Friday, May 8, 2009

Pain don't hurt! (except that it does)

I don't like getting hurt (who does, right?). But, I don't deal with pain very well and I'm very sensitive so things tend to hurt me a lot more than they should. I've even passed out before because of pain. This fear of pain has tended to make me extremely cautious over the years (and slightly paranoid). I've never broken a bone and until recently I've never had to go to the hospital for anything. And I've never had stitches before, until today that is. I cut my thumb with a pocket knife and had to get 8 stitches. I almost passed out again, and when I was getting the stitches the doctor gave me an anesthetic (thank heavens), but the needle stabbing part was horrific. It hurt so much that I was in hysterics, laughing my head off every time she stabbed me. At one point she was like "You're still feeling this? I've used up all the anesthetic." And the guy helping her said "Boy, when you give birth you had better ask for an epidural." I finally went numb enough for her to start sewing my skin together. ugh.

When I got burned in October I had so many pain pills inside of me that I didn't have the "oh my gosh I'm going to pass out" feeling, but it never stopped hurting. I think I was in constant pain for 2 weeks. And I haven't been to the dentist in years because the last time I went I could feel everything and he wouldn't give me any more anesthetic. He told me to just suck it up. It's been 7 years since I've been in a dentist office.

I hate the helplessness of being in pain. One of my favorite books ever is called The Body in Pain by Elaine Scarry. She focuses on torture and war, but she discusses how pain is so singular. No one can ever know the pain you are feeling. They can have compassion and empathy, but your pain is your own. This is used against torture victims to unmake their world, their conception of reality. Because pain is so singular and inexpressible it contracts your reality. Your world grows smaller and smaller. Pain is blinding and binding because it occurs solely in your body and the body cannot adequately express it. I find this fascinating, and thinking about it theologically I find it to be interesting how my beliefs center so much on the Atonement of Christ, which is the event in which God made it possible for pain to be shared and no longer totally singular. While no other human being can feel the specific pain you feel, we believe that God can, that Christ does feel that pain because he took on the pains and sufferings of all the world. Based on what Elaine Scarry argues, this is an extremely liberating doctrine. It is world making. In the face of pain reality expands rather than contracts. I love this idea.

So, I'm feeling better about the whole thing, but I am still really mad at myself for doing this. It certainly does not help my anxiety problem, an issue that has been growing worse since I got hurt in October. And it totally interrupted my plans for the day. I hope I can get things accomplished tomorrow to make up for it. I have a lot to do in the morning. I need to go to campus to check out a ton of books I have on hold, then I want to head over to the farmer's market to buy some fresh food for the week and some little plants to put in my potted garden and then I'm going to lunch at 2 with some old friends. It's days like tomorrow when I need my car to be running. I guess I should just get over my anxiety and call the mechanic on Monday and get it taken care of.


  1. Elaine Scarry....what a rather appropriate name. I do find her concept of pain rather intriguing and again, your mention that Christ truly understands our pain all the more fascinating and adds a really beautiful dimension to the atonement.

    I, too, am a huge, fat wimp in the face of pain. I pass out at the sight of blood and have a difficult time coping with even the smallest of cuts and bruises. I have often tried to toughen up and just deal with pain, to the point where I refused more lidocaine even when I was in extreme agony. Hadn't I already had enough? Didn't other women survive awful things like child birth without any medication? But to realize that pain is so individual and not created equally is a liberating thought for me. No one can understand my pain, nor yet comprehend the severity of it whether or not they've lived through something similar so I shouldn't compare myself to other women or deny myself relief. Which is in fact extremely comforting to me, as I'm about to undergo my very first surgery this week and I'm scared out of my mind. So thank you for sharing your thoughts on pain. It's been tremendously helpful to me.

  2. im so sorry about your finger. to be honest, im terrified of knifes and i try to stay away from them as mch as possible. i hope your finger heals soon.

  3. Liz- Thank you for your comment. You definitely shouldn't compare your pain to others' and deny yourself relief, ever. Good luck with your surgery. Let me know how it goes. One thing that Elaine Scarry also argues is that while no one can know your pain, the compassion and love of others who try to be there and help, does in fact help keep your world from collapsing. So I hope that having people who love you thinking of you or being there for you will help this next week. Thanks for your comment, I'm glad that what I said was helpful to you. :)