The similarity between grief at loss of body part and grief caused by the death of a loved person has been clearly shown in comparative studies of the reaction to amputation of a limb and of widowhood. People with either of these losses were preoccupied with feelings of loss: bereaved people were missing the lost person and the amputees were missing the loss of physical attractiveness (loss of body image) or the occupational and other physical functions that could no longer be carried out (loss of function), or both of these.
Both groups said that they had difficulty in believing in the fact of the loss and tended to avoid reminders. Both groups reported having clear visual memories of the lost person or part, and many had a strong sense of their persisting presence. This was most pronounced in the amputees as the “phantom limb.” As time passed, both the phantom limb and the phantom spouse tended to dwindle in significance. In the case of the amputee, the phantom limb seemed to merge with the prosthesis. In both groups, returning to work was associated with improvement in emotional symptoms, but only a third of amputees were able to work full time, often because of persisting arterial disease in the unamputated limb.
Both before and after amputation, impairment of mobility often gave rise to depression, which in turn delayed rehabilitation. Like the widows, those amputees who had a longstanding tendency to anxiety or depression (described as “sensitizers” by Horowitz2 coped less well and suffered more than others. So, paradoxically, did a group of amputees, mostly men, who showed little evidence of distress at the time of the amputation. Rigid and compulsively self reliant people, they seemed to be coping well at first, but 13 months later they were significantly more likely to have persistent pain in their phantom limb than other amputees.3 These compare with the “identification symptoms” reported by some bereaved people who show little grief at the time of a loss (Horowitz’s “avoiders”) but subsequently develop pains and other symptoms that often resemble those of the person who died. This suggests that the persistence of pain in a phantom limb may sometimes result from the repression or avoidance of grief at the loss.
Any health care professional who works with people who have lost limbs recognizes that the psychological challenges their patients battle every day are tough. This is perhaps an understatement, since for most people, losing a limb profoundly impacts every aspect of their life — mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Depending upon age, psychological health before the loss, financial situation, circumstances of the loss (trauma, disease or congenital), society’s values and support or lack of support from family and friends, the road to recovery can be relatively quick or prolonged.
I guess it was somewhere around 1978 or 79 that I became friends with a young man that had lost his right arm in traumatic accident while inspecting a section of pipe that was being manufactured to carry oil beneath the ocean floor. The amazing thing about this gentleman was that we met while playing softball. His name is Randy Harville and I have forever been closely tied to his struggle to overcome the results of that terrible day. Watching Randy play softball was nothing short of spectacular. He had developed his skills through extensive practice developing the ability to catch a ball, flip the ball out of his glove, remove the glove from his hand, catch the ball and throw it accurately all in one fluid motion. Most people will never understand the challenges and the struggles that Randy had to overcome to rearrange his body and mind to accept the loss of his arm. I would often think back on the early days of training to be a magician. There were many times that I would begin to doubt whether I had the fortitude to conquer the art because my body and mind just wouldn’t cooperate with one another.
Looking back on Randy’s early life you find a very normal individual living on the Arkansas side playing every sport that involved a ball. His most productive sport was baseball taking him to Southern Arkansas to play one year. A gunshot accident destroyed his progression there and he found himself looking for a job. Even though baseball was his pay-off sport he loved football more. Randy was positioned at wide receiver having a lot of success catching passes for the Arkansas High Razorbacks. His head coach during his junior year was Sweed Lee and his senior coach was Doyle Nix. Randy recalled that Robert E. (Swede) Lee had been recruited by Galveston Ball. Randy said, “Swede had made the LA Times making $20,000 per year to coach the team.” It was quite a shock that such a small amount of money would be written up in the LA Times.
After reminiscing some twenty minutes or so I finally began to explore the essence of the story. I mentioned to Randy that I had heard several different stories about how he got injured but wasn’t sure which were true. Randy showed no apprehension when beginning to share that tragic moment in his life.
Randy worked at the time for Daniel Mann Johnson & Mendenhall, which was a inspector group in the industrial world. At this time in Randy’s life he was beginning to experience what it was like to finally have some money in his pocket. He was wanting a new car and other things in life that most red blooded men would want. Randy was working as a subcontractor for the Federal Government. His job was working along side a pipe wrapping machine that was applying gunite, iron ore and chicken wire to the outside of pipe joints that were being laid at the bottom of the ocean to deliver oil to a salt dome in New Iberia, La. It was a three million dollar project that at the time was the largest that had ever been let in the mid 70’s. His first job was 1585 feet below the surface inspecting the quality of the air. The cavern was four and a half miles one way and two and a half miles in the other direction. The project was to fill these caverns with crude oil and that is exactly what they did.
