Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Neurotags! "Pain is personal" always

This post is a departure from, but still related to, the series I'm heavily into writing just now, inspired  by Melzack and Katz. It echoes a post from that series, however, Melzack and Katz Pain2013 Part 2: Pain is personal.  I've been reflecting on the Moseley encounter from last Monday, as well, which gave me reason to sidetrack off into three posts (the link goes to the third, and the other two are linked inside it).  

Recall the Kevin Ware injury [graphic warning].
Recall his own retroactive reaction
"I didn't feel any pain. It didn't hurt. Honestly, it didn't hurt. It was just scary. It was probably one of the scariest moments in my life." 

Kevin Ware couldn't get up. His leg was dangling and a bone was sticking out. It was an obvious injury with blood loss. His teammates and the crowd felt for him. They expressed anguish openly on his behalf. I think this may have let him off the hook, somehow, psychosocially. 

By contrast, Ramon Ortiz felt something, terribly wrong.  
Ramon Ortiz right about 20 seconds
 after injuring his right elbow pitching

Only he could feel it. There was no obvious injury - no blood, no bone sticking out - his arm didn't break, he could move it after; he experienced a lot of apparent turmoil over it, it forced him into a corner where he couldn't continue to play, he became very emotional over it. Angry. Teary. He was the only one who could experience the situation. It affected him, and only him, in the moment. He carried this injury all by himself. 

He must have felt alone, as he felt it, alone. 
There is this whole social, interactive side to it - no one else could "feel" him "feeling" this ... elbow. 
So, even though his teammates gathered around, he looked like he was lost deep inside himself somewhere, processing, not really interacting with them. 

Now, I wonder which of these players, Ware or Ortiz, will carry the most enduring neurotag, for pain, in the future? 

Bones heal, especially in 20-something-year-old athletes. People rally round and provide massive support. The crowd gasps and teammates fall over in shock and horror and the injured player can perceive the empathic support: external psychosocial context in this case was a mirror and a buffer and a blotter, all at the same time. 
I would lay odds Ware will probably go back to inhabiting the same sense of self he did prior to injury. His neurotag may be minor, and he may be able to successfully disregard it.

In 40-year-old ball players who don't have blood loss or a bone sticking out, whose context includes a crowd just waiting for a sign his career is drawing to a close, and who can't really see what's going on, an injury might well feel like death, for the athlete part of the self; mourning may be involved, the exhausting prospect of having to reinvent oneself as a baseball non-player may instantly loom. 
I would lay odds that this guy's neurotag will have soaked into more of his brain and will be sticking, like velcro, like duct tape, to a whole lot more of his sense of self, to a whole lot more of his future.
Not that he can't overcome the physical pain of it all after a good night's sleep and a few days of good treatment and recuperation.. but I bet the pain neurotag of the injury itself will be more easily reactivated by context than Ware's will. 

A further thought:

I think a difference in future neurotag stickiness might have something to do with the degree of humiliation felt, regardless of whether it arrives as experienced from the outside or the inside of a sense of self.

Maybe we could figure out a formula: PainNeurotag subsequent to an injury (any kind) will be a function of the degree of momentary disablement, multiplied by amount of perceived humiliation or personal defeat associated with the disablement. Something like that.

If the crowd can absorb the angst of the moment, effortlessly and appropriately (the way it did with Ware), then less humiliation will be a future cling-on neurotag factor. If the crowd can't, if it distances itself, however carefully and politely, then there may be more.

Something like that.

(This idea needs way more work, I realize...)


Derek Jones said...

The concept of biographical disruption is possibly relevent to Ortiz.

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating. I'm just starting to get my feet wet in this pain school of thought, and I can't get enough. This was easy to understand too, which is a great intro for someone like me. :)