31 Jan


NEANDERTHAL MAN photo: Neanderthal man avi evi_neanderthal_large-1.jpgIn this age of palliative medicine there’s no real need for anyone to suffer the kind of pain that can grind a person down and leave them a quivering, weeping wreck.

Pain through illness, accident, being gored by a beast in the wild should we be foolish enough to go anywhere near the kind of beast in the wild that might gore us, any kind of pain, can be eased with sometimes heavy doses of the right medication. Our pain and the unremitting agony brought about by tusked gouges will be eased even if the palliative painkiller leaves us feeling woozy or even comatose.

But it wasn’t always thus. In fact, it’s only in relatively recent years that those in pain have had access to such miracles. There was a time before even aspirin!

Now let us take ourselves back to the vast stretch of centuries that were encompassed by human pre-history, or the millennia that existed before early man left his first meaningful message via the gift of a simple line drawing on a cave wall. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that our species was around as totally illiterate hunters and gathers for far longer than we’ve actually had any history if we define history as the record created by humanity of his experiences and understanding his place in the world. So cave drawings might be seen as the start of mankind’s record of his life and so is the actual start of recorded history. As an aside, it might also be interesting to realise that the creation as described in Genesis occurred more than half of the way between those early cave drawings and their gifted artists, and today!

But this is about pain, and those prehistoric ancestors of ours knew one hell of a lot about it. They had to. The lives they lived have been variously described as being short and violent. Many of them will have died in unbelievable agony and with nothing, not even alcohol, to help alleviate their pain. Some might even have willed the beast already eating them to get a move on and bring an end to all that pain. And there will have been disease, cancers, infection – loads of infection – none of them nice.

It will have been under the yoke of the potentiality of pain and an inability to control it when the people probably turned to their gods. Oh, they had gods all right. There is evidence that mankind turned to the unknown forces he conjured from his imagination even before Neanderthal man surrendered to whatever it was that killed him off. Maybe it was during the thousands of years of prehistory that the need to trust the spirits and revere their nearest representative that our species had a propensity to believe the ridiculous shoe-horned into our psyches.

And some witch-doctor or wise old man, possibly as ancient as in his thirties, might have told them to glorify their pain. They might have said the pain had a meaning for them to try to understand, and by coming to terms with a reason they might find that pain became almost tolerable. It may well have been an early case of mind over matter. But the important thing is that it would have been attributed to the gods, an external crutch that leant them support as the blood flowed.

For millennia pain stayed the same but the gods slowly morphed one into another, yet they were always able to offer spiritual aid to the dying, the pain-ridden and the mutilated, and their witch doctors and priests multiplied.

In such time a man feeling the all-consuming grip of this or that condition as his ability to tolerate the intolerable was stretched to the limit will have asked himself why he had angered the gods for them to treat him this way, and the witch doctor or aforementioned wise man will have had some answers and the solution would almost invariably involve administering even more pain. It’s a strange logic that persists today in the attitude to medicines, that if it tastes bad it must be doing you good.

The bad thing, though, is the evolution bit of the story.

Pain and its non-relief may well have contributed to our tendency, years after palliative medicine became a reality, to believe the ridiculous. It’s a good thing we have the mental power to shake it off.

© Peter Rogerson 31.01.15


2 Responses to “OH, THE PAIN OF IT!”

  1. georgiakevin April 7, 2015 at 4:02 am #

    Another great post. I have had chronic back pain since I was in a 23 car pile up in 1990. I do not like pain meds of any kind but will take them if I have to. My Dad had the highest pain tolerance of anyone I knew. A friend of mine got addicted to pain meds and took her life because of them so I am acutely aware of the danger of pain meds. I will put up with a lot of pain so I don’t have to take one more pill than is absolutely necessary. Yet another of your posts that made me think, great job yet again my friend.

    • Peter Rogerson April 7, 2015 at 8:48 am #

      My wife is a martyr to back pain, so I can sympathise.

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