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Tom Allen: the joyous sensation of not feeling pain

Tom Allen: the joyous sensation of not feeling pain

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Say what you want about the internet, the turn signal and toilet paper. For my money, the greatest invention in human history, hands down, are pain meds.

I first came to this strongly held position about a decade ago when I was visited by the Kidney Stone Demon, an especially wretched and evil creature. After a rather uncomfortable night in which I applied my usual approach to medical issues — wait for the problem to go away — I made my way to the ER, where I was asked to estimate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10.

Apparently, 7 isn’t very impressive in ER World, as they snickered a little and let me stew in my curtained alcove for a while. Later, as I felt things edging closer to double digits, I sent word to the powers-that-be that I might need their help.

A kindly nurse quickly arrived, bearing a syringe and a Mother Teresa-like smile. "You're going to love me," she announced, and she proceeded to shoot the contents into my IV. I swear, it was no more than 20 seconds before I felt what the Eagles popularly described as a “peaceful, easy feeling.”

And she was right. In that moment, I loved that saintly nurse in a way that I have loved few human beings before or since.

The drug in question, I later learned, was Dilaudid, and I firmly believe it should be sprayed on the population on a regular basis. When we were kids, my friends, siblings and I would run and play in the toxic cloud left behind by the trucks that came through the neighborhood spraying for bugs. I’m certain that Dilaudid would have been a better choice.

I’ve now been through several procedures that would have been unpleasant (at the very least) but more likely agonizing without the helpful presence of anesthesia. The friendly medical professionals involved have always told me I’m not getting the whole knockout deal, that I’m just receiving “twilight” sedation.

Twilight on what planet? When twilight happens on Earth, I’m almost always aware of it and generally can recall it afterward. Twilight in the world of medicine is a pleasant and faraway place you visit, carry on conversations and do things which you later have no memory of whatsoever.

I’ve come to appreciate this. One such twilight episode, however, destroyed the credibility that my previous ER nurse had established with me for her profession. What I mean is, I’m pretty sure this new nurse lied, somewhat gleefully, right to my face.

I was on my way to twilight for some hand surgery when it occurred to me that being under, yet remaining conversational, could be a risky proposition. There are some things, after all, that nurses don’t really need to know.

So I asked her, “When you give me this, will I start telling you where the bodies are buried?”

“Oh, no,” she reassured me. “Your conscience won’t let you do that.”

But there was definitely something approaching a diabolical grin on her face. I hope I never see her again.

I’m thinking that recovery room nurses know all the best secrets and can tell all the best stories. Looking back, it might have been a pretty cool career choice for me, except that there’s probably blood involved every now and then.

Recently, I had cataract surgery. Yes, anesthesia is so great that I was even willing to let someone cut into my eye!

This episode had some excellent benefits for my wife, Cathy. She drove me home afterward, and I was able to offer her a preview of what life with me will be like in several decades.

Apparently, I asked her the same questions and made the same comments repeatedly. I also asked if we could stop for doughnuts — and then didn’t remember eating them.

In the weeks since, I've overheard her having several furtive Zoom meetings with attorneys. But it’s OK. She’s a nurse, and I trust her completely.

Tom Allen is editor of the Virginia Journal of Education. He can be reached at

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