Tip: This post is not suggesting you go to people with a broken leg and say, “You’re so lucky; pain is a gift.” But I assume you figured that out on your own because if you read my post you’re a brilliant person.
The book, The Gift of Pain, changed my world when I was 24. It’s one of the most entertaining and brilliant books I’ve ever come across as it describes the experiences of one of the leading doctors on leprosy and painlessness. The main point of the book is in the title. It is about helping people see that pain is not the enemy; it is a gift that protects us, which is perfectly demonstrated by people with leprosy who don’t feel physical pain because their sensory nerves don’t work. In the book the doctor shares the challenges of painlessness because the little things become risky. For instance, he had to teach people with leprosy how to be extra careful washing their hands because there was a problem with them not washing all the soap away, which lead to the skin drying out, splitting, and sometimes leading to infection. He also had to teach these people to chew gum as a reminder to blink because they don’t have the pain sensors in their eyes telling them to blink and keep their eyes from drying out. This was after teaching them not to just scratch their eyeball with their nail like they’d scratch their skin when something was in their eye. And of course, they’d only know something was in their eye if their vision was blurred because they wouldn’t feel it. He even had to teach a group of boys to have pet cats to protect them while they slept because rats were eating their fingers in the night; the rats would bite the boys and when the pain didn’t wake them up, the rats had a very fresh meal. Without pain, we are in constant threat of injury and infection, which means leprosy sufferers have to daily check for any new cuts and bruises because they don’t feel them. One of his constant struggles was getting leprosy suffers to respect their bodies and not to do dangerous things. For instance, one man was trying to roast a marshmallow that fell in the fire; upset, he reached into the fire, pulled out the marshmallow engulfed in flames, and put it in his mouth. It wouldn’t hurt, so why not? Ultimately, the worst part of leprosy isn’t actually the potential blindness or loss of body parts from infections or carelessness, which is pretty terrible; it’s the fact that you don’t feel anything including the warmth of touch. Even if people aren’t afraid to hug someone with leprosy (something that’s proven safe by the doctor) the leprosy sufferer doesn’t “feel” anything because the same nerve endings that relate pain also relate pleasure. Thus, leprosy often leads to intense feelings of isolation and loneliness because you can’t feel others even when they touch you.
The book is full of stories like this. Can you see how amazing this book is? I read it over 10 years ago, and still remember all of this, which is all the more amazing because I have a terrible memory… what was I writing about? Oh right… I have since learned that pain is a gift in other ways as well. Here’s my top 14 list, which can be helpful for learning to see pain not as the enemy, but as our friend:
- Comedy: Where would comedy be without the hilariousness of a guy being hit in the groin? Physical comedy exists because we know it hurts, but are able to laugh when it’s someone else, especially the bad guy like in the movie Home Alone.
- Protection: Pain warns us when we’ve been working too hard and need a break. If we didn’t feel pain, how many more heart attacks and pulled muscles would people have from overworking?
- Strengthens Us: How we handle pain and tough situations can make us stronger and more resilient as we learn what we can handle.
- Wiser: Pain can make us wiser in preventing and handling similar situations we face in the future.
- It Bonds Us: Sharing stories of pain become those heart to heart moments that build stronger friendships. They can also become the hilarious stories that make everyone laugh.
- Fear of it Make Us Move: When we see a car driving at us, the fear of possible death will make us get out of the way.
- It Motivates Us to Address It: People in pain are usually more willing to seek help be it with a doctor, physiotherapist, massage therapist, or chiropractor.
- It Motivates Us to Give: Seeing someone in need like starving children often cause us to want to help.
- Forces Us to Pay Attention: Pain tells us to stop what we’re doing and fix the problem. For instance, the pain in cutting your hand will help you notice you’re bleeding, and then it helps you protect the injured spot in order to help it heal faster.
- Fights arrogance: Pain reminds us we’re not gods and just human.
- Helps Death be More Appealing: Death is often something we naturally don’t want, but pain helps older people be more accepting of death, or losing an older relative easier: “At least they don’t have to suffer anymore.”
- Helps us Enjoy Relaxing: There is nothing better than sitting down after a long day and/or chugging a glass of water when you’re really thirsty, which is all thanks to pain and its relief.
- Helps us Feel Accomplished: I get disappointed if I work out and the next day I don’t have some soreness. The pain helps me feel like I’ve done something.
- People Overcoming Pain Give the Most Inspiring Stories: Ever see the movie 127 Hours? Not the best movie, but the whole premise is how this hiker gets stuck between two rocks and he has to cut off his own arm to get away and survive. Pain makes the story movie worthy.
This week may you discover the gift of pain… without a lot of pain.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people