Anatomy of the Arm

A week ago, I had a dream that I lost both of my arms in a car accident. Stoic that I am, I decided that it didn’t make sense to cry over things that I couldn’t fix and decided to learn to live without half of my limbs. It was hard, but I had a singular goal that kept me focused on the positive and off the negative: to become capable again.

Later in the dream, I learn about the new work that’s being done with bionic arms. I call up the group that is pioneering this work and am able to convince them to take my case. “I was going to be a surgeon!” I plead. After months of work with this group, they present me with my new limbs. As they attach them, I’m trembling. I feel scared of them even though this is what I want more than anything else in life.

“Now move your arms,” they say. I watch, as they do, my right arm rise to scratch my forehead and satisfy an itch that’s been bugging me for months. I collapse on the ground, my head held in my bionic arms, and begin sobbing. I’m crying to make up for my lost grieving. I’m crying in thanks to these people that have given me back my life. I’m crying over my joy.

That’s when I woke up from the dream: crying. Pretty crazy thing to wake up to a pillow wet from your dreaming tears. You know what’s worse? This morning.

I woke up at 2:30am without my right arm. I could feel pain, but I couldn’t feel it. I look for my arm and it’s there, but it’s hard to move around to get a better look. I reach over with my left and try to pick it up. It’s heavy and I can’t feel my left arm on my right. I’ve fallen asleep on limbs before and it has never been this bad or taken this long to come back to me. After a full scary minute, it starts a reassuring burn. The blood is moving back into the arm, the nerves are screaming at being held under water for so long. They’re still too weak to do anything but make pain, so my arm is paralyzed still. Slowly, I find I can wiggle my fingers, bring my arm towards and away, make a fist and release it. After a few more minutes, my arm is mine again.

I have a pretty healthy fear that my arms will become paralyzed. They’ve drilled it into me at this medical school. “Q: A med student studying late on the couch falls asleep with his arm over the back. He wakes up and finds that he cannot move his left arm. It is permanently paralyzed. What condition predisposes individuals to severe thoracic outlet syndrome? A: Post-fixed brachial plexus.” Now I know about a rare and terrifying variation. Thanks.

So where does that leave me? I’m lying in bed at 3am scared to go back to sleep. I’d indulge my fears more, but I have a Pharm Exam later this morning and I have to get some rest.

I wake up at 4:30am without my right arm. I’ve been sleeping on my back, arm left safely at my side, and now it’s gone again. I’m in full panic mode as I slap and punch at the arm as if it’s a kid “playing dead.” It doesn’t work. Nothing. No pain. I pick up the arm and drop it a few times: deadwood. I get out of bed and start twisting my torso, using centripetal forces to repurfuse the fucking thing. I look RIDICULOUS. It’s a minute later before the blessed tingling starts. Now I’m carrying my arm around like a child, making sure to cradle the hand.

I can’t possibly go back to sleep. I know that one of these days my sleep will be too deep, I’ll have my arm in a strange position, and the muscles in my neck will somehow vice-grip the nerves and artery keeping the thing alive. I will wake up and it will never work again.
What am I going to do then?

Consider this day-one of my new insomnia.

One Response to Deadwood

  1. Joshua says:

    I’ve had that oh-my-god-my-arm-is-never-going-to-function-again panic in the middle of the night…

    It’s nice to know I’m the only one who freaks out in my head.
    Maybe I need more Vitamin B-12? :-)

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