time convincing me that my arm was gone. They said it had been torn right off my body and not even found.
How could it be gone? I felt it! It was right there, and it was working just perfectly!
So I could not see it. So what? It was there, and I knew that it was there. I was absolutely certain that it was.
So I could not see the things that I picked up actually move. I felt them nonetheless. I felt myself pick things up and do stuff with them.
My phantom hand would pick up a phantom glass. It would bring it to my lips and I would drink its phantom water. Phantom coffee from a phantom mug, delicious. Phantom food.
I’d wash myself with phantom soap using my phantom arm. My hair with phantom shampoo.
I’d dress myself as I always did, using both my arms. So what if one of them could not be seen. So what if the end result sometimes left a lot to be desired.
My arm was real. My arm was there. No one could convince me otherwise, no matter how they tried.
The problem was visual. A problem with my eyes. It had to be, since I could not see it. Neither could anyone else, but it was there. It was! I felt it!!!
Not being able to see it with my eyes was driving me crazy. No one else being able to see it either made people think that I was in desperate need of counseling. I suppose they were right, but at the time I truly thought that it was they who were insane.
It was only when I felt my arm actually leave my side that I began to think that what my eyes were telling me just might be real. Only when my arm began to live a life that was completely separate from the rest of me, I stopped doubting the eyes and the words of others about it.
My arm really was gone. No longer attached to me at all.
Oh, it still existed. I felt it. Felt everything it did. It was still completely real to me. Just separate. Unattached.
Try explaining that to a doctor. Try explaining it to a psychiatrist.
– “Yes, I know I’ve lost my arm. Yes, it was torn off at the shoulder when that asshole tried to kill me. I know… I know that’s what happened, and I can see that it is gone, and I can even feel its absence with my left hand any time I want. It’s just that even when I know that it’s gone, I still feel it. I really, really do.”
– “And how does that make you feel?”
– “It’s so frustrating. It’s confusing. It’s like… what I know, and what I feel, are two completely different things!”
– “That is not an uncommon experience…”
– “Yeah, but it’s like my body is divided into two parts. There’s me one place, and then there is my arm someplace completely different! It’s like it’s out there somewhere doing all sorts of things without me, and I can sense every movement, every touch!”
– “That’s certainly an interesting way to look at the loss of your arm. Tell me… what do you ‘feel’ your missing limb doing right now?”
– “It’s painting a wall. It’s about ten miles from here, and it is painting a wall.”
As I talk about it, my left hand begins to mimic the movement it would be doing if my body were whole, and all of me were where my missing arm is. I find myself standing up, my whole body moving as if I were painting that wall.
It’s always like that when I let myself pay attention to my missing right arm. It takes an awful lot of focus and energy to keep the rest of my body from going along with whatever it happens to be doing, and I do not always succeed.
Sometimes I slip up. No matter how much time has passed, now matter how hard I try, sometimes I still slip up. I forget to pay attention. I forget to stay focused.
I know that I’m supposed to stay in this world where I’ve only one arm. I know that I’m to stay in this reality. But sometimes it still takes the rest of my body with it to whatever it happens to be doing.
Sometimes I even go to the physical location where it is. Less often now than at the beginning, but sometimes I still do that.
It is very rarely that it happens to arrive by chance at the very same place where I am. Even then I usually end up having to adjust my own position based on its.
The first time it left me, first time it went to a different place than me, it returned. It did that several times while I was at hospital. But then it no longer did. It’s only happened a few times like that since then. It’s a rare treat that my arm comes to me.
It’s far more common that I will intentionally drive to wherever I sense my arm to be. I find it. I match my position and movement to its. I close my eyes.
Oh… The bliss of being all in one place… It’s indescribable. Quite impossible to explain to anyone who has not experienced all this themselves.
No one can possibly understand what I’ve eäbeen through, and what I continue to experience every single day of my life ever since I lost my arm. Oh, there are amputees aplenty, but no one other than me lives what I live.
Their arms are actually gone. Mine continues to exist. Mine is living elsewhere. In some other dimension, I suppose.
I have no idea why this is happening. Why it is happening to me, and why to no one else.
They used to think I was just deranged, derailed, insane. Gone crazy from the trauma of the attempted murder of me and the loss of my arm as a result.
They used to offer me lots and lots of counseling and therapy. Medications too, all for the mental condition they assumed that mine was.
I suppose that’s understandable. It certainly offers an easy way out to label a woman crazy when you don’t understand something about her.
I admit, for a while I believed it myself. I thought they must be right. I must be just imagining it.
That all changed when someone finally took an interest in what was actually physically happening inside of me.
Dr Rabayell, a neuroscientist, was looking for trauma patients for some research study or other. My particular case happened to reach his ears.
I’m glad it did.
When my brain was tested, the scans and things revealed something quite unexpected: All the neurons in my motor cortex, and in any other brain region that you could expect to see right-arm-related activity in, were firing up exactly the way that one would expect to see in a normal person still in possession of said arm. My brains were acting precisely the way that I knew my arm to be used at the time each scan was taken.
I was not just imagining things. Nor did it look like any hallucination anyone had ever seen in brain scans before. This was the real deal. It was happening. Exactly as I had felt it happening all along.
No one could see my missing limb. No one could touch it. But to my brain, and to me, it was real. It existed. It did things.
Somewhere in the world, in some dimension or other, my missing limb was doing something very strange: It was living a life all its own, invisible and unattached to the rest of me.
I lost an arm when my bastard ex tried to kill me with his car. I lost my arm, my right arm. My more dominant hand.
I call it my missing limb. This arm I no longer have.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me. You wouldn’t know, would not be able to see that I only have one arm.
Anyone looking at me would think I have two arms. Two perfectly functioning arms.
I can see it myself. I can see it with my own eyes.
