A lot of people talk about phantom pains and classify them as a mild psychotic episode or a ‘trick’ your mind played on you after you lose a body part. Until a few months ago the stories of phantom pains were just that, stories. When I had a toe amputated due to an MRSA related infection I learned first hand that these pains are indeed real on many levels.
After my amputation I asked about phantom pains and if there would be any chance that I would have them. The doctors treating me couldn’t answer that question, it’s a case by case type of thing. A week after the surgery I started feeling a tingling near the area where my toe was, I chalked it up to the wound starting to heal and the stitches adjusting themselves. When I started having the same types of pains that I had in the toe that was removed I started reading about phantom pains to better understand them.
I was prescribed a few different medications after I told my doctor about the different pains I was having but I still couldn’t understand how something that wasn’t there (my toe) could still cause me pain. This wasn’t isolated to just the incision area any more; it felt like I still had a toe and the cut that was the entry site for the MRSA. The sensations varied from throbbing to tingling, burning to a crippling ‘crunch’ feeling. I started logging when I had the pains to see if an activity, time of day, food or movement triggered it and came up with no set pattern.
After seeing a specialist in pain management I was told that my pains were indeed real. Because I experienced some pain and discomfort before the amputation that increased the chances that I would have to deal with it post-surgery. Two and a half months later I know that when the weather changes, I walk too much at any given time or wear new shoes I have a greater chance of getting the phantom pains but that is not to say that others going through the same thing will have the same triggers.
A friend suggested trying Tamanu Oil on the site once it was completely head and the stitches were removed. This did help with some of the smaller pains but I was still having the ones that literally knocked the wind out of me. Who thought that something as small as a toe being removed could cause such incredible pain. Prescription medications helped to a degree but they didn’t act fast enough; localized products like Hurricane Spray (a topical numbing agent) were suggested but it wasn’t all that convenient to carry around a bottle of it, whip off my sock and shoe and apply it.
I have reduced the amount of caffeine that I consume since this constricts blood vessels. Since I have done this I have noticed that the episodes have dropped about 20%. I’ve also started taking a low dose aspirin on a regular daily basis to help with blood flow. I was given Heparin in the hospital because my movement was very limited and there was a risk of DVT, Deep Vein Thrombosis. The low dose aspirin acts to mildly thin the blood but at that low a dose it won’t be enough to prevent clots but it does work to help with overall blood flow.
Deep tissue massage is also something that has help although I am a little leery about allowing the person to go full throttle just yet. I don’t have any tenderness to the touch but having someone pressing hard on an already sensitive area doesn’t sit well with me just yet. There are some great alternatives to prescription drugs available for those suffering from phantom pains, most of them are hit or miss and will vary from person to person. One thing that I can say is that they work faster and don’t leave you feeling groggy or lethargic.
Exploring your options for pain management is your only way to find your path through this. You can try meditation, herbal blends, acupressure or simply letting out a good scream. For me, working through the pain was a good method to cope but for the extreme pains I needed something that would work quickly and found both B.C. Powder and Goody Powder to be the best over the counter picks. These powdered analgesics are high in aspirin and are not recommended for people who are sensitive to it or who are currently taking a blood thinner.