Phantom paralysis

prospect mag.gifThis month’s brilliant Out of Mind column in Prospect magazine, written by psychiatrist Robert Drummond and Alexanader Linklater, deputy editor of the mag, is about a cambonian woman with phantom paralysis.

The woman’s husband died recently following a massive stroke. They’d been married 42 years. An earlier stroke had left him with a weak arm and leg. Now his widow is complaining of similar symptoms – a completely limp arm, and a weak leg, but crucially, scans have revealed no physical explanation for her paralysis.

“The young psychiatrist asks if Kim Sieng feels depressed. She says she doesn’t. He asks if she wants to talk more about her husband. Again she doesn’t. Suddenly, he is conscious of a poignancy that Kim Sieng does not herself express. He can’t resist the impression that she has somehow embodied her grief, telling him about it with her body”.

The article describes how the psychiatrist was finding himself in the murky world of ‘hysterical paralysis’, part of Charcot’s 19-th century notion of a dynamic neural lesion.

human traces.jpgHere’s how, at a public lecture at the Salpetriere, Charcot describes hysterical paralysis in a male patient, taken from Sebastian Faulks’ outstanding novel Human Traces:

“This is an example of what an English colleague, Mr. Reynolds, referred to as ‘paralysis by idea’ – not imagined paralysis, for this man is as physically afflicted as any of my multiple sclerosis patients – no, paralysis by idea. An experience has been held out of conscious thought in such a way that it has been able to exert its influence directly upon the nervous system and thus upon the muscles of the patient. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the peculiar interest of this condition”.

Link to this month’s Out of Mind column (which unfortunately isn’t free this time).
Link to last month’s column (free access) on different perspectives of alcoholism.
Link to earlier Mind Hacks post on A Beautiful Madness, highlighting an earlier Prospect article by Drummond and Linklater.

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