cw medical shit, gross graphic metaphors for pain
Someone is taking a long thin needle and piercing the skin just behind your left ear. They push it through slowly until they reach the sinuses, the eyes.
Someone has given you eyedrops of hydrochloric acid.
Someone has taken two small vices and gripped them to the throbbing tendons at the back of your neck.
Someone has made a mortar and pestle out of you, someone is slowly grinding stone against your temples until you are made of powder, a fine flour that will cake with weeping.
A single candle strikes the whole house blind. A whispered word an agony. Two floors down you can tell someone has a television set switched on. The sound is off but you can hear it, the high-pitched whine of a cathode ray tube obsolescing in someone’s living room. The filaments of every light bulb are screaming at you, ready to burst. The refrigerator that keeps your ice packs cold is a dull roar you can not satiate or escape.
You piss in the dark because you cannot stand the light.
You sob in the emergency room of every hospital in town.
You actual use personal massagers for their marketed purpose.
Benadryl, Motrin, Reglan, Imitrex, Amitriptyline, peppermint oil, hot showers, tepid baths, neck rubs, your mother’s expired painkillers, someone else’s brother’s weed, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.
An entire day gets disappeared.
But this is something you are used to.
Since you were small.
Sitting in English class scraping plastic forks and safety pins and the crescent moons of your fingernails across your body just to stay awake. The doctor’s note that said nobody knew what was wrong with you but that you had a tendency to faint and when everybody else got mono from smoking Rob Percarro’s weed they got better and you didn’t. You slept for most of two years. You were so tired. You are still so tired.
And then in college they tell you your blood doesn’t work, that it’s cute and small and broken just like everything about you but don’t worry, it’s an asymptomatic form of the disease, I don’t care what all those people on the internet say, you’ve got bad blood with no symptoms, you’ve got bad blood but it doesn’t matter.
and then later your baby brother loses his mind and swings his fists at the air in the hallway full of lockers where you used to take caffeine pills to keep from falling down and they tell you that you’re almost ten times more likely than everybody else to develop schizophrenia and any children you might have would be five times and that’s if the thalassemia doesn’t get them but don’t worry you have bad blood but it doesn’t matter.
but you wonder if that’s not why someone sticks a needle into your skull or grinds away at your temples and disappears days into pain and exhaustion and terror and you wonder how to turn this all around into something good, or at least something of use.
Justin O. Schmidt is an entomologist at the Center for Insect Science in Arizona. Since the 1980s, he has been getting himself stung by bees, wasps, and ants, on purpose, so that someone with the proper scientific training can write down what happens when you get stung by bees, wasps, and ants. The Schmidt Sting Pain Index is something you can look to when you want to know what a human can survive. The sting of a Tarantula Hawk wasp is completely agonizing, overwhelming, utterly devastating in the moment, but thanks to Justin we know it only lasts for five minutes. The bullet ant sting is almost as painful, but lasts for hours. He describes it as “pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.” For five hours.
But now we know. And if we find ourselves stung by a bullet ant, we know we can make it. I’ve endured five hours of intense pain dozens and dozens of times. And I know I can make it. And I can write about it, I can say to someone else who might be afraid hey, look, you may be a fucking mess and so am I, and having this human body is so strange and dangerous and confusing and painful but you can take more than you know.
We are all so much weaker and so much stronger than we think we are. Pain is both frequent and surprising and somehow not the end of us. And so we describe the stings, to let the others know.