Friday, October 07, 2005

What’s the purpose of pain?

We have two types of people in our family when it comes to pain. We have the wimps and the stoics.

We have those people (who shall remain nameless) who, as my older brother, Aaron, puts it, “When asked on a scale of 1 to 10 how much something hurts, they usually start with 35.”

Then there’s the men in the family – and me. We’d probably chew off an arm before admitting we were in any kind of pain. You could call it some kind of psycho machismo, but I do it, too. Not just with physical pain, but emotional pain, too. We all do it.

“Why do we do that?” I asked myself at 5:30 this morning, after pain itself woke me up, rather than my alarm or cats pouncing on me, wanting their breakfast.

As you know, my work out has changed. The new and improved version will… take some growing into, let’s say. Tried it for the first time on Wednesday morning. Not good.

My nice, easy bike ride has been traded for a 5K run, three times a week.

(And by the way, I'm sorry to tell you folks that there’s no way in HELL that AIDS walk was 6 K. It was a charity walk after all, not a proper running event, and they didn’t actually advertise the distance anywhere, as far as I know. I took the organizers at their word when I asked what distance it was… But there’s just no way… and that’s probably why they didn’t actually advertise the distance anywhere! I’m thinking *maybe* it was 4.5 K… MAYBE!)

Wednesday’s 5 K around the track proved challenging on a variety of levels:
1) I have to actually count the number of laps. (It’s 25.) So, I marked each lap with a different finger, alternating between hands every five laps. Now, despite the fact that I might be considered smart with some things, I confess that I tend to lose count as I’m running around in circles… At one point I had to ask myself, “Was that 9 or 14 laps? Let’s see… If I started counting on my left hand then ....if it was nine, I’d be using my right hand now… But I’m using my left again, so….No, no, I’ve done 14. OK, it’s all good, now…”

2) By the end of 25 laps, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do more, pass out (seeing black splotches, is not good, I don’t think?), throw up or cry. Definitely couldn’t cry. That would be too wimpy! So, I ducked into the bathroom thinking my guts might rebel.

They did not, thankfully. That may have been due to the lack of breakfast though. There was nothing in the gut to rebel against… But maybe if there had been, it wouldn’t have been so hard in the first place? Hhhhmmmm… interesting paradox that… (Note to self: Can’t run on empty; eat something – anything – before leaving the house!)

I did what I could with the rest of the workout, but… it wasn’t pretty.

By last night (Thursday), things had gone from bad to worse. Went home and took advantage of an empty house by running a steaming bubble bath, lighting some candles, putting on some quiet music and soaking for an hour.

While sucking back three ounces of tequila.

As I lay there in the tub, I thought to myself, “You’re SUCH a girl! Look at you! Bubbles and candles and everything! Why don’t you just suck it up and not be such a friggin’ wimp?”

The fact that I AM a girl just didn't seem to be much consolation, somehow...

Pondered that thought, with shot glass in hand.

(Honestly, I really don’t drink much – or often! But I must admit, tequila has remarkable healing properties, if taken occasionally – and in moderation. Trust me, three ounces was moderate yesterday… Considering that there seemed to be some relief, but no impairment, after having it.)

By the time I went to bed, I felt better. But being a sound sleeper who doesn’t move around much isn’t always a good thing. Gives everything a chance to seize up. And that’s exactly what happened.

So, by 5:30 a.m. I was awake… and sore. Seeing as how I couldn’t sleep and had no intention of getting out of bed that early, I did what comes naturally, and waxed philosophical. I lay there and pondered pain and why some of us in our family don't like to show it.

I finally figured out that it’s not that we don’t show pain, it’s that it simply doesn’t even seem to register until it’s beyond reasonable.

I thought about Aaron, who’s diabetic. I know that when he says, “I could probably start thinking about having a bite to eat here, before too long.” It really means, “Feed me or call the paramedics. I’m about to pass out.” (And I might point out that Aaron is a strong man, both physically and otherwise.)

Though he’d never admit it, I know what’s going on, because I know him – and I know myself. And in that way, we’re similar. We just don’t register what’s going on until it’s beyond reasonable.

I thought about how I would register pain on a scale of 1 to 10.

Being hit by a car (which happened, by the way) would probably register as an 8 for me. Couldn’t walk for a few weeks and took months to heal. But still, it could have been worse, you know?

