February 2, 2011 by jessperriam
I sat there in the doctor’s surgery wearing a pine green gown, complete with tracksuit cuffs, marvelling the very idea that surgical gowns could have a semblance of functionality.
“I’m amazed you’re taking this so well,” said the woman looking on as I was having a chunk taken out of me.
We were happily chatting away – myself, the dermatologist and the onlooker.
Of course I was ok. I couldn’t see what was happening to me. More importantly I couldn’t feel a blessed thing. I barely felt the injection of local anaesthetic as it went beneath the skin.
And that’s one of the mercies we get in medical procedures. Things that wouldn’t normally happen to us do happen and while they should be painful – physically and potentially emotionally – all we get left with are a few stitches and a gnarly scar if we’re lucky.
But as I was lying there, thinking ‘This doesn’t hurt a bit!’ I also imagined what I would do if I had anaethesia on tap.
Physically, I would most likely be a technicolour tattooed artwork. But tattoos without pain… well, there wouldn’t be much cred in that. From what I can guess (and stressing on the merely guessing part), in motherhood circles, there are those that view natural childbirth as the ultimate cred. Quite frankly, if a child is going to be painful on your bank balance for 20+ years, I say take the pain-free option while there is still one on the table.
On the flipside, I’d probably achieve some remarkable sporting feat because there’d be no pain barrier to break through. Physically I could quite happily go through life with the invincibility that anaesthesia affords.
Emotionally, I’d imagine I’d become rather callous knowing I’d never feel fear or regret or hesistation. I would imagine I’d be a more ruthless, potentially more successful iteration of myself. But then I’d be numbed to the good stuff like overwhelming love, immense pride or incredible joy. I know which I’d rather (hint: not the ruthlessness).
But then anaesthesia wears off. What was once numb has a slight ache, a reminder that something was wrong with us. Psychologically we need pain, and yet we try everything to dull it and make it go away. Knowing I was in for a painful time, I told a friend I’d reward myself with a hot chocolate afterwards. The doctor insisted I take not one, not two, but three lollies from the bowl after my brave effort. If I’ve had a rough day, I dull the pain and frustration with a glass of red. But soon the anaethesia wears off and I’m left with a headache and a reminder of what caused that pain in the first place.
So as much as the invincibility of anaethesia would be exhilarating, we need pain in order to empathise with others and have a modicum of understanding of what they may be feeling.
And pain happens, whether we’re prepared for it or not. It’s how we treat the wound, stitch it up, and tend to it that matters. And when we say, “Check out my gnarly scar!” it’ll be worth it.