O mnie

Jestem jak droga polna, niczyja,  którą się mija,

Co nigdzie wiodła i wieść nie będzie, choć idzie wszędzie.

Dzieli mnie zawsze, tak jak tę drogę,
miedza od nieba,
a poco jestem pojąć nie mogę, bo mnie nie trzeba!

Nie byłem nigdy sobie, czy komu,
drogą do domu –
i dobrze życzę każdej godzinie
kiedy już minie.

Contact me

Ryszard Antolak

antolak@antolak.co.uk

 

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Phantom Pains

There is nothing imaginary about” phantom pain”. It not an imaginary discomfort. Indeed, it can be more severe than a pain that can be located on the body, one that can be held, or rubbed, warmed or soothed. From the affliction of a phantom pain there is no escape, not even into narcotics.

Phantom pains occur in individuals who have had limbs amputated, sometimes decades earlier. Although the arm or leg may have been removed, its nerve-endings to the brain remain relatively. And the body remembers its absent limb. The amputee can feel the pain of a knee, or a calf, or a toe that he no longer has. The sensation can feel as if one is being tickled, or it can be a pain that is truly indescribable in its ferocity. Very little can be done to soothe that pain. You cannot hold the place where you feel it, for that place no longer exists.

I know all this, because my father suffered phantom pains for almost 40 years. A Polish soldier during World War Two, he lost his leg fighting the Germans at Ancona, in northern Italy. His left leg was amputated  above the knee. He had only 5 inches of limb remaining.

It was difficult enough being a displaced ex- Polish soldier stranded in Britain after WW2.  unable to return home for fear of deportation to Siberia, or else imprisonment and death at the hands of the Communist government. He had no family, no property, no Homeland and little prospect of work. He lived on his pension which was meagre and basic.. Xenophobia was common in our neighbourhood, racial prejudice ubiquitous. “Bloody Poles” was how soldiers who had served the UK and helped free Europe from the Nazis were commonly referred to. But being disabled and suffering from phantom pains was an added personal Hell he had to deal with.

I remember many times in my childhood feeling my bedroom vibrating uncontrollably as my father suffered unpredictable attacks of phantom pains in a neighbouring room. It was as if an electric motor had been turned on. The vibrations could be heard over the whole house. Afterwards, perhaps hours later, we (children) would rush into his room to find him lying exhausted on the bed and trying his best  to smile for our benefit.

This is better limb than my father’s one.

He was issued with an artificial limb that was the most primitive imaginable. A child could have built a better one. I look in amazement at the prosthetic limbs available today and compare them sorrowfully with the one he had to battle with. It was a Kelly No. 1: basically a heavy metal tube perforated with holes and shaped in the form of a human leg. It was a truly devilish contraption guaranteed to make the wearer regret he had ever attempted to put it on. It also looked hideous: truly an instrument of high torture.

It was held onto the body by a stiff semi-circular belt of steel and leather that went around the waist. There was also a strap that went over the shoulder to the back. This strap would cut deeply into the flesh of the shoulder, producing sores and lesions. The belt had to be adjusted every few moments to ease the pressure on the shoulder. On the stump of the leg , a special thick woollen sock would be worn, that stung and sweated and creased, causing sores. At its knee, the two parts of the artificial limb were connected by various chords and screws. The knee bent when climbing stairs, but remained stiff when descending, forcing him to twist his body from side to side in a rocking motion to make any progress. Even with a stick to support him, walking was a painful and exhausting experience. He slipped on icy roads. He fell from the open doors of buses. He suffered the jeers of children and adults in the town. And no-one could help him.

The metal limb broke periodically of course, and when this happened, one of my sister (or I) would transport it the 30 miles or so by train to the limb fitting centre in Glasgow to be repaired. Despite complaining of pain and great discomfort to doctors and specialists,, nothing was ever done for my father. He wore this type of limb until he died in 1981.  No newer models were ever offered to him.

Perhaps because he was just another “bloody Pole”.

Please look carefully at the artificial limb in the photo above. It is a better model than the one my father was compelled to wear (I couldn’t find a photo of the Kelly No1). This is what was still being issued to some soldiers in 1981, and perhaps beyond! Disgrace!

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