Pain is in the Eye of the Beholder…Part 2
(I apologize in advance for this post not being in my usual upbeat prose, but the topic is a serious one. Please feel free to click away…)
I mentioned in Part 1 that 2 of my sons have a high pain threshold, for two very different reasons. Steven does not feel pain because his “electrical wiring” is messed up as he was born to an alcoholic birth mom who also used heroin and cocaine. He has a severe sensory integration deficit where, basically, light touch hurts and pain doesn’t seem register in his brain. It has made for an interesting childhood.
Steven has more stitches in him than Frankenstein, and we have been to our local emergency room so often that they have a cubicle reserved for us. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that the latter part of that statement is exaggerated!) An active boy, he would often fall off of his bike and get right back on without any acknowledgement of an injury. The only way I would know would be when he would come home at night and a portion of his clothes, a sleeve or a pants leg, would be covered in blood. Upon inspection, I would find the culprit: a long gash requiring stitches. Due to the lateness of the hour, all of the walk-in clinics would be closed, so off we would go to the emergency room. (His last gash was from under his knee down to his ankle.) The ironic thing is, because of Steven’s sensory integration deficit whereby light touch hurts, he would scream in agonizing pain when they would put the Novocain needle in. A few times they allowed him to choose to have the stitches done without Novocain. On occasion, they have had to sedate him in order to put the Novocain in. Steven has also broken a bone in his foot and his hand, noticed only when he was walking or using his hand oddly. Through his school program, he has volunteered for several years at a reptile education center. He has been bit several times by the snakes. but would keep on doing his job, wrapping his arm or hand in a towel so the blood wouldn’t get their tanks all dirty. As a young adult, he has learned to manage this unique quality of his, and he has not been injured in well over a year. (Knock on wood.) Of course, he has also become much more sedate…preferring video games and tv over BMX bike jumps! His wild days of adventurous antics are diminishing, along with his injuries.
Angel, who is fifteen years old now, has a very different and complicated reason why he does not feel pain. He was abused so badly as an infant and toddler that he developed Dissociative Identity Disorder. When he was being abused, he would develop an alternate personality which would not feel the pain. Even though he is safe from harm now, the abused personality continues to do his job and protect him from pain. The best example of this is the fact that Angel has had persistent problems with ear infections, but they could only be diagnosed by a doctor because he would never acknowledge the pain so we didn’t know they were infected. One morning when I went to wake him up, his pillow was covered with blood. When he sat up, blood was dripping out of his ear. I called the ear doctor who saw him immediately. Although Angel was about ten when this happened, and he jumped happily up into the exam chair like a toddler, swinging his legs back and forth while he sat. “Hi, Doc!” he said excitedly. “Can I play with your thingy there that listens to hearts?” he asked as he reached for the stethoscope. The doctor explained he needed to use the device to look in his ear. “Cool” Angel said. “If you look in there can you see all the way to the other side of my head?” he joked, while he giggled. The doctor looked in his ear and pushed his stool back in amazement. He informed me that Angel had a fractured ear drum from what looked to be an extremely bad ear infection. The doctor looked at Angel and back at me. He said it was unbelievable. Not only is an ear infection painful, but an ear drum ruptured as much as his was would cause excruciating pain. He said he had grown men crying like babies when they came in with an injury like this. And there was Angel, grinning and swinging his legs back and forth in the examination chair, just like a happy toddler, (one of Angel’s personalities.) On the way out of the office, he even asked if he could get a sticker, and he chose the Sesame Street ones! The doctor just shook his head in amazement!
The major downside to Angel’s situation, besides the obvious problem that it is difficult to determine if he is injured, is that a part of him DOES feel the pain. Because he does not acknowledge it generally, it goes untreated and the part that does feel the pain does so unnecessarily. This may be very hard to understand, and possibly unbelievable, but the fact is, the part that feels the pain is very resentful that the “others” are safe and seem to lead a happy life. After many years of counseling and better understanding his condition, Angel and I see the interactions between his “selves”. The funny part is, his painful self will actually sabotage the other parts if they are doing something good or if they own something of value. Through counseling, he has been able to be very successful in school. (His “smart parts” attend, and they would get a lot of attention for their good work.) As if jealous, several class projects were found broken in a heap on the floor the morning he was to have turned them in, and research papers would find themselves mysteriously erased from the computer. Angel also had two laptop computers “stolen” in the middle of the night from his bedroom. He wouldn’t tell me for a week or so, so I couldn’t search for them. We could never figure out where they went! He was sure someone was sneaking into his bedroom at night, but I suspected his part that had been abused was throwing them away. We were never able to prove it because the garbage had days ago gone for its final journey to the dump. I finally bought a lock and locked the laptop onto the desk. A few days later, the laptop wasn’t stolen, but the keyboard was smashed to pieces! Angel was also the proud owner of an IPhone that kept disappearing. For days, even weeks, we couldn’t find it. Then, it would pop up under the base of a living room lamp, in the bottom kitchen drawer under the towels, and once even IN a sock in the BOTTOM of the sock pile. Angel does not remember ever doing anything with his phone of this nature, but he does have a problem with memory lapses. For a long time, even though he is fully aware that he has “parts”, he has denied the existence of this vengeful part because he could not imagine himself doing anything detrimental to his prized technology. A few too many times of having his phone disappear, though, has convinced him that this part is lurking in the background…