The Girl returned to the Doc today for a follow-up re her kidney infection. She was promised no more needles but was nonetheless terrified upon entering the office. The pokes and proddings still fresh in her memory left her feeling less than trusting of her parents' promises. We were told that the flu shots were in and even though we already have an appointment scheduled for all of the kids to get their shots we were asked if we would like the Girl to get hers today. Out of deference to her we declined - "no pain," we promised.
One of the things all parents wish for their children is that they do not hurt. We do not want them to feel pain. It is awful - for them and for us. It is also ridiculous to hope they never suffer. But what if it wasn't a pipedream? What if your child would really never feel pain?
Consider the case of the Gingras family. Their daughter, Gabby Gingras, was born with a congenital disorder that makes it impossible for her to feel pain. Though she she can feel heat and cold, vibration and movement, all the things we feel, the sensations of pain never reach her brain. This is not a good thing. Says her mother, Tish Gingras, "Pain teaches. Pain protects. Pain can save you from a lot of bad things in life."
She was always a delightful baby - she never had a moment of discomfort or pain. As an infant her parents would sometimes wake her on chilly mornings and she would be freezing - sleeping soundly, but stone cold. She was a blissful child. Nothing bothered her - nothing at all. Not even chewing her own fingers off. Gabby had to have all her teeth pulled because she mutilated her hands when her teeth began coming in. She lost an eye because she kept poking herself and must now wear googles to keep from losing her remaining eye. She fell and broke her jaw, but no one knew it until an infection had set in. She has had to be taught to say ouch when she bumps into things, not because it hurts, but to let her parents know they must check her for an injury. In short, she is immensely happy, and a terrible menace to herself.
Pain is crucial to our awareness of the world. Without it we are adrift, unable to discern the potential dangers that await us around every corner, unable to develop a set of skills to keep us out of harm's way. As horrible as it is to parents, our children must suffer to survive.
I'm reminded of an old science fiction novel, Ringworld, that I read in my youth. It takes place many years in the future and in it the main character is putting together a team to explore a new and very strange world. He gathers many experts in various fields but decides the important component for success that he is missing is luck.
In the story lotteries have been going on for many years so he begins to look for lottery winners who had offspring that were lottery winners who had offspring that were lottery winners and so on and so on in an effort to recruit someone who has a genetic predisposition for "luck". When he settles on a woman from a long line of lottery winners he is certain the expedition will be a success. But everything goes wrong. They crash. People get hurt. Nothing goes as planned. He just can't imagine that she could bring them such bad luck.
Until it dawns on him that she is lucky after all, but luck has determined that she must suffer a little to be better. Her good luck is the pain and loss we all experience - not enough to kill her, but just enough to save her from herself.
What we wish for our kids seems, in the abstract, to have their best interests at heart. In reality, however, the things we would keep them from are the very things they need to be complete, well-rounded, and happy human beings. I don't want the Girl to suffer needlessly. I don't want that for any of my children. But I would never wish them the life of Gabby Gingras either. Good luck sometimes hurts.
A new documentary about Gabby, A Life Without Pain, is set for release.
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