February 29, 2004

Turns out, pain is a good thing. Saw this via Metafilter. I had heard of it before, but this was more informative and very scary.

Hit close to home in that I, too, have a three year old daughter named Gabby (Gabriella) and she has a real attitude. Given how active she is, typical of a child her age, she gets hurt somehow almost daily. I cannot imagine the terror these parents must live through trying to keep her safe.

  • Is the body just an insensate lump of flesh then? This is such a rare and macabre condition. Why the gnawing on the hands when she was teething? We take the sense of touch almost for granted, placing value on sight and hearing. And, yes, the terror her parents must feel is more than I can imagine.
  • Stirfry: She can feel everything except for pain. And I assume she gnawed simply because she didn't know when to stop. You see a child gnawing on its fist, but it never draws blood because it feels pain. I read this earlier on Metafilter. It's a stunningly sad story; I'd heard about this condition before, but I'd never considered the consequences.
  • It's one of the issues with being paraplegic or otherwise paralysed: the possibility that you get a simple scratch, it gets infected and you don't even notice because it's out of sight. You could break a bone and not realise. I feel terrible for the parents. Not even knowing that your child has a broken jaw? I would hope that at the very least she gets weekly x-rays and physical checks. She's too young yet but she will, eventually, come to understand her situation and come up with coping mechanisms of her own, but as a toddler/preschooler she's obviously destined for some more serious accidents yet.
  • When I first started reading this, I thought it would be about a child with a high pain-threshold rather than none. My mother says that when I was this age, I would walk into burning cigarettes, and freak out the adult holding it because I didn't seem to notice it against my arm. (Of course, now I'm just a wimp). But this is really frightening, especially her lost sight. It makes one hope that she might be able to get an eye transplant. Epidemiologists have said that pain is one of the most difficult things to measure, because it is so subjective. (Take a look at how "fuzzy" some of the questions are in these measures). We don't even really understand it, especially in relation to such diseases as fibromyalgia.
  • Do pain and pleasure travel on different pathways? Someone enlighten me here! How is it that one can have a sense of touch for wind blowing across the skin but not for the touch of a flame?
  • What happens if she gets an internal disease, like stomach cancer or appendicitis?
  • Epidemiologists have said that pain is one of the most difficult things to measure, because it is so subjective. I'm sure the qualia is hard to evaluate since you've to almost always rely on self-reporting by the sufferer.But in time, I'm sure they'll be able to measure nociceptor activity.
  • How is it that one can have a sense of touch for wind blowing across the skin but not for the touch of a flame? From my basic knowledge (about as basic as it gets: my sister, who I see about once every month or so, is halfway through a medical degree), you have different nerve endings for sensing different things, like heat, pressure, and pain. So, as far as I can assume, the nerve endings for pain are dead, non-existent or non-functional. Apparently, getting burned is the most pain one can be in: you have different nerve endings that fire at different levels of pain, and when you get burned severely, they're all firing. So there you go. I give it about 20 seconds before someone completely and categorically proves me wrong.
  • It sounds like a division of the central nervous system isn't working, not the nerve endings themselves to me. But that's based on my very rudimentary knowledge and I believe the article specifically says that the nerve endings are the cause. The article also says it's a genetic disorder, so I wonder if there has ever been anyone in the family with the same problem or if it's a random occurance and/or just a bad combination of genes.
  • Well, she's the only one in the US with the problem. And they only found a dozen such cases round the world.
  • Do pain and pleasure travel on different pathways? It seems there are five different basic kinds of sensory receptors (for chemical changes, pain, temperature, pressure/movement, and light. For pain there are separate chronic and acute systems. No doubt someone knows a better source of information...
  • I wonder if she feels pain as itching or some other sensation (which would explain the mutilation a bit better, I think) or just is totally numb. Perhaps it's callous to say so, but she could provide some very interesting medical info when she's older and better able to communicate.
  • Coincidentally, first heard about this condition not that long ago. Apparently the sufferers have so far died before middle age, usually from injuries or diseases (ex. blood loss) that they were unaware of until too late. Almost worse, they almost invariably become horribly crippled while still young due to accumulated joint damage. Pick up something heavy? No problem when you don't even notice the elbow strain.
  • I read a similar story once about a Merchant Marine in the 1940s who was pretend-swordfighting with one of his pals using those little souvenier sabres that people buy in Asia and use as letter openers and whatnot. The pal accidently shoved the sword up the guy's nose and into his brain - it didn't kill him, but caused only two effects - he lost his sense of smell completely, and could feel no pain. Well, the ship was out to sea, and the ship's doctor really didn't have any reason to keep the guy from doiung his job, so back to work he went. Except for one day, he nearly crippled himself walking barefoot across a metal deck that had been heated by the tropical sun to near griddle temperatures. The two effects of the swordstrike had combined to harm him - he was literally grilling his feet, and couldn't smell the charring flesh. Also: Isn't the disintegration of the nerve cells, subsequent loss of pain sense and subsequently subsequent damage, infection and loss of use the basic pathology of leprosy?
  • Monkeyfilter: subsequently subsequent subsequence /sorry, couldn't resist
  • Fes has got the best reason to be chronically tired that you can possibly imagine. It isn't leprosy, either.
  • Wow, Fes, incredible story. As of tonight, my children are no longer allowed to play with their swords.
  • Shh now, you Aussie tattletale :) I *think* the story was in Carl Sagan's "Dragons of Eden". Great book, btw.