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I’m hugging what feels like a warm cadaver arm to my chest and it’s creeping me out. Everyone has experienced losing feeling in some body part before, even if it was simply numbing for a tooth repair—right before you accidentally bite the inside of your cheek. Those who have lost limbs are expert in discussing the sensation of ghost parts. I’m here to speculate why losing sensation either temporarily or permanently is unsettling—regardless of whether you bite yourself.
In my last blog, I mentioned my fall—a classic face plant on asphalt. The makeup artists on THE WALKING DEAD could have used my face for inspiration—although the damage wasn’t bad, just gross. Yesterday I had surgery on my broken wrist at the Surgical Center of the Rockies in Colorado Springs—brilliant work involving both bone grafts and a metal plate. To lessen the need for immediate pain relief and a probable night stay in a hospital, I was given a nerve block so that the affected area (my lower arm and hand) has no sensation at all temporarily. Other patients who have experienced the block have also experienced to a greater or lesser extent the disorienting emotional reaction I’m feeling. My fingers are losing their greenish, tomato soup color as I heal. Inside my arm, I feel tingling—as though my hand is chilled and needs comfort, but when I reach for my fingers with my other hand, they’re almost hot. And they feel like a realistic prop for a Halloween party—warm cadaver fingers. This, then, foreshadows what these fingers will eventually become—an unwelcome reminder of mortality.
I had anticipated the relief I would enjoy when I had no pain for a while, and I was right. But any time my arm is liberated from what I call a straitjacket with a sling attached, that arm obeys gravity, not me. It seems to act on its own…a throwback to hostile alien takeovers of human bodies in horror movies. A finger can easily catch on anything—such as the edge of a table, in danger of being injured without informing me it happened. That part of my body no longer heeds my commands. It’s entirely separated from my loop of information.
Recently, I’ve been doing research on Near Death Experiences, and regardless of your opinions of the first-hand reports, many experiencers claim one of the most upsetting effects is being released from your body to float above as a separate consciousness looking down on your physical being. Think of the mass quantities of time we spend throughout our lives maintaining and grooming our bodies, working to be attractive, healthy, and worthy of self-respect. Self-awareness is measured by how a creature relates to a mirror. Methods of struggling vainly against the physical changes that eventually accompany aging is easily a multi-billion dollar business.
But when we lose sensation in a significant body part, we undergo an identity crisis. We realize we are not our bodies. For example, Stephen Hawking didn’t allow the gradual deterioration of his physical self to halt his curiosity, intelligence, or triumphs. (Perhaps he continues on in another dimension—bound by neither his body nor his place among physical beings.) Whatever you believe about a possible after-life, when a part of you is eliminated from sensation even temporarily your understanding of life is altered. Perhaps the material aspects of life on Earth were never meant to be given top priority.
(By the way, as I post these musings, I can wiggle my fingers in the splint and life feels more normal. Whew!)