Q: In my fantasy world, a healthy young man of about twenty-three gets shot in the lumbar portion of the back with an arrow. The physicians manage to remove most of it, but left behind fragments that were too close to his spine. He lives until fifty years old, but suffers from bouts of agonizing pain, numbness and tingling in his legs and feet, and sometimes trouble walking. Would it be viable for someone to live almost twenty-five years with pieces of an arrow lodged in their back? And do the symptoms I describe coincide with that sort of spinal trauma?
Liz Penn, author of ISHTAR FLUX
A: Yes, this could easily happen and it doesn’t even require that fragments are left behind because the scar tissue left from the injury and from the surgery to remove the arrow could also irritate the lumbar spinal column and the nerves that arise from it. This scar tissue would remain forever and could cause chronic low back pain, pain down the leg, numbness and tingling, and could even interfere with what we call proprioception–the feeling of where your foot is. This could easily cause him pain and trouble with walking. If you want fragments to be left behind it would be best that the arrow were made of ancient materials such as flint, which is what many American Indian tribes used, since modern metal arrowheads don’t easily fracture and would likely be easily removed as one piece. It is of course possible that a small piece could break off the tip but if you want fragments I would go with the flint variety.