Today was my first day of school since 2005, and if there was one theme of the day, it was running. Running to catch two lightrail lines in Downtown Buffalo, running to make classes while being late, running into one of the registrar offices to have my final class added to my schedule, running to the inter-campus shuttle. For spending the day in a pair of lecture halls, I certainly managed a good workout.
I had two classes today, chemistry and psy 101. It was certainly interesting to get information on how the elements of the Periodic Table were named, and how to measure ionic and atomic weight. But a real interesting show awaited me in psy.
I get a lot of questions about just what it feels like to live with my deformed arm, and I always answer them the same way: Damned if I know. I have never felt qualified to give an answer to that question because my arm is a birth defect. I’ve had it my whole life. My two other fingers are never going to grow in, and so I’m never going to have anything to compare NOT having a birth defect to. My closest parallel is my right elbow, which lost a little bit of movement after an operation I had on it when I was eleven years old. I feel like I should be able to stretch my right arm further, even though that full function is permanently gone.
My biggest problem with my deformed arm is my immobile wrist, but I don’t notice that either, or at least my nerve system doesn’t. Sure, I’m always aware that it’s there and will hinder me in doing some things, but in operating it, nothing feels off unless I try to do something it was never meant to do. Usually when I try to explain this to a questioner, the response I get is a backhand mention of a symptom called the Phantom Limb. The Phantom Limb is something that amputated people are known to feel. It’s a sensation in the missing limb, and the statistics on Wikipedia say that some 60 to 80 percent of amputees are known to feel it. Most of the sensations are painful, but other symptoms include itching, warmth, cold, tightness, squeezing, and tingling.
From what I concluded in class today, I think I go without phantom limbs because to my own brain, my deformity is normal, and its never known any other way to live. Therefore, my brain has adjusted itself accordingly, and the parts of my brain which control my would-be finger and wrist movement simply aren’t there. Now, I trust everyone reading this knows that we basically think about every movement we make before we actually make it – the basics are that the brain sends a signal to the nerve endings which come down through the spine and stretch out to the other parts of your nerve system. We have little parts of our brains devoted to each and every moveable part of our bodies. Now consider for a moment that if you lose one of those parts, that’s an entire section of the brain basically going dormant. To the other parts of your brain, that simply won’t do, and they slowly move in and take over the part that doesn’t work. This is apparently a part of where the Phantom Limb comes from.
It would also explain why I don’t feel anything like the Phantom Limb. Of course, being quite unlearned in this field yet, this idea could prove to be wrong, so I’m not betting the farm on it until I know more. Still, now you have a possible explanation as to why I can’t tell you what having a deformed arm is like.