Sydney man who suffers from Body Integrity Identity Disorder. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Sydney man who suffers from Body Integrity Identity Disorder. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

Man begs doctors: ’Amputate my hand or I’ll do it myself’

This man has not recognised his left hand as his own since the day he was born - and has told surgeons that if they won't amputate his healthy limb, he will remove it himself.

Paul - not his real name as he prefers to stay anonymous - has been diagnosed with Body Integrity Identity Disorder, a rare condition where the brain does not recognise a limb, or hand in this case, as part of the body.

The 35-year-old said he keeps his hand in a cast, because any touch to it causes deep distress in the brain. He has not used the hand since birth.

"It would cause anxiety so I stopped using it and learnt to do everything with just one hand. I'd use the forearm to hold things down, but not the hand," he said.

"For the past nine years I have had a cast on it from my elbow down as a way to cope. It is atrophied and has no muscle strength."

Paul suffers from Body Integrity Identity Disorder and does not recognise his left hand as his own. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Paul suffers from Body Integrity Identity Disorder and does not recognise his left hand as his own. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

In childhood, he hid the hand from himself in jumpers.

"My mum knew there something was wrong but she still doesn't know it is BIID, she just let it go and thought it was just a quirk I had," he said.

"In high school I got away without doing PE by saying I sprained my wrist or broke it and just always had it bandaged from age 12. I always covered the hand and hid it in the sleeve of a jumper, even in the middle of summer I'd wear a jumper to hide it."

It wasn't until he read David Openshaw's story that he sought professional help. Mr Openshaw also suffers from BIID and, when doctors refused to amputate the Airds man's leg, he plunged it in dry ice for six hours, burning it beyond saving.

Mr Openshaw recently told The Sunday Telegraph the amputation of the leg improved his life and his only regret "was not doing it sooner".

David Openshaw, who has BIID, plunged his leg in dry ice to get it amputated. Picture: Tim Hunter
David Openshaw, who has BIID, plunged his leg in dry ice to get it amputated. Picture: Tim Hunter

Associate Professor Peter Haertsch, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, removed Mr Openshaw's leg and has now written to both Sydney University and Concord Hospital ethics committees seeking guidance or approval regarding Paul's hand.

"He wants the limb removed and he hasn't found anyone prepared to do it," Dr Haertsch said.

The married father of two has been under the care of psychiatrist Dr Christopher Ryan for three years.

"The solution? Amputation," Paul told The Sunday Telegraph.

"We have tried medication and antipsychotics, tried counselling and mental treatments and the only outcome we have come to is amputation. And yes, I am perfectly fine with that, my body is telling me it doesn't belong," he said.

"I can get a prosthetic and then get a left hand I can actually use."

 

“The solution is amputation,” Paul said of the hand he does not recognise. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
“The solution is amputation,” Paul said of the hand he does not recognise. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

He hopes Dr Haertsch will gain approval to surgically remove the hand, otherwise he has backup plans.

"I have a plan B and C. I can go to the medical tribunal and seek permission through them because they can override the ethics board. Plan C is actually go to the court, but I don't have money to pay for that," he said.

"If all of that doesn't happen, the final thing is following what David did with the dry ice, just to get relief from it.

"It's not an easy thing to live with mentally, it is constantly conflicting with everything."

Dr Haertsch, who is a specialist in gender reassignment, said it was new territory for him and there was an uneasy history of psychiatry and surgery getting it wrong.

"When it comes to trans issues, I've never had anyone regret gender reassignment, but this is new territory for me," he said.

"Is removing a healthy limb a therapeutic thing to do? The psychiatrists will say yes but I would like others involved in the decision-making."

Originally published as Man begs doctors: 'Amputate my hand or I'll do it myself'

Plastic surgeon Dr Peter Haertsch has asked for ethics guidance on Paul’s case.
Plastic surgeon Dr Peter Haertsch has asked for ethics guidance on Paul’s case.

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