For 37 years, this woman was incapable of feeling pain — a childhood of broken bones, burns, and an eye injury, and she never felt any of it. And yet all of that changed almost immediately after childbirth, report her doctors in the open-access journal F1000 Research, highlighted earlier this week by the Washington Post.
The new mother has (had?) something called congenital insensitivity to pain, a condition that prevents people from feeling physical hurt because of a gene defect that stops pain signals from registering in the brain. During the (painless) birth, this woman suffered a pinched lumbar nerve, something her doctors believe may have resulted in the sudden loss of her previously painless existence.
Now everything hurts, the woman told her doctors. Her head, back, and hips ache, and she feels a weird “buzzing in both legs and a vice-like squeezing in the pelvis.” The slightest graze of a touch feels like a “sting,” and even when she’s trying to rest, she feels a “tingling” sensation, one that sometimes feels as strong as “electric shocks.” (Though it’s worth considering: Could it be that these are minor aches like the rest of us may frequently feel, and certainly like a brand-new mother might feel — only to her they feel excruciating because she’s never felt pain at all before?)
It’s only the second-ever reported case of a person with this condition developing the ability to experience pain, and it may ultimately help shed more light on exactly what causes it in the first place, argues the University of Cambridge medical team. If only the potential scientific breakthrough didn’t come at such a high cost to this poor woman.