“His heart does not at first take in the whole grave extent of this disaster; he is more disturbed than moved by it. But as his powers of reason gradually return, he feels the depth of his misfortune. Every pleasure in life is as nothing to him, he can only feel the sharp claws of the despair that is rending him. But what is the use of speaking of physical pain? What pain felt by the body alone can compare with this?” Jean-Paul
None, but let me try,
Childbirth comes the closest. It is the sort of pain that makes your soul bounce up against the top of your skull searching for a fissure, a hole, a space to escape. I would rate it a 9 on the pain spectrum. Most people do not go above 7. That is a statistical fact. So basically meaningless, but I suppose we all reasonably assume that it can always get worst. Childbirth allows for a reassessment. I imagine torture does the same. Perhaps I could have experienced more pain, but I am approximately fully confident that all of my senses were maxed out; there was literally nowhere else to go. Well, there is death. I did feel close at moments -and I would not have minded. And to think I had more than one. The unique thing about childbirth is that it leaves no permanent psychological scars. In fact, that is why it can never be a 10 (if all has ended well) there is no mental component: shock that one could experience and then survive the ordeal, yes, but no blame, shame, wishing you hadn’t done something so stupid.
I was peeling butternut squash about a year ago. I cut it in two and rested the flat cut end on the surface so that I could separate the thick skin from the flesh. Once the squash is peeled it weeps a slimy film that makes it difficult to hold. Having mostly peeled the top half, I cut it in half the long way and then cubed it. As I held it with my left hand and applied, with my Sabatier, the strong pressure required for the densest part, I experienced that particular moment of knowing before comprehending that something was awry. The inside of my left ring finger had parted ways with the rest of my hand. It is hard to see the scar but I can feel or rather, I can no longer feel, that side of my finger. After the initial feeling of nothing, the pain built up. My finger overtook my entire body, all my concentration. The blood was alarming but once I had dealt with that, I had a huge bandaged finger that throbbed and got in the way as I continued to peel and cut my squash. Lying in bed that night I rested it, over the covers, on my chest, silently observing the pain, wondering what permanent damage I had wrought. I’d give it a four.
My daughter and I were playing, she had snuck up on me and in retaliation I chased her up the stairs. Going around the circle that the bedroom to bathroom to hall made, I stealthily caught up to her, and in the dark of the room leapt out shouting “Boo!” I spun, laughing wickedly and tried to run down the stairs to escape her grasp as she recovered herself. In my hast to descend, the slippers I wore gave way to physics: my mass plus gravity sliding the synthetic “leather” soles forward. I began to fly. I landed on the bottom stair; my tailbone meeting the edge of the stair with a crunch that I still can recall with perfect clarity. I lay at the bottom of the stairs on my stomach, the pain was intense and I knew it was bad. I felt all wrong. I began to laugh. My daughter brought me a pillow that I put under my hips and a bag of frozen peas that I put on my derrière. I lay there, wondering if I had broken anything (I had), wondering how I would know and if it would be smart to try to get up. I’d give that a six: a generous six.
Sitting on the edge of an examination table I am asked by the nurse, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?” I tell her 5, but remind her that I am under the influence of ibuprofen; it takes the edge off of what would otherwise be a clear 7. It is so painful to swallow that I would rather spit out the saliva that relentlessly accumulates in my mouth. I can barely open my mouth wide enough for the doctors to see the swelling. Everything that enters my mouth has to be carefully considered. Is the pain worth it? I think of all the things I’d like to eat. All the things I’d like to say. I wake in the middle of the night, the pain screaming in my throat. I gargle with salt water and see a stream of blood go down the sink. I hold my jaw so that I can cry in as little pain as possible. My hand shakes as I place the ibuprofen one tablet at a time on my tongue to swallow with the meager amount of water I can process: about a thimble full. I can only wait; wait for it to subside.