Monday, November 17, 2008


Last Thursday evening I took my husband to the emergency room at 2:30 in the morning because he was experiencing intense pain in his left arm. The interesting thing about pain is, although it's adaptively very important because it lets you know that something is wrong, it doesn't always let you know what is wrong, because internal pain is hard to pinpoint and describe. My husband strained a muscle; but for all I knew at the time, he could have been having a heart attack.

It's made me think about describing pain. I remember seeing a TV show once where the host was taking typical descriptions of pain - in particular, I remember "stabbing pain" being featured - and trying to debunk them. Or at least, that's what it seemed like he was trying to do. The show talked about the phrase "stabbing pain" and then went and talked to people who had actually been stabbed to ask if it hurt and what it felt like; then it pointed out that this didn't match the idea of "stabbing pain" at all.

I took issue with their conclusion. "Stabbing pain" doesn't have to mean "pain like that of a stabbing"; it describes the way that the pain is experienced, the way that it seems to move quickly and sharply through the body. Then of course we have "thudding," "throbbing," "pinching," "stinging," "aching," etc. etc. I honestly don't think they all have to follow the same type of derivation. Pinching probably is "pain like that of being pinched." Lots of different experiences of pain lead to lots of different types of description.

This of course makes me think of aliens and fantasy peoples. How would aliens experience pain, and where in their unusual bodies? How would fantasy peoples describe their pain? Even if they felt it the same way we do, their alternate histories and backgrounds could lead them to describe pain with completely different metaphors. A description of pain could show a reader a lot about how a group of people conceptualize the internal organs of the body, and where health comes from.

Short entry today because I've been stressing out, for obvious reasons. My man's feeling better, so that's good, but he's still got his arm in a sling. And I'm starting to feel pain in my head... I wonder how I could describe it...