Being someone who doesn’t react well to dental anesthetic and therefore has chosen not to have any since about the age of 16, I would say that fillings, crowns and the root canal without anesthetic might register as a 2.5. (The root canal doesn’t really count though, as the root was already dead, so there really was no pain.) Meditation is a wonderful thing, in the dentist’s chair, as far as I’m concerned.

The Chinook headaches I get (I’m loath to call them migranes, though there are times it is difficult to stand or see straight because of them) would probably get a 3.5.

Yesterday felt quite different from drug-free dental work, or a Chinook headache, but would probably have been up around 3 or 3.5 somewhere… so… almost half way to being hit by a car.


The whole thing made me ponder how and why we register pain at all… and why some people register it differently from others.

I’m not sure I have any answers, so I’m putting the topic out there for feedback.

Any ideas?

PS: I did do my workout again today. Ran slower, but ran (well, you know… plodded). Having breakfast definitely helps.


Steven said...

Physical pain is quite important. It's the bodies way of saying, "something is wrong" or "don't do that!"

If you happen to grap a hot plate, you quickly pull your hand back because it hurts like a mother. But it also saved you from severely damaging your body.

Pain is that person that really annoys you, but you know he has the best intentions. So, you put up with him.

As far as why some can or can't handle a lot of pain, you've got me. Maybe it has to do with how much pain one has experienced and, therefore, learned to endure.

madcapmum said...

Oh my gosh, when you write about dental work without anesthesia, it makes me see black spots. I guess I have a lower threshold than you do.

I've just taken a quick look at some of your posts, and you have an incredibly busy life! Nice to meet you.

Emz said...

I didn't know u were hit by a car! Was the car ok???
Only joking sweetie...
Well, pain??? It's a hard one! I guess I'd rate childbirth as 9/10 or maybe an 8/10, well, somewhere between 7 & 9 which I guess is 8!?
Um, don't visit the dentist! That's my 10/10. Exercise pain, well, I guess a 1-5 is sufficient for any exercise...I love swimming and would keep going till it hurt but I have the "if it hurts it's working" philosophy. However, I went to the gym a few years back with Rach and went on one of those stepper/runner thingys that do ure arms and legs...Rach kindly put me on a 20min. program and went off to do her thing. I plodded on up hill and down dale on this bloody machine, after about 15 minutes Rach returned saying "Are you still on there! You don't have to do the whole program!" (Thanks Rach)
Well, I thought I've only got 5 mins left, I'd better finish, rather than grab the chance and get off! I finished the rest of the program and the machine stopped... I stood for a moment on the machine to gather myself...and another moment...and just a bit longer, then thought I'd best get off while there's not too many people in here! So I dismounted...OH SHIT! WHERE HAVE MY LEGS GONE!!!!
I just couldn't function from the waist down for about 5 minutes! It took a good 10 full minutes for me to be able to walk properly again! I just had to stand rocking from one leg to the other while the blood flow returned to normal! lol.
Haven't been on one of the things again! I'll stick to the swimming and cope with the pain I know I can push myself to when I do it!
(I must add that I was 3 stones heavier when I went on that machine - would probably do better now!)

PS. I'm sure the lure of the instructor blocks some of ure pain out Sarah!!!

x x x

Sarah Elaine said...


The car was fine. It was my hip and leg that were messed up. :-)

As for the "lure" of the instructor, you mean the trainer who I'm now convinced is really a sadist in gym clothing? I was cursing every bone in his body last week! Nice fella, but the "lure" is gone, let me assure you!

Amber said...

Keep up the running ... I can assure you that you can 'run through the pain'. As long as you are running in a good pair of running shoes, in a few weeks from now you can reflect back and wonder where the pain went.

I would also recommend a lap counter or a stop watch with lap functioning. Much better then the complicated hand counting ... and I know this because I've been there.

Or if you are feeling really ambitious, a Garmin Forerunner 201 really hits the spot. With one of these babies you don't even need to run in laps. You can just take off running and it tracks the distance for you as you run.

As far as the pain threshold I have a very high pain threshold but having dental work done would put me in the 35 out of 10 range. Just sitting in the dentist' chair puts me at a 30.

Great Blog!


Anonymous said...

It's important to admit your pain, or you may cause unwanted suffering onto your body or mental well being. Of course, it all depends on how well one endures pain, as you say.

I particularly dislike people who say that you're a wimp because you're suffering from a bad cold. Ever told these people that they could catch it themselves and reduce their productivity if you stay around?

I don't know, I just think compassion is an important virtue and is sometimes missing with various people.