Feel No Pain
Maybe it could be considered funny in a really twisted kind of way, most of my adult life has been devoted to the study of human senses... enhanced senses to be accurate, and yet up until two days ago I used to believe all that crap I'd always heard and read about sight being the dominant sense in humans. Things were simple enough but then it happened and almost everything I thought I knew about human senses was turned on its ear. I can't believe it's only been two days, it feels like forever since that doctor couldn't be bothered to read Jim's medical history before injecting him with a pain killer he assumed was safe when he was dealing with a very minor injury. I must admit that it took care of his pain effectively, so effectively that it completely shut down his sense of touch and I haven't been able to get it back on line.
I never really realized what touch means, what it does, how much we depend on it or how much we take it for granted. We have a word, blind, to describe someone who can't see and another one, deaf, for someone who can't hear. In medical circles there's even a word, anosmic, for someone who has no sense of smell --and that word covers taste as well, as both senses are intimately intertwined to the point of being indistinguishable from each other-- but there's no word to describe a man who has lost his sense of touch. The closest thing we have is 'numb' but it doesn't really begin to cover it. Numb usually describes a reduction of feeling, not its total absence. That is the reality that Jim and I are now living with and it's terrifying. He is not paralyzed, his brain can still command his muscles, he has just lost his natural alarm mechanism and that's been far more devastating than I could possibly have anticipated.
Jim can't bathe on his own now because he can't tell if the water is too hot or too cold. He has trouble walking, as he can't feel his feet touch the ground or any obstacles he might encounter, there are untold threats to his well-being I had never even thought of. He needs to see his legs in order to know if he is standing up or sitting down, he wears a diaper now and only learns that he's soiled himself when the scent of his own urine or feces hits his nostrils. When he eats, something as simple as putting a fork into his mouth is something that can injure him, as he chews the taste of his own blood mingling with his food is often the first indication he has that he has bitten his own tongue. When he attempts something as simple as drinking a glass of water the obstacles he faces are daunting. First he needs to look to see if he is actually holding the glass, then he must bring it to his mouth with no reference or control, he's always running the risk of dropping the glass if his grip is not strong enough or cracking it if he holds it too tightly. He can't feel the glass touch his lips and he can't tell how much liquid there's in his mouth so when he swallows he often chokes. If he were to be seriously injured he would have no way of recognizing that fact.
This condition has robbed him of his dignity and that's taking a high toll on him. I need to find a way to reverse this, and soon, but it's not so easy. I've always relied on touch to keep Jim grounded... only his sense of touch is now the problem and for the first time since I started working with him I don't know what to do. Spikes I can handle and the same goes for zone outs but this is almost the exact opposite. It's not that he needs to dial up or down a particular sense but rather that someone pushed the 'mute' button on it and that button seems to be independent from the dial itself. In a way what's happening also has to do with a certain lack of redundancy when it comes to touch.
I know that sounds like a strange concept but the fact is that it is easier for me to get a sense back on line when I can use another one that is intimately related to it to do so. Sight and hearing usually operate in tandem --Jim can see a bird fly and at the same time hear it flap its wings-- and the same goes for taste and smell --which explains why walking in front of a bakery is enough to make our mouths water-- but for the most part touch is independent from all other senses.
I know my best bet to help him is probably going to be to go through taste --which in a sense has a slight tactile aspect to it in the form of texture and temperature-- but so far I've been unsuccessful. The most I've been able to do is confirm that his sense of taste is partially impaired, even though he hadn't really registered that fact before. I've tried ice chips and nutty candies, things that have distinctive temperatures and textures but Jim is not responding... in fact he mistook the ice for water and attempted to swallow. It's like he is automatically using scent to compensate for touch when it comes to taste but that doesn't extend to the different textures.
So here I am, trying to get Jim's missing sense back, watching my friend as he loses more and more of himself to this nightmare with every passing hour and thinking of just what I'd like to do to that doctor who couldn't be bothered with something as simple as reading his patient's chart... even if he thought that the damn thing looked too much like an encyclopedia for his liking.