Saturday, 23 April 2016

It pains me to say this

   There's a very old and very stale joke that goes along the lines that the Inuit have fifty different words for snow. It's probably based on highly dubious source data and belongs in the dustbin of history, but at least it's spawned the much funnier joke in the linguistic community that the Inuit have fifty different words for "Visiting ethnolinguist".
    I sometimes feel as if I have fifty different words for pain. I've probably mentioned this before, but I have a periodic chronic pain condition. Atypical facial pain has something to do with a malfunction in your facial nerves, and its effect is that the slightest nerve stimulus is amplified a million-fold and appears as a sensation of intense pain. I'm extremely lucky on two counts, in my case it responds to painkillers and other medication, and for me it's a periodic thing, I get attacks that last for a week or ten days every few months. Some people have it continuously, and for others it doesn't respond as well to medication.
    How you judge the annoyance of something depends on your level of exposure to it. I'm pretty relaxed about noise from trains and other machines for instance, because I grew up under the approach path for a fighter airbase. Sorry people, a high-speed train is quiet compared to a Phantom in reverse thrust. So it was a pleasant surprise last year when the mutt sank her teeth into my hand and I was warned by the surgeon who cleaned it out that it would hurt when the local anaesthetic wore off, that my pain tolerance was pretty high. There I was, sitting with my arm held up in a padded sling, wondering when this pain was going to turn up in my gently throbbing hand, eventually realising that the gentle throbbing *was* the pain. When the time comes that I head to Brighton or Charing Cross hospital for *that* operation I'm hoping the chronic pain experience will stand me in good stead in that way.
    So what are those fifty words then? Not quite fifty, but entertaining as I come off the pills for my latest attack to recap. There is the "Pliers", in which someone with a monster pair of gas tongs has your gums in a death-grip. Or the "Hot needle" in which amazingly the white stuff on your teeth hurts. That's dead, it's got no nerves, it shouldn't be possible! Pain's funny stuff. It's probably the "Full jaw" that's the worst though, the one in which everything on one side of your mouth is turned up to 11. Very weird, the pain stops abruptly right at the centre, the other side is absolutely normal.
    In fact, that's the silly thing about AFP, there's nothing wrong with you. If your teeth hurt the doctor says go to the dentist, the dentist says there's nothing wrong so you go back to the doctor, then the doctor scratches his head and labels it atypical because he can't find the fault. You get given a box of carbamazepine space-out pills, and get on with your life. In my case a week later it's all gone, and I'm left wondering when the roulette wheel of hurty mouths will next come up with my number.
    One thing about having a periodic window into the world of chronic pain has taught me is very important though, I take it seriously in other people. There is a certain type of unpleasant person who imagines everyone ill is malingering unless they are (a)them, (b)have cancer, or (c) are a wounded serviceman. I think a periodic shot of AFP would do some of them a bit of good.


  1. But we all know that women handle pain better than men. You forgot to mention that :)