His next job was in Belle Chasse, La where he was the inspector working on the pipe wrapping machine. The pipe was ridding on a railroad track spinning the pipe while the gunite would spray on to it coating the surface. Randy’s job was to make sure the “cut backs” were wide enough to allow for the coupling of the pipe joints. The chicken wire was the final wrap that would hold the coating on the pipe. There was a large knife that would cut the wire to the desired length. After running the operation for a long while the knife began to fray the wire causing problems in the operation. Randy was given a wooden pipe to measure the 22 inches necessary for the pipe to work. While holding the wooden stick up to the spinning pipe the fray of the chicken wire caught the end of the pipe and pulled him into the spinning wheels of the machine. Randy said, “I let go of the pipe and the fray of the chicken wire caught the end of my little finger and pulled me into the rotating mechanism.” Unable to free himself from the machine, it began to eat away at his arm pulling all of the flesh off of the bone and balling it up at his hand. His first recognition of what had happened was a large ball of tissue around his hand with only 5 little fingertips showing. It also chewed of his ear and nearly knocked his eye out.
Randy’s co-workers tried to unwind the pipe but had to rely on a one hundred thousand pound fork lift to raise the pipe off his arm and free him from the machine. A guy about 5’6” picked him up and carried him about 200 yards. What was remarkable was Randy had just completed a CPR course and was aware of breathing techniques that helped him survive. Randy recalls sitting in the lawn chair he was carried to and watching people look at the injured are and throwing up from the sight. Soon after his moved to the chair he was transported by ambulance to the hospital for treatment.
If getting caught in a spinning machine wasn’t now enough, on the way to the hospital the ambulance encountered a draw bridge that was up. He remembers laying there in the ambulance for several minutes waiting for the bridge to come down.
Once at the hospital it took 13 hours to stabilize his blood pressure, and another 5 hours to remove his arm. He has since been through 7 major surgeries. Quite an experience for a 31 year old man to endure. What adds insult to injury is that Randy had just played a softball game the night before the accident.
The inspiration I received from the conversation when Randy said, “Roger I feel lucky. The Good Lord left me here for a reason and one of these days I will discover what the reason is.” He continued, “I want you to know that this was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” Getting very emotional Randy said, “Without a doubt, I would love to have my arm back. The thing I miss the most is that I used to crack the knuckles on my fingers all the time. If I could just do that one more time it would be awesome. Because my arm was mutilated the nerves were damaged in a way that causes a ghost or phantom arm. If the arm had been severed cleanly it would not have been so problematic. It would just be gone, where Randy’s arm is still there in his mind. He stated, “As we are sitting here talking, my arm is just throbbing away.” The problem became such an issue the Randy finally searched for a doctor that hypnotized him and gave him the suggestion that his arm was laid across his chest. Now in his mind that arm is at rest and not the problem it had been for so long. Randy says that when walking toward a door with something in his hand his phantom arm always wants to push the door open. This is a response that he will always endure.
I then questioned him on the emotional side of the issue, asking him what his struggles were from an emotional angle. Randy looked at me and exclaimed, “Roger you are a hands man. You surly can see the trouble in getting over the loss.” He said, “It’s really not the way I feel about myself as much as it is about how you feel about me. I have never worried about what “Randy thinks, I have always wondered what “Roger” thinks. Having people look at me in a different way took a long time to get over, especially, the girls that you always want to attract when you are young and unmarried. I experienced a drug problems that arose from months and months of consuming pain killers and mood altering substances. It was not an easy road facing all the elements of mental struggle.”
At this moment of the conversation I began to get emotional and I was compelled to tell Randy that I loved him. After a long period of tears and silence I saw a man that has always been an inspiration to me. You simply don’t have to go through the hardships to understand the hardships. One thing I can say about Randy Harville is that he is a dedicated man standing tall and facing what the world had to throw at him. Watching his struggles and his victories have taught me many lessons.
Randy is a very successful sales executive for the Riggs Caterpillar Dealership on Trinity Blvd. Texarkana, AR He is often on the road visiting his customers that are in the construction business. His success comes from his competitive nature and his will to survive. He sets the standard of what a competitor is in all phases of life.
Many people have the ambition to succeed, they may even have a special aptitude for their job. And yet they do not move ahead, Why? Perhaps they think that since they can master the job, there is no need to master themselves.