Phantom Pain

Brain with electodesLosing a limb can be a traumatic experience, and even though my leg amputations were ‘voluntary’ there are moments where you are reminded of why you got rid of them in the first place.

Phantom Pain brings about the ‘flashback’ of  what you used to feel. How your body and mind connect is an incredible life force. Raw nerve endings tingle and send signals to your brain telling you that your legs are still there. They are in pain, you have muscle cramps where there are no muscles, and there is nothing more you want to do than scratch your itchy feet, only to realize they are gone!

Some people learn to trick their brain, and use many innovative ways to overcome the mirage of something that is no longer there – just by placing a mirror to reflect the image that the limb is still there in order to send the brain signals away. Is it all in our minds? Of course it is – but not for the reasons you might think.  It is not psychological, but it is neurological activity in your brain.

For me, phantom pain is rare. It will only stay for a brief moment, but generally has a high impact as it feels like real pain. A muscle cramp gets me up out of bed to put my prostheses on and stretch out the cramp – just like you would if you had legs. A day of walking up too many hills brings short, sharp pains in my ankles.

Last year, I participated in a short film with the simple title of ‘Phantom Pain’ to demonstrate creatively the impact of what it is we feel. In doing this film, the guys I worked with were just incredibly thoughtful and curious.

The first meeting with the Writer/Director was in a great coffee shop in Melbourne. My fascination was why he was making this film, and my impression was that his fascination was more about why amputees need ‘comfortable’ shoes. The comfort of a shoe is not so much that your toes don’t touch the end or your heels don’t rub – it is about the height and gradient. He shared with me that he had been at a bootmaker’s and a similar conversation had taken place. If the height of our shoe is out – I know for me – there is an increased risk of phantom pain.

Extensive conversations and questions from the writer were rather reflective for me as well, it was like he was already on the wavelength and had his creative vision ticking in his mind. The work in this short film represents many optical illusions, and clever ways to reflect a series of mirages to symbolize phantom pain. Wet footprints on the ground, shadows flowing and a band-aid floating in the water.

It is hard for some people to get the concept – it is there, but it is not really there – so kudos to the guys for the portrayal of their apparition. It was almost like a ghost story – the spirit of the limbs …….. also known as phantom pain.

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