Tales from the Practice of Medicine: Phantom Limb

Wang Lin

PureInsight | February 3, 2003

[PureInsight.org] Somewhat lame when he entered the door, his look was gloomy, serious and expressionless. When I asked him how I could help, he frowned and said that his leg hurt. Asking a few of the customary questions, I started examining his pulse and tongue. Then, I left him for a while to deal with something else. When I came back, he was lying on the examination table, an artificial leg by his side. His leg had been amputated at the crotch. When he found that I was staring at the artificial leg, the atmosphere of the room became heavy. We tried to avoid eye contact and kept silent. I was waiting for his explanation, while he was waiting for my questions.

I spoke first, "What type of pain are you experiencing? Is it stabbing, sharp, prickling, or a continuous, dull pain?"

He closed his lips tightly and looked as if he did not want to answer me at all. After a long time he sighed, "If I were candid with you, you might think I had a mental illness. No doctors believe me. They all said that the problem was in my mind. That the pain was only in my imagination. Although my leg has been amputated, it still really hurts."

Oh, I got it! He was talking about the pain in his leg in another dimension, not here in this earthly one.

I asked him, "What was the reason for the amputation?"

"A tumor. Doctors were not really sure of the precise diagnosis, but a chap who failed his classes in medical school but got a doctor's license by squeezing through school cut it off muddle-headedly."

When I heard the story I felt chill go through my body. It seemed as if all the blood had drained from my head. I understood that although his leg in this dimension did not exist, it had been complaining and groaning since it should not have been amputated. I noticed that every now and then, he tried to stroke the nonexistent right leg with his hand. Instead, he touched the bed instead of the limb that should have been there.

I opted for a dialectical treatment, which is to treat the upper part of body when the illness is in the lower part. Treat the left side of body when the illness is in the right. I then acupunctured his left leg and left arm. Meanwhile, I closed his Baihui aperture (an acupuncture point in Chinese medicine, at the top of the head). In a little while, he fell asleep. When he woke up, he felt very good. He asked me how soon he could come back. I told him, "You don't have to come back. What I can do is nothing more than this. You have to take time to get used to the loss of your leg that should not have been lost."

I gave him the following prescription: "Seek inner balance, regulate your spirit, maintain your primal qi and do more good deeds. Don't get angry. Take good care of your moral character. Restrain your words and deeds."

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