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The Function of Pain

July 4, 2011

Phantom limb is a phenomenon in which the amputee experiences sensation—usually pain—in the missing limb.

In the 1956 revolution, Karl Szilágyi, a freedom fighter, lost his right arm. It was blown off by a soviet gunner as he ran through the belváros. Forty years later, he still experienced agonizing pain in the phantom limb—the nonexistent fist was clenched tightly, he said, so that the fingernails dug into the flesh of the palm.

Doctors explained a new and promising form of treatment to Szilágyi. A simple wooden box was separated into two compartments by a mirror. By sticking both the corporeal arm and the phantom arm into the separate compartments of the box, and looking down at an angle, the amputee experienced the illusion that both arms were whole. Next, the patient was instructed to tighten the real hand until the pain was identical to that of the unreal hand. By slowly relaxing the corporeal fist and staring into the illusory box, the mind was deceived into simultaneously relaxing the missing fist.

As they explained the procedure, Szilágyi listened longingly—the pain was particularly severe that day. Then, after a minute of silence he said, Thank you, gentlemen, but I would never. The arm—it clings to the memories.

The Function of Pain

© Trent R. Leinenbach, Ashen Apples, 2011

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2011 10:00 pm

    I like this short piece Trent. Work on the punch of the last line. I love what you are trying to get at here. It conveys the difficulty of letting something go even when it is so obviously and so blatantly already gone. However, when you say it clings to the memories that does two things. 1) it opens up too much for me. i suddenly want to know more, just as it is ending. and 2) its slightly too dramatic. I think I would like this more if it conveyed the concept of how we are so set in our ways that we don’t even really have good or “dramatic” reasons for doing them anymore. As always, great work. 🙂

    • July 7, 2011 7:16 am

      Awesome comment Katie. I was thinking it was pretty dang dramatic myself, so the second opinion really helps. Thanks so much.

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