Tuesday, March 02, 2004

I'm probably a wuss about pain. That may be because I've been so lucky all my life: no root canals, no wisdom teeh extractions, no bad tonsils, no appendix operations, not even a cavity. I've had a few bumps and bruises -- a broken thumb playing high school football, a bad sprain and a minor concussion from rugby -- but darn few of the painful experiences most people go through just by living, even during an age of modern medicine and great drugs.

My good fortune hasn't made me particularly grateful: Among humans, good health is always a short-term benefit. Now I guess it's my turn to suffer. Over the last year or two, I've several nasty flareups of a particularly painful inflammation -- probably gout, although it has never been diagnosed. It's bad enough in toes and feet, but a real bear when it settles in one knee or the other -- I have had it in both, although not, thank goodness, at the same time. At its worst, it feels like someone has pounded a strip of barbed wire into the fleshiest part of the knee. There have been moments when I quite literally was unsure whether I had the courage to take another step.

As pain goes, this is still relatively minor stuff. When I sit still, it mostly leaves me alone. Drugs, even just Ibuprofen, nearly always help. And, so far at least, it goes away after a couple of weeks.

But it sure makes me wonder what life must be like for people who play in the major leagues of pain: chronic, ongoing, unremitting pain that lasts for months or years with precious little relief. What's really startling is when you consider the extent to which that kind of pain must have been part of the standard human experience for thousands of years before decent drugs came along. Is it any wonder, then, that humans are so petty, vindictive, lowbrow and unproductive? The astonishing thing is that we manage to get as much done as we do.

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