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Reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome—from the inside

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 24 June 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:1680
  1. Anna Alexander

    After a period of grieving and adjustment amputees eventually accept their loss, picking up the threads of their life. Their loss is obvious and evokes understanding and support. But when someone becomes the victim of a rare disabling condition such as reflex sympathetic dystrophy the victim cannot know what he or she must accept or how to plan for the future.

    In 1978 my left brachial plexus was damaged by the seat belt that saved my life in a serious motor accident. On regaining consciousness I was aware of an intense sensation of ice and fire and pins and needles on the left side of my neck, radiating down my left arm and upwards to myface. Compared with this my fractured left wrist was of minor interest. Although the intensity of these sensations lessened after a few minutes, they have continued more or less unabated for 16 years. At the time of my accident I was physically fit, athletic, and outgoing, with a wide circle of friends and a full life. Work and leisure pursuits were essentially physical. Robbed of these by an obscure medical condition causing pain upon physical or emotional stimulation, I became withdrawn and depressed.

    After the accident I experienced acute hypersensitivity and pain in my wrist, which was in plaster: any incautious movement of my left shoulder produced piercing pain. My sense of touch was impaired—for instance, to the fingers of my injured hand my skin felt like pumice stone. Cold always intensifies the pain. …

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