Monday, April 19, 2010

Medical Mondays: Phantom Pain


This week's post is about what a character would experience if they had a disorder called Phantom Pain. I'm not talking about a rock band or about ghosts sticking needles in your arms. Sorry to disappoint.

Phantom pain occurs when you feel sensations arising from a part of your body you don't have anymore. A classic case is a person with an amputation of a leg. Interestingly, it's not just pain that is felt. Other sensations like tingling, movement, tickles, and temperature changes occur too. Almost all phantom pain syndromes occur from a lost limb. But it's been seen with the loss of an internal organ (spleen), breast, or other body part.

Why does it occur? There are several theories, such as "memories" in the nerves of the stump, or abnormal nerve impulses arising within the brain or spinal cord.

So even though a piece of you may be missing, you might feel like it never really left. Haunting, isn't it?

I find this phenomenon fascinating because of the ideas it prods with respect to emotional character struggles and fantasy-realm set-ups. Imagine looking for a magical power you've lost, but can still feel. And I guess a broken heart is a kind of phantom pain, too, isn't it?

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!

If you've got a medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at


I will usually answer your question by email within a day or two, but post later so you don't have to wait a long time to get back to your WIP. All I ask in return is that you become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog when I post. Easy peasy.

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

36 comments:

Angela said...

I have a medical question (raising hand and jumping up and down)! I have hyperthyroidism, and my doctor warned me about thyroid storms. Obviously I hit google when I first learned about it and did some reading...I understand what can bring on a thyroid storm, and that it can be deadly. But I can't seem to get a clear answer on what EXACTLY happens during a thyroid storm. Does it happen all at once? Are there warning signs? And what happens during the storm itself? How do doctors treat it?

Okay--that's more than one question...LOL. Just whatever you can tell about these "storms" would be appreciated :).

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post, Lydia! I knew about phantom pain, but I didn't think of using the same idea to describe the lost of magical power. (Not that my characters have magical powers.) :)

arlee bird said...

Like Stina, I thought the loss of a magical power is an interesting concept. Or even the phantom pain of a lost limb would be an interesting fictional approach.
Lee
May 3rd A to Z Challenge Reflections Mega Post

Stephanie said...

Yes, excellent post!

Mayowa said...

Oh this is good.

There are so many ways this can be applied to characters. I like the heartbreak example a lot. A character who feels unrequited love for someone else feels pain for and because of someone they never had.

Great post

E. Arroyo said...

Great post! I never thought about linking that with magic. Hmm..sounds interesting.

Creepy Query Girl said...

interesting concept! What would do with a husband who had pregnancy symptoms during his wifes pregnancy in this case?

beth said...

Oh, that would be an awesome rock band name!!

I find this condition fascinating, too. Thanks for posting about it!

Lydia Kang said...

Hey Angela,
Let's email and chat!

Creepy Q. G, that's called "Sympathetic Pregnancy Syndrome." It's real! And so unfair when the hubby wants to eat wife's pickles and ice cream.

Kirsten Lesko said...

Phantom pain fascinates me. The idea to link this with magic is SOOO cool.

And Beth - it would be a great band name!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Another excellent Medical Monday, Lydia! You blow me away every week. So smart! :-)

lbdiamond said...

Great post! The brain is a magical and mysterious thing! :D

Cheree said...

Great post. I've heard about phantom pain, but I didn't know half of the stuff here. Very interesting.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great post. Like Cheree I've heard of phantom pain but didn't understand it. Love the examples you'e given how it can be used in a literary way.

Jana Hutcheson said...

Great post, Lydia! Thanks for sharing!

Tahereh said...

another phenomenal post, lydia. i seriously can't tell you how helpful this is! thanks for all the info!!

<333

Jen said...

Great post!!! Gives me a new perspective on my character if they had such an illness!! YIKES!

Deb Salisbury said...

I love the thought of using phantom pain to describe the loss of magic!!!

MissV said...

Interesting topic. When I read the title I thought it was going to explain why I always get "sympathetic symptoms" of whatever ails my kids. When they have the flu, I feel half-nauseated until they have recovered, though I rarely catch it.

I took an abnormal psychology class years ago and loved it. It's fascinating how many ways the brain can misfire and complicate your life.

I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to suffer from this. To feel pain in a leg that you can SEE isn't there -- what do you do?

Great post! (thanks for stopping by and adding me!)

Janet Johnson said...

Lydia, I love that you have medical Mondays! Fabulous. My husband is an Internal Medicine Resident, so I feel connected already. :)

And thanks for stopping by my blog! :)

Abby Stevens said...

This is such an original, interesting feature! Love it! I can't tell you how many times I've had questions that a professional could answer but I was too intimidated and/or lazy to go seek one out. Wonderful!

Talli Roland said...

I'm loving these posts of yours, Lydia! I've always been fascinated by phantom pain, and it's so cool to have it explained. Thanks!

Emily Ann Benedict said...

Ineresting...okay, I have a follow question.
Is this usually something that happens right after a patient looses a limb but gets better over time...or it something the patient will experience for the rest of his life?
...Or it just a case to case thing?

Lydia Kang said...

Hey Emily,
Nearly every amputee feels phantom pain. About 3/4 feel it right after the anesthesia wears off, and 1/4 begin to feel it days to weeks later. I couldn't find good data about how many have long-term pain problems. Likely it does vary from person to person, and severity wise as well.
Hope this helps!

roxy said...

You write such smart, interesting posts! I really enjoy learning new things from you. There's an award with your name on it at my blog. :)

Emily Ann Benedict said...

Thanks, Lydia. It is a very interesting subject. Agatha Christie wrote about it from time to time because she knew so many soliders from WW1 and WW2.

Cynthia Reese said...

Weirdest phantom pain I ever heard about was phantom gall bladder pain ... which I had, and they still haven't figured out where it came from (ten years after surgery) or why. Blissful relief when you can take your gut for granted again!

Jemi Fraser said...

I recently finished a book where one character dealt with phantom pain. Very interesting stuff.

Lisa and Laura said...

Great post! I love that you do this Lydia. We have a question about short term memory loss. Is it possible that someone in a traumatic car accident with a concussion but no other injuries would end up short term memory loss where they can't remember the week leading up to the accident?

Lydia Kang said...

Hey Lisa and Laura! I'm going to shoot you an email with a short answer and post a longer one, probably on Monday. Thanks for the question!

SAMUEL PARK said...

Oh boy, you had me at "phantom pain." I find them fascinating--medical conditions that sound like they're straight out of Dickens, and that reveal something about the character. More of this please! Just the kind of engaging, dynamic post that we need!

Lydia Kang said...

Aw, thanks Samuel! And everyone else too. I love to share all the strange and fascinating stuff I've learned about. I just never expected to see how relevant it is to literature and writing. Mini med school Mondays, I should call it.

Ee Leen Lee said...

as always another awesome Medical Mondays post!

is Phantom pain the same as phantom limb syndrome? when amputees seem to feel their old limbs...

Lydia Kang said...

Hey Ee,
Yes it's the same thing!

Anonymous said...

You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I discover this topic to be really something which I think I would in no way realize. It seems too complicated and really broad for me. I am searching forward for your next publish, I will try to get the hang of it!

Maria McKenzie said...

Very interesting. I've always wondered what caused phantom pain.

I once saw a guy suffereing with it from a lost hand. He felt like the hand was curled and that the nails were digging into his flesh.

To relieve the pain, a doctor set a mirror to trick his brain. The mirror was only large enough to reflect his remaining hand. When his brain saw that hand open, it immediately relieved the phantom pain.

 
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