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Return of the Phantom Menace…


It’s over seventeen years since my fingers were amputated due to frostbite.  Life has changed, but I manage well with what I have left and continue to lead a normal(ish) life.  For years, all has seemed sorted, until recently…

Occasionally I suffer phantom pains in my fingertips.  Old memories come to haunt me in the night, making my injuries throb and ache for hours on end.  Thankfully this has been a rare occurrence, but as of late, it’s become a constant discomfort.  The physical ache has brought back vivid memories of the moment I was defrosted in Anchorage.  I cannot describe the pain I felt, and even writing this sentence make me tingle from head to foot.  The oscillating throb came slowly, making me brace every muscle for the agony I knew was coming.  I shook, gripped and cried with every sinew of my soul until medical drugs took away the pain. I then slept, exhausted both mentally and physically.  That was a long time ago…

We are creatures who rely on the use of our hands.  The ability to grip, touch and hold are part of our species, and have moulded the way evolution has created us.  Though a few are different, the great majority work without a thought when it comes to dexterity and grip.  The world’s great structures were built with skilled hands.  The world’s greatest manuscripts were written with skilled hands.  The world’s greatest mountains were climbed with skilled hands.  Though I’ve climbed more since my accident than before, it is now very different.  No more can I hold onto tiny gritstone flakes and edges.  Blood streams from my skin graft sites after any abrasion.  My strength of grip has waned.  These are not excuses, but facts, so I’ve changed how I climb.  Scrambling and winter climbing are easier for my wounds, and so I have adapted.  I’ve never felt any unusual nerve pain when climbing, but recently my hands, at times,  have become unbearable.  No matter how much we think a problem is solved or in the past, it can always come back to haunt us.  The inevitable question of ‘why?’ springs to mind.  I have racked my brain searching for some sliver of reasoning, as to the reason I tingle and ache.  I have found nothing.  Medical investigations have begun, and only time will tell where this journey ends.  I’ve found that tiredness makes the pain worse, but I’m not known for my ability to rest.  I’m a worker in every aspect of my life and always will be, but I can’t risk losing further sensation. Enough has already been lost to numbness.   I remember well blind adventurer Miles Hilton Barber once telling me how he was frost nipped in Antarctica, and was evacuated because he couldn’t risk ‘going blind twice’.

Many people live their lives suffering pain (in fact, some of you reading this may know may be in discomfort right now).  Hopefully it is well medicated (if required), and we shouldn’t forget that millions of closed doors and public smiles hide their discomfort.  Many sufferers get on with their lives, with little comment or complaint.  Some may be embarrassed, but in my experience many just want answers and closure.  I’m finding typing brings stinging pain, which makes life interesting in this modern world of touchscreens and keyboards.  I was brought an early version of voice activated software when in hospital, and found it of some use.  Thankfully my home computer is well served, and much of this blog has been dictated via a microphone.  Unfortunately my professional world of electrical engineering requires very specialist software which cannot be altered, but other avenues are being explored.  I’m not slowing down for anyone and will continue to climb, travel and work as hard as I can.

Some wear satin, some wear silk.  Some prefer pyjamas, some onesies.  Some slumber naked, but for now, I need to sleep in elastic and Velcro.  Sounds sexy doesn’t it..?  I’ve been advised to brace my wrists straight overnight to give the nerves and blood supply time to settle.  Will it work..?  Who knows, but I have to give it a fair try. Over the years I’ve slept with my arms in Bradford Slings, had my feet elevated on piles of pillows, and been plugged into multiple Epidural lines, so I shouldn’t really complain.

Yet after all this time, I had hoped for some peace…

4 thoughts on “Return of the Phantom Menace…”

  1. Sorry to hear about your current problems but its another great article. Recurring health problems can be depressing but your outlook is still inspiring.

    1. Thanks Andy, I’m still looking for answers from the medical world, but finding few answers. Off on expedition soon and hoping it clears a little for then..!

  2. So sorry that such an inspirational person has this burden to bear, met Nigel at a d of e talk when one of our children fetched his award, one first glimpse, hands deep in pockets ,I said to husband tut he should get his hands out of his pockets, later having heard him speak and read the book nothing but admiration for him..stunning campervan too x

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