When Anna Forgot the Words for Pain & Medicine & Suffered Quietly

I cry a little inside as Anna tells me has been suffering quietly, having forgotten the words for pain & medicine.

4 min read
When Anna Forgot the Words for Pain & Medicine & Suffered Quietly
Hindi Female

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It seems that genes play a role in pain perception. If that is true, then I inherited my high pain tolerance from my mother. It isn’t a good thing to inherit, for pain is often a warning signal. I completely miss these signals, till they become strident and unbearable. Doctors ask me how I didn’t realise I needed medical attention. What can I say other than, “I didn’t feel any pain”?

Anna, on the other hand, comes from a family where pain tolerance is not that high.


The Early Years of Anna’s Resistance to Pain

My earliest recollection of Anna’s tolerance of pain was sometime in the late ‘60s. We were in Port-of-Spain, and before our first home-country trip we had to have shots, immunising us against cholera, typhoid, and anything else the World Health Organization insisted on.

Amma prepared us by telling us that we had permission to leave school early as we had an appointment at the medical centre to get shots that would feel like a “small ant bite”. My brother was made to wear a new vest under his shirt and my elder sister was told to carry a without-sleeves blouse. My younger sister and I were in school uniforms that anyway had no sleeves.

In the late ‘60s, we were in Port-of-Spain, and before our first home-country trip we had to have shots – immunising us against cholera, typhoid and other diseases. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)

We reach the Caribbean Medical Centre at the appointed time. Six of us sit on a wooden bench, my father at the head and mother at the tail. Anna turns to us and asks us who wants to get the injection first! Before Anna can choose the last slot, Amma says she will be the last to get a shot, so that she could help us when we have ours. None of us kids wants to be first and we looked significantly at our father, expecting him to be the big brave man and go first. Anna suggests that we get our shots in order of our ages, youngest to eldest, successfully sidestepping our pleading looks, and Amma’s choice, deftly.

And so we did. Anna drove us home, in the middle of a school day. We played frisbee in the garden and Amma made us treats. Anna retired to bed, saying he was going to get a fever!

Getting our shots in reverse order of our age became the norm in our family.


Literally Losing the Words for Pain

There were many instances throughout our childhood and youth where we would laugh at Anna’s resistance to pain, and tease him about it. It just wasn’t his own pain that he couldn’t stand, it was also ours! I remember falling down the stairs on two occasions and needing stitches. Anna drove me to the hospital, but refused to be in the room while I was being stitched up. Anna even refused to be in the same room when my niece’s ears were being pierced!

Fast forward to 2014.

It wasn’t just his own pain that Anna couldn’t stand, it was also ours. (Photo: iStock)

When I delve into Anna’s medication in the US, I realise that he has been prescribed two tablets of Acetaminophen 325mg per day. That’s a high dose of pain killer to take on a daily basis. Over a period of time we have worked on reducing it to zero. Anna only takes it as an SOS.

I meet him one evening, after days of not being able to communicate with him properly through his disorientation.

Me: How are you, Anna?

Anna: I am OK now.

Me (frowning, not understanding what he means): What do you mean now, Anna?

I get no response. So I change tack.

Me: Anna, were you feeling unwell before? Earlier in the day?

There is a long pause. Then...

Anna: You know; I was in excruciating pain this morning?

Me: Really Anna? Why didn’t you take a painkiller? You can take up to two Acetaminophens if you are in a lot of pain.

“I couldn’t remember the words for pain or the medicine. So I just kept quiet and stayed in bed,” says Anna. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)

Anna (referring to the attendant): He didn’t give me medicine.

I ask the attendant if Anna had asked for a painkiller and he tells me that Anna hadn’t.

Me: Anna, did you ask Manish for a pain killer?

Anna: No.

Me: Why not? You shouldn’t suffer if you are in serious pain. You know you can ask for painkillers whenever you need them.

Anna: Yes. (Pause.) I couldn’t remember the words for pain or the medicine. So I just kept quiet and stayed in bed.

I cry a little inside!


(After working in corporate India for over 29 years, Sangeeta has taken time off to look after her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. Sangeeta hopes that these authentic stories will help patients and caregivers understand and appreciate the impact of Parkinson’s Disease. You can follow Sangeeta’s blog here.)


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