It's about 3:30 a.m. here in the Northern Great Plains, and I've been up off and on all night...in pain. At the risk of sounding melodramatic or self-martyring, I want to talk about the nature of pain.
First lesson, never, ever underestimate the soul-sucking, life-altering nature of chronic pain. I am 35 years old, and the wheels seem to occasionally just fall-the-fuck off. I've had broken vertebrae, slipped discs, arthritis in both knees, both ankles, both shoulders; I've chipped my spine, busted ribs in my back; torn tendons, cartilage, muscles, ligaments, and shattered more bones than I think to care about. I've had seven knee surgeries alone, and am facing the prospect of another; I've got long term complications from a botched vasectomy, constant burning pain from cancer surgeries; a hole in my stomach from ulcers and losing an internal organ; bursitis surrounds both of my torn rotator cuffs. I gnash all night, breaking teeth, altering my bite, creating crushing migraines. In short, I live with a constant pain in a lot of my body...and, it does bad things to one's psyche.
Lesson Two: Pain is without an objective description, yet can be described. The doctor organization IASP (the Int'l Assoc. for the Study of Pain) does a yeoman's job in trying to define this inherently subjective of all subjective subjects thusly as, "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage". But, you know what, it's not even fucking close. Pain has a hue, a flavor, a pallette, a taste all to its own: and each pain is utterly dependent on where it occurs, how it occurs, the origin, chronic or acute, the psychological pronouncement of pain, one's subjective experience of pain, one's fear of pain, and the like. So, yes, it is "unpleasant", but it also is terrifying, depressing, burning, gnawing, stabbing, dull, throbbing, sometimes it is a boring sensation, other times it is a red raw thing, and sometimes it is so great that you are tiny before it...a small speck in a blackened room with nothing but hurt and torment unabated.
Lesson Three: Despite the pain, there can be humor found in the subject, and perhaps that is what keeps me going. So, in an attempt to mentally banish the hurts of this moment, I give to you the Schmidt Sting Pain Scale, an interesting little project whereby an interprising entymologist let really nasty creatures sting him. Then, he would grade the pain on a 1-4 scale. This is not new. There was a predecessor to the Schmidt Scale, the Starr Scale. Of course, why someone felt the current index of pain wasn't sufficient is utterly beyond me. However, despite the quantification of Starr and Schmidt's scales, it is Schmidt's wonderfully colorful descriptors that makes me laugh...in a dark way of course. I particularly enjoy, in his original work, the following description of the Tarantula Hawk Wasp's sting "...immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one's ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations." LOL!
So, in the face of all this hurt, let's share a laugh, shall we? I present Dr. Schmidt's descriptors of the pain of insect stings:*
- 1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
- 1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet & reaching for the light switch.
- 1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
- 2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
- 2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
- 2.x Honey bee and European hornet: Like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.
- 3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
- 3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic & burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
- 4.0 Tarantula hawk: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.
- 4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.
*Dr. Schmidt's work in this possibly illuminating, and certainly cautionary area is available at, Schmidt, J. O., Blum, M. S., and Overal, W. L. "Hemolytic activities of stinging insect venoms", Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology, 1:155–160, 1984.