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Haptic Touch


Can’t masturbate. That’s pretty much still the goddamn worst, lied Lance Corporal James Olbinski (honorable discharge, 2010).

He didn’t mention the chronic back pain, or the anger, or that the puke walls here were the exact color of the base in Nawa-i-Barakzayi, or that the sound of planes taking off reminded him of the C-17 that medevac’d him to Landstuhl after emergency surgery at Bagram, or the meds that the nurse had to drop into his back-tilted head because his one remaining paw lacked fingers, or how sick he was of people telling him he was handi-capable (whatever the hell that meant), or the vacancy where half of his urethra used to be. Now, at Cincinnati VA Medical Center, he did two of the things he was best at: being a smartass and not bitching.

The woman in front of him, Maria Ruiz-Warner (PhD, ABPP, CGP, FAPA), let the words settle before responding. She’d learned to react less over her twenty years of conducting cognitive behavioral therapy, and in the last few years using CPT-C for veterans with PTSD. James had been a moderately tough case, but not so bad considering the severity of his injuries: PCL-M score 46, SA-45 score 95. He’d been low overall on hostility, but high on somatization (“vague physical symptoms including numbness, soreness, and pain”).

Instead, she slowly moved her right finger clockwise. His eyes neglected the circular movement, instead shifting laterally. Not a good sign: he was in recall.

James, tell me about the numbness.

What about the numbness? Been the same for the last six sessions. Still there.


James had always found it easier to describe the presence than the absence of things. Easier to talk about physical pain, about the shitty hospital beds, about how much daytime TV generally sucked than to talk about missing things: his ability to feel, to touch, to be married again, to be normal.

Dr. Ruiz-Warner gently grasped his elbow.

I want to share some good news with you James. You’ve been approved for the PORCHA prosthetic. If you agree- and I want to stress that the decision is up to you and your family- you would be first in line to undergo this experimental procedure.

James didn’t respond.

Do you understand what I’m saying James? I’m saying you’d get to test a revolutionary prosthetic. It’d give you touch in your right arm-- almost as good as you could touch before. It’s called HaptechÔ (USPTO serial #85156013). It transmits vibrations, subtle vibrations, to your nerves and eventually to your brain.

You’re serious?

Completely James. And you’d be the first.  ■

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