Alexa Wright

After Image, 1997

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Date of amputation: 1964
Time since amputation: 33 years
Age: 52 Male
Motor cycle accident: brachial plexus lesion
Arm amputated 4 months after accident
No previous damage to limb

At first I had a phantom limb whilst the arm was still there, because the arm was paralysed. The phantom used to float away from where the arm was. I was in a hospital bed and it would float through the bedclothes and get cold, so I developed this habit of sleeping on my right side so the phantom limb drifted into the mattress and stayed warm. At the beginning used to believe I could get the arm back. Now nearly all of the arm has disappeared, but if I am wearing the artificial arm and I swing my arms as I walk, the right arm swings.

If I can see the artificial hand out of the corner of my eye or I can feel it up against my leg the phantom hand is inside the glove. If I can’t see the artificial hand I can be wrong; I could be six inches out as to the location of the hand: the phantom hand can miss the artificial one in terms of spatial placing. There is an intermittent crushing pain, but the phantom is always there. It’s part of me; it will never go away completely. I will always be this; I will always have two arms, it’s just that one of them is missing. The real me is without the prosthesis. It’s uncomfortable, it’s not me. It is surprising how one armed I look when I see photographs of myself. My self-image is two armed.

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Date of amputation: 1988
Time post amputation: 9 years 3 months
Age 35 : Female
Hand lost in road accident: re-attachment attempted;
hand amputated 10 days later.
No previous damage to hand/arm

I was involved in a road accident in which my hand was found disconnected at the site of the accident. An attempt was made to reconnect it, but the lower arm was later lost through secondary infection. The amputation was only about a week & a half after the accident, but I had perhaps four operations in the six months after that to get the stump right. I have had the phantom ever since, although it’s not there all the time. When the pain increases it seems to be larger; it is definitely heavier than a normal limb. I can open and close my hand, and this helps to ease the pain. I seem to be able to move it like a normal limb, but the joints are very large, and it’s much stiffer. I am not aware of the wrist at all, not even aware that there is a wrist, but I can clench and move the fingers individually. At the time of the accident I was aware that my engagement ring cut into my finger, and that is still there. At first I used to get quite uptight that I must be crazy because I was imagining a hand there; but it is so definite that nobody can convince me that it is just in my mind. Especially when it is itching it’s so real that I feel as though I can actually scratch it. I can pin point where it’s itching, and yet I am aware that it is not there.

When I start trying to move the limb the phantom doesn’t go with the part that I have got left. Most of the time the phantom just feels flat; I have to think about it to make it a solid form. I wasn’t born like this and obviously I do miss my arm, yet sometimes the phantom pain makes me feel whole again.

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Date of amputation: October 1995
Time post amputation: 21 months
Age 71: Male
Road accident in which arm was crushed
No previous damage to arm  

As our car bowled over in collision with another car, my arm went out of the window and was crushed. X-rays later revealed that the arm was severely damaged, but the hand was left in tact. The phantom is continuous; it takes the form of my hand. It is sometimes painful and sometimes just sensation. I feel I can control the movements of the hand until I suddenly realise that it isn’t there. The hand is slightly clenched fist, and that doesn’t really change; it can only go about three quarters unclenched. The pain is mostly in the third finger; that sometimes hurts and is painful as though I had broken it. The hand is the same size as my real hand, but much heavier. It itches a lot of the time and I want to scratch it. I can kid myself that I can make the phantom limb move. It’s really just a sort of opening & closing: the hand moves from the wrist downwards, but rotation of the wrist isn’t available. I have only got finger and hand joint movements. When I haven’t moved it for a while it becomes stiff. I can’t imagine being without the phantom because it is there all the time and it is very much like eating or breathing: I can put up with it quite adequately and would probably miss it if it went away. I might wish it wasn’t so irritating, but I think I would rather keep it as it is than risk losing it.