I’ve had an interesting relationship to phantom pain over the last 32 years. Phantom pain is pain that feels very real in the part of my leg that is missing. For the first 15 years after the accident I had phantom pain multiple times a day. It felt like a crowbar to the shin bone or someone pounding a nail into my big toe. Every time the pain announced its presence it would take my breath away, quite literally. It lasted only five to ten seconds and took everything I had to get through it. I was embarrassed when people saw me wince in pain and I was angry at the pain for invading my day.
My doctors told me it wasn’t real pain, intimating that it was in my head. Pain is pain and I didn’t believe that my mind could fabricate something akin to torture.
On the fifteenth anniversary of my accident, I realized that I had been waiting for an apology from the man who hit me with his car. That night I figured that, if I wanted one, I better call him and ask for it, since he hadn’t called me to offer one. It’s a long story, but the long and the short of it is that we did meet each other over Valentine’s day weekend seventeen years ago. Though we saw each other at the trial two years after the accident, we weren’t allowed to talk to each other, so this was our first time ever talking to each other.
The afternoon we spent together we talked for hours. We were able to cry. We were able to listen to each other’s perspective. A lot happened to me that weekend. One significant change was that, for the two weeks directly after my visit with him, I didn’t have phantom pain once. For two whole weeks. It had been fifteen years and I hadn’t gone a day without phantom pain and then I went for two weeks without it. When it did come back into my life, the frequency was reduced to four or five times a week, not a day.
Phantom pain has come and gone from my life since that meeting seventeen years ago. For the past two years I’ve had very little because, I believe, I haven’t been walking as much and irritating the nerve endings.
Well, that’s not the case anymore. I walk everyday and I’ve felt an increase in my phantom pain. I use my child birth breathing techniques to get through the pain instead of holding my breath like I used to. I listen to the pain and I’m gentle with it. I’m not angry at the pain anymore. I just try to soften around it and let it be.
I’m not happy to have this pain again, but I don’t resent it either. If anything, I know there may be a lesson in the crowbar whacks. And if there isn’t, then that’s OK, too.