31 March 2007: Pat the stump!

Category: General
Posted by: erin
A question we get frequently: Has Dad experienced phantom pain?

The answer is decidedly yes, though at least at the beginning it was more weirdness than pain. On one of our first visits, Rodney was standing near the end of the bed (as he usually did), and Dad said, "Rodney - do something about that foot, it ITCHES!" Poor Rodney, he didn't know what to do in response to that. None of us did, really. Nervous, helpless chuckles all around.

Over the next few days, Dad would randomly interject comments into conversations: "now it feels like it's in a ski boot", "it felt like it was swimming", "now it feels like it has a tennis shoe on", "I had goose bumps on my shin". When you combine these feelings with the morphine room, some of them got pretty detailed: "I had a hang nail on my pinky toe that kept snagging the sheet", or "my leg was hanging off the side of the bed, and I was swinging my foot--I could feel the air moving through all of the little hair follicles on my shin." Many in our family are permutative thinkers (at least I am), and it seemed to me that Dad's brain was trying to make sense of the nerve signals he was getting: is it this? no. is it that? no. what about this? no.

His right leg was getting pretty swollen, since he was laying in bed and getting so much fluid, and he liked to have his calf and foot rubbed--they had this cool little cuff thing that would kind of do the same thing, but when you're killing time in the hospital room having a visit, a calf massage is a nice thing to be able to do. Anyway, I tickled his foot by accident--I was trying to massage it, but the bottoms of his feet are like a hobbit's, and I inevitably end up tickling it instead. As usual he laughed and told me to cut it out; he then added, "My other foot is getting sympathy tickled."

It isn't all fun and games, of course. Pins and needles are pretty common, as are random pain shooters that wake him up now and then. Sometimes, he gets these nasty foot-curling-down-calf-all-clenched-up leg cramps. The first time we witnessed one of these was the second time it happened, I think. "Erin, pat the end of my stump." Wha? Do what with which? I looked down, and there were bandages and padding everywhere. Honestly, I couldn't even tell where the end was. So I did the best I could. "A little harder.. " It was like burping a baby - not a newborn, but a two or three month old. Once the end of the stump was patted a few times, the cramp would go away. Good thing to know.
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