Monday, September 20, 2010

My new love for two basic home and office furnishings

As you may recall, the second week after my surgery i started to get phantom pains. In the past few weeks i've done a little more research about phantom limb pain (or PLP as it is often referred to in the medical literature) and discovered that there aren't too many other theories for what causes the pain any better than the two i offered in my initial discussion of the topic. When it comes right down to it, nobody really know what causes it, though the neurologist Dr. Ramachandran from the University of California, San Diego, has developed some interesting theories and techniques for treating PLP. Dr. Ramachandran's theory is that the pain is not caused by frayed or bruised nerve endings or damage in any way to the nerve endings at all (as many previously thought), but rather is created in the mind because of the confusion the brain experiences after the loss of the limb due to a lack of input from the now amputated body part (my layman's understanding of complex neurosciencific theories). It's all kind of crazy. For example, the sensory areas on the brain for the hand and face are right next to each other, so some people with arm amputations can feel phantom sensation on the hand if you touch them on the face. Check out the clips from this BBC documentary on Ramachandran and phantom limb sensations.

So that brings me to one of my new favorite furnishings: a big, long mirror. I've started using mirror therapy to treat my phantom pain. Although i've only been doing it for about a week, it seems to be slowly working.

It's bizarre, even though i mentally understand that my right leg has been amputated, when i watch myself perform the exercises in the mirror, i can feel every movement of my missing right foot as i watch the reflection of my left leg moving in the mirror. I haven't had the immediate relief that some amputees who suffered from PLP experience, but i have noticed a slight relief of the phantom pains over the past couple of days. I should clarify, that before starting the mirror therapy the PLP had transitioned from the short, but brutally sharp pain that i initially experienced to a more persistent and blunt pain. Rather than feeling like someone quickly shoved a knitting needle through my foot, it feels like someone is slowly pushing a ball point pen through the top of my foot. Every night the same pain starts in the same spot. It doesn't bother me much during the day, presumably because my brain is active and occupied with other stuff, but near the end of the day when i start to slow down, and most specifically when i lie down to go to sleep, the pain can become quite distracting. Most research on mirror therapy suggests that it requires 4-5 weeks of daily practice to alleviate or lessen the pain, so i'm hopeful that as i continue to give it a go the PLP will disappear. And although there isn't a lot of research on mirror therapy yet, initial studies, including one conducted by Dr. Jack Tsao at Walter Reed Hospital with amputee veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suggest that mirror therapy is one of the most effective treatment methods, so i'm optimistic.

Given the simplicity of the treatment for potentially debilitating pain, i'm a big fan of the End the Pain Project, which is dedicated to providing unbreakable mirrors and small "toolkits" to people around the world who have lost a limb as a result of landmines, war, and disease. If all it takes to relieve or alleviate what can be a quite miserable pain is a $15 mirror and a month of daily exercises, this is one of the cheapest and simplest treatments for pain available.

So now on to my other new favorite furnishing: roller-wheel office chairs. A few of the classrooms i teach in on campus are furnished with roller chairs. These make for a great interim prosthetic. I can kneel on the chair and roll around the classroom, from the white board to students working in small groups and back. It's crazy how much simple pleasure even being able to move around in this way provides. There is a great satisfaction in being able to take all the pressure off my left leg and distribute it more evenly between both legs. I can't wait for a regular prosthetic.

Only about a week and a half until i get to go back and see Doc Jones again. He'll do a CT scan on my leg, and if everything looks good, give the go ahead to get fit for an initial prosthesis. I told Joe at Peak Prosthetics that if Doc Jones gives the green light, i'll be heading straight to Joe's office to get fit so he can get going on the prosthetic. He indicated it should only take about a day after he does the measurements to get it made, so with any luck i'll have my new "robot leg" (as my nephew Cassman likes to call it) before the end of the month. Can't wait!!

And finally, i leave you with a message provided by Cousin Todd and his wife Tracy who sent me a couple of T-shirts. This one is my favorite:


fatguyonalittlebike said...

this guy swam the English channel with no arms or legs.
how far can you swim?

matt b. said...

English channel, whatever!!
I can do mad laps in my hot tub! especially now that my leg is shorter i have enough space to kick.