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From Ramachandran's Notebook
Case 1
Case 2 | Case 3 | Case 4 | Case 5 | Case 6

A Philadelphia physician coined the phrase "phantom limb" shortly after the Civil War, when thousands of soldiers had limbs amputated and consequent phantoms arise. In the century and a half since then, tales from the veiled world of phantom-limb syndrome have accumulated in the literature.

There are literally hundreds of fascinating case studies, which appear in the older medical journals. Some of the described phenomena have been confirmed repeatedly and still cry out for an explanation, whereas others seem like far-fetched products of the writer's own imagination. One of my favorites is about a patient who started experiencing a vivid phantom arm soon after amputation—nothing unusual so far—but after a few weeks developed a peculiar, gnawing sensation in his phantom. Naturally he was quite puzzled by the sudden emergence of these new sensations, but when he asked his physician why this was happening, the doctor didn't know and couldn't help. Finally, out of curiosity, the fellow asked, "Whatever happened to my arm after you removed it?" "Good question," replied the doctor, "you need to ask the surgeon." So the fellow called the surgeon, who said, "Oh, we usually send the limbs to the morgue." So the man called the morgue and asked, "What do you do with amputated arms?" They replied, "We send them either to the incinerator or to pathology. Usually we incinerate them." "Well, what did you do with this particular arm? With my arm?" They looked at their records and said, "You know, it's funny. We didn't incinerate it. We sent it to pathology."

The man called the pathology lab. "Where is my arm?" he asked again. They said, "Well, we had too many arms, so we just buried it in the garden, out behind the hospital."

They took him to the garden and showed him where the arm was buried. When he exhumed it, he found it was crawling with maggots and exclaimed, "Well, maybe that's why I'm feeling these bizarre sensations in my arm." So he took the limb and incinerated it. And from that day on, his phantom pain disappeared.

Case 2 | Case 3 | Case 4 | Case 5 | Case 6


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