When I look at me, be it directly, or in a mirror, I see a right arm exactly where one belongs, and I can watch it move. I can see it do things. I see how well it functions and does all sorts of things for me.
It just isn’t mine.
If there’s one thing in this world that I am absolutely certain of, it is this: The arm that appears so attached to me, the arm that works so well for me, is not my arm.
My arm was torn off me at my shoulder. My arm is gone. All that is left of my arm, the one that I was born with, the one I used to have, is occasional phantom pains. Very unpleasant, and very uncomfortable.
I don’t know whose arm this is that is attached to my body now. I have no idea just why it’s there, or how come it does so much for me.
I only see that it is.
Everyone tells me it’s my arm. It certainly looks exactly as mine did.
Everyone also used to say that I’m just imagining it not being mine. They used to think that I’m just suffering from some sort of PTSD, and as soon as I get over the psychological trauma of my ex having tried to kill me, I would get my arm back.
For a while I believed it myself. I thought they must be right. I thought that if I just go to enough therapy, if I just get enough counseling, and if I just talk and talk and talk enough, or maybe just find the right combo of meds, I’d eventually get my arm back. I would be whole again.
I miss being whole. I really do. And I hate being separate from my arm. I hate the discrepancy of seeing an arm, and knowing it’s not mine. I most especially hated the experience when I first woke up at hospital after the attempt upon my life.
When I woke up at hospital, I knew at once my arm had been severed. I knew it. I could feel it. The pain of it was absolutely terrible!
Yet no one would believe me. They’d give me nothing for my pain. They just pointed at my arm, which appeared completely unharmed, and they said that I was fine. I should just calm down.
Well, I was far from fine. I was in an awful lot of physical pain, and no one could convince me otherwise. No matter how they tried.
Finally they gave me a sedative. They put me back to sleep.
It took ages before anyone took me seriously. People just assumed that I was mad, insane, delusional, crazy. Traumatized.
I suppose it’s understandable. I mean, everyone could see my arm was fine, and it was functioning, and it was doing things for me all the time. It’s not like it was paralyzed, or anything. And even though I’d been unconscious long enough to arrive at the hospital and have a CT scan, my head really didn’t appear to be at all badly injured.
Certainly nothing could explain my experience of having lost a limb. So it had to be psychological, so they all concluded.
That is how it was for the longest time. I was told I only imagined the loss of my arm. I went to a lot of therapy. I got a lot of counseling. I tried a lot of different medications for my assumed PTSD or whatever mental condition.
Nothing helped. Nothing changed my experience that the arm by my side and working for me simply wasn’t mine. Nothing could keep me from knowing that my own arm was lost. Torn off at my shoulder.
I kept hoping something would fix me. Something would make me whole again.
In the meantime I went on with my life.
The arm that wasn’t mine would do whatever I’d have needed my own arm to do. It washed me. It dressed me. It fed me, and let me drink my coffee.
It was the strangest thing. I’d watch it do these things, but I still could not feel it as a part of me. Sometimes I couldn’t even taste the coffee that it gave! Mostly I could taste the things it gave me, though. Mostly I could.
I decided to move to a new apartment about halfway across town from where I used to live. I wanted a brand new start in life that would not include any memories or mementos about my murderous asshole ex.
I painted my rooms real pretty with this arm that wasn’t mine. I decorated the place so nice it made me happy every day.
I changed my job as well. I liked it so much better than my old one.
Everything else in my brand new life was great except my separation from my arm. I’d spend hours looking at this thing attached to me now, and just tried to feel it. I tried to sense it. I wanted so bad to be able to believe that it was mine.
But it wasn’t. It just never was.
I always retained the same awareness of my own arm having been severed and lost.
If the arm that was now attached to me hadn’t been so very capable of automatically doing all that I would have used my own dominant hand for, I suppose I would have learned to live as a one-armed woman. If it had waited for actual commands from me, this thing would no doubt have atrophied, maybe even fallen off.
As grateful as I am for all it does for me, I still sometimes wonder if it might not be better to just have the arm removed. At least then what I feel, and what I am, would match. The difference between my inner experience, and my physical reality has been, and often still is, frightfully hard to come to terms with.
The one thing that has helped quite a bit is that I took part in a neurological study conducted by a Doctor Rabayell. That study revealed something quite unexpected: The lack of my limb is actually not just my imagination. It is real. At least as far as my brain is concerned.
My brain displays a total lack of activity in all areas where a normal, healthy person would have all sorts of neurons firing up related to the existence and functioning of their right arm. It’s still not paralyzed. It’s still physically there, and still doing everything a normal, healthy arm would do. It’s just none of that shows up in my brain.
The only time any neurons fire up in my brain that could be related to my right arm is when I experience phantom pains from my missing limb. The one that I still experientially know as torn right off from my shoulder.
No one is able to explain just how this arm that is physically attached to me functions with zero activity related to it in my brain. It just does. I’m something of a medical miracle. One that has been studied an awful lot.
No one can explain what’s caused this lack of right-arm-related activity in my brain either. Only that it started when my ex tried to kill me with his car.
I lost my arm that day. The day he tried to murder me. And ever since the brain scans proved that it’s not just PTSD, or some other mental condition, I’ve given up all hope of ever getting it back. No amount of therapy or acceptance will miraculously make my neurons work again.
Now I simply live my life observing this thing that resembles the arm that I once had doing things for me. It’s completely disconnected from my internal experience of my body, but physically always there and working just fine.
I am grateful for it. I really am. Grateful for all it does. I just wish it was my own arm that is doing all these things for me.
My own arm is, was, and always will remain, severed. It is quite unattached from me. It is completely gone. I lost it when my bastard ex tried to kill me with his car. I lost my arm, my right arm. My more dominant hand.
I call it my missing limb. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.