Phantom phantom limbs

I’ve been thinking a bit about the phenomenon of phantom limb pain e.g. someone’s arm gets blown off in Iraq, yet three years later, they feel pain in that “arm.” Medical understanding of why phantom limbs pain occurs is still nebulous, but the basic idea is that the neurons in the brain whose job it was to pay attention to that arm are firing off incorrectly, possibly “confused” at the fact that they are no longer getting any sensory input.

But this opens up an interesting question: can you have phantom limb pain while still having a limb? By this, I mean, can you feel pain in a limb that is still there, but has no structural damage to explain the pain? Obviously I have no idea, but I’m reminded of an article I read years ago about a woman who had been a bit actress on the Fame TV show. She suffered some minor injury — a strained ankle or something — but the pain from that injury slowly radiated and increased over a decade. Eventually, a light touch on any part of her body would cause her pain. Obviously the pain circuitry of her brain had gotten out of control.

On the lighter side, this opens up an interesting idea for a short story. A man, confused about his gender, decides to undergo a sex change operation. The operation is successful, but he starts noticing a sensation of incredible pain in his penis (now missing of course.) Eventually he is confronted by a ghostly floating apparition — the “soul” of his penis. At the end, the phantom penis impales him in the heart and he dies. The moral would be that people should not have sex change operations.

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