No higher claim for language than that it can speak of, and make sense of, love. Love, that most mysterious and exquisite human phenomenon, has set a million poets in pursuit of its nature, and been prettily and accurately mapped by them. But what of pain? I think physical pain is effectively incommunicable. Professionals who deal in pain try to measure it on a scale of 1 to 10. Maths takes over where language fails.
Some say women are evolutionarily programmed to forget the pain of childbirth lest the memory of it precludes them indulging in further procreations. But I think we’re all incapable of remembering pain with any resonance. I think pain’s immediacy makes it amnestic. I find it hard to believe in pain’s all-encompassing profundity when it’s over and done. Within an hour of acute pain ending I’m questioning its totalitarian nature. This worm that has mysteriously fallen off pain’s hook is wondering what all the fuss was about.
Lately I’ve been having spasms of severe pain in the outside tendon of my left knee. There is no soreness in that knee. There was no incident. There is no injury I can discern. I might be walking the dog or watching Seinfeld and without warning a blitzkrieg of pain will be waged. If I am standing I will soon be lying on the ground clutching my leg. Teenage lifeguards were recently crouching over me so dumbfounded I apologised to them through my teeth for not being an astonished South Korean caught in a rip. They called a doctor over and, writhing in the sand, I apologised to him for my pain. He smiled and told me pain wouldn’t kill me. I felt as if he was disparaging my art, calling my great scream of nerve-play, my Munch moment, a paltry jingle instead of a Beethovenian dirge.
I’ve broken bones. I’ve suffered burns. A longhaired nutter once beat me with a mattock. But nothing has been as painful as this knee. At times I’m pinned to the sheets motionless on my back like some grimacing beetle in a museum.
I’ve been to the hospital twice, but when I’m there I have no pain and I feel fraudulent. Indeed, my doctor can’t diagnose the problem and I suspect she believes me some sort of Munchausen grifter come to swindle 20 minutes of her sympathy. And I would delight in her sympathy, if she bestowed it. Twenty minutes of the stuff would approximate an orgy to me.