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Phantom Menace 

One man’s fight against his brain, body and science

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Jim Boyer’s toes feel cramped in his sneakers. The 57-year-old from Post Falls twitches his silver moustache and fingers through salt-and-pepper hair while explaining that it feels like his left foot is asleep.

Except Boyer doesn’t have a left foot. He barely has a knee. A disease, a 1-in-13 million-blood disease, caused a blood clot. Then gangrene.

“My leg was dying,” he says. “It was either amputate or die of pain.”

Eighteen months ago, a surgeon, “the greatest guy he an occasional series ever met,” severed his leg. Yet he still feels his wiggling toes. He feels pain.

“Sometimes it’s like someone is zapping me with an electric prod,” he says mimicking a cattle rancher.

Medically, it’s called “phantom limb” and “phantom pain.” About 70 percent of amputees experience it. Some research blames damaged nerves; some cannot explain it.

Boyer takes painkillers. He’s a guinea pig for prosthetic companies. He uses massage therapy, mind control and electrodes to no avail.

“The goal is to trick the nerves,” he says. “There’s a spot to turn it off. They just haven’t figured it out.”

Boyer gets depressed. He’s lost control of his imperfect machine — the finely wired matrix of blood, tissues and nerves — that is his vessel for life and his prison.

But he has hope. He mentions roadside bombs, the Middle East and soldiers with missing limbs. War pushes technology.

“They will find a cure for this,” he says. “The next generation of prosthetics uses bionic arms. … It’s like Star Wars.”

He writhes his hands and brushes his silver wedding band. He was once a telephone installer. Today, he’s on disability.

He communicates with God because his body cannot communicate with itself.

“The mind and human body is incredible,” he says.

“I just can’t see us coming out of the sea.”

North Idaho Amputee Support Group • Third Wednesday of every month, 11 am • Life Care Center • 500 W. Aqua Ave., Coeur d’Alene • (208)-215-1246

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