As I've told far too many men on first dates, I have an autoimmune disease that causes chronic pain. Even though I'm always feeling either a constant ache in my trunk (like, my torso -- not my elephant nose) or random jolts of seemingly electric pangs in my arms and legs, I like to think this has actually made me more tolerant of physical pain than most people.
I used to think being a woman naturally gave me a higher pain tolerance, as well. Isn't that what everyone says? That women, ye of parturition sorcery, can shrug off what would cause a man to double over in agony and frantically check to see if his penis is still there.
Apparently, that's not the case -- at least according to recent research out of Spain's University of Málaga. Published in Plataforma SINC last September, the study looked at 190 men and 210 women with chronic spinal pain to determine who handled pain best. Turns out, there was no clear difference between the sexes' tolerance. Instead, it boiled down to an individual's resilience.
"More resilient individuals tend to accept their pain," lead study author Carmen Ramírez-Maestre wrote. "That is, they tend to understand that their ailment is chronic and they stop focusing on trying to get the pain to disappear, to focus their energy on enhancing their quality of life, despite the pain."
OK, so that actually supports my theory that my chronic pain makes me more tolerant of other physically painful experiences. In fact, the most painful experiences in my memory all occurred before my chronic pain started.
It's a tie between two waking nightmares.
The first happened when I was in sixth grade. I was on the middle school cheerleading squad, and we were cheering at a wrestling match. Weird, right? Who the hell has cheerleaders at a wrestling match? (South Plainfield Middle School, that's who.) Anyway, we were each assigned a wrestler, and we'd do a solo cheer before that wrestler started his match.
I got up and did my cheer for my cute, blonde classmate, Danny, and, as was the usual, I did a cartwheel and split to complete the little shtick. I guess I didn't stretch sufficiently beforehand because my left hamstring tore when the back of my thigh touched the gym floor. I actually heard the tear. I think I remember the sound more clearly than the pain, but I know the pain was devastating.
Almost 10 years later, when I was a sophomore in college, my tonsils suddenly hulked out, and I was unable to eat most solid foods for a few months. I'd dropped down to 130 pounds, which, on me, is pretty gaunt. (I was getting tons of compliments, of course, because UGH.) An otolaryngologist determined there were big ol' abscesses inside both tonsils.
The abscesses themselves were making life uncomfortable, but it was the initial attempt to rid me of them that made me pray for unconsciousness.
The otolaryngologist tried to extract them with terrifyingly huge-gauge needle. The little anesthesia needle hurt like hell, and it seemed to not even work considering how much the attempted removal hurt. Like weeping-hysterically-with-a-giant-needle-stabbing-my-throat-from-the-inside hurt. I don't even want to think about how badly it would have hurt without the supposed numbing.
And it didn't even work! I ended up going to another otolaryngologist — the father of two kids I'd babysat in high school, oddly enough — to have my tonsils removed, the recovery from which was much less painful than the failed needle aspiration.
Because I'm that person who actually wants to hear about things like the weird dream you had last night and the crazy déjà vu you just experienced, I asked fellow xoJane folks about their most physically painful experiences. They dove into harrowing memories to share the following . . .
Pancreatitis made childbirth seem like nothing at all to me by comparison. It was the most painful pain I have ever felt, like your body is eating itself, which it is.
I had an abscessed tooth once. It was the most inescapable excruciating pain — my skull throbbed and I could neither sleep nor be fully present and awake doing something. It was all pain.
I once had severe ear infections in both ears simultaneously. Like the dental horror, the pain in my head, from both sides, was unbearable. I couldn't hear much or feel anything but the intense throbbing. The pain came on swiftly over the course of a day. At its peak, I was alone, curled up in a ball on the floor, and I called 911. At the emergency room, they were using superlatives to describe how inflamed my ear canals were while I just writhed in pain. It was a long, painful healing process.
When I fell off a horse, I crushed a bunch of nerves at the base of my back/sacrum area and tore a bunch of stuff in my hips. I just remember hitting the ground, thinking I'd never walk again, and SCREAMING in agony. All I could do was scream — I HAD TO. The worst part was that I was all alone (stupid) and had to drag myself to the nearest roadside to scream for help.
Gallstones. Like someone had driven a knife through my abdomen and then twisted it around in there for hours. Literally thought I was dying. I remember thinking that I'd always assumed that there was a limited amount of pain you could feel before losing consciousness, and that might still be true but it's a LOT more pain than I ever realized.
It's a tie between the time I had a muscle spasm in my neck so intense that it was causing some sort of pinched nerve situation (they offered me morphine at the urgent care!), and the time my ovary exploded (ruptured cyst). Both so painful — for me, more painful than giving birth.
I had an agonising series of ear infections as a child/teen that used to leave me sobbing and unable to move for days. It felt like someone was tearing my head apart and there was this unbearable pressure that would never resolve. It got bad enough that I had a standing Percocet order at the pharmacy and I have permanent hearing loss. To this day, any time my ears start to feel slightly blocked, I freak out.
And then Emily, Claire and Tynan chimed in to say they haven't experienced terrible pain — yet. (And we all sincerely hope they never do.)
I guess I'm lucky that I've never been in that much pain. KNOCK ON WOOD.
I broke my pinkie once while racing my dad on razor scooters in a church parking lot. The impact of my freezing hands on the pavement was worse than the break, but it still wasn't as bad as what you guys are describing.
I'm glad I'm not the only one who, like, hasn't ever really felt that much pain. I guess my two biggest moments were getting my side piece done, but a tattoo needle over your ribcage isn't ever a pleasant experience, so I kind of knew what I was in for. That, and getting my septum pierced. On top of all the piercings I had, that one was . . . bad. I made a sound like a demon leaving my body when the needle went through.
And now, of course, it's your turn. What stands out to you as the most physical pain you've ever felt? Or do you think that may still lie ahead? (I hope not!)