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Pain is a four-letter word

By Tony Deyal

 We all deal with pain in different ways. We say “I feel your pain” knowing fully well that we are all different and I can feel my pain extremely well and may feel what your pain may feel like but can never really feel your pain. Empathy and sympathy are all well and good but when I’m in pain and feeling it I know very well that nobody else in the world is feeling exactly how I feel when I’m feeling it.

My father had many different responses to my pain.  For the most part he would rush out with the Phensic, Cafenol or Aspirin and even gave me a sip of bay rum for fever, a case of the cure being worse than the illness.  Vick’s vapour rub was a staple, heated “soft” candle was a cure, and boiled bush from the yard including “fever” or lemon grass with honey, lime and a dash of overproof rum dealt with any pain that was stupid enough to come around our house. The rum might not have killed the germs but I am sure, that like my father, they had a very good time with it.

But then again my father could be annoying about pain. In Trinidad, as the world knows, Carnival is huge.  On the bus coming home from school, I had met a young lady named June who lived in the village before mine and she invited me to come and spend Carnival Monday with her.  I was elated and could think or talk about nothing else. On Carnival Sunday, some of our friends decided they would like nothing better than stewed iguana and dasheen (a tuber known as “blue food”) for their Carnival Monday meal. My father had a shotgun that was licensed to travel and hunt, I was always glad for an opportunity to go into the forest and that day was first in the car since I had visions of shooting some huge monster and telling June all about my prowess. No beating around the bush there at all.

Trinidad’s geology, flora and fauna are similar to Venezuela since the island was once part of the South American continent.  Thick virgin forest with vines that Tarzan, Jane, Boy, Cheetah and the entire tribe could have swung on.  You always felt in the semi-darkness that the Phantom’s cave lay around the next giant tree trunk and that the Ghost Who Walks was watching you closely.  

So there was Bwana Tony walking in single file behind Mikey who was the designated gunman and Orland, Franklin with my father bringing up the rear.  There was a hollowed-out vine which Franklin swung away from him and on its return journey the vine hit me full on the right side of my face.  


The next instant I was being bitten by thousands of wasps or “Jack Spaniards” which we called “Jack Spaniah” or “Jep”.  They swarmed over me like the Cuban-based, Spanish pirate “Diabolito” and his crew over some poor British barque and the right-side of my face swelled like the Pillsbury doughboy. The heck of it is that when I look round for sympathy, understanding, empathy or even concern, everybody was laughing.  

I can tell you that in a circumstance like this, laughter is not the best medicine. It does not come even close.  Had I the shotgun at the time I would have been able to refer to all my friends and even my father as those “blasted” people.

If any English Language student ever needed an example of the phrase “adding insult to injury” I have it. My father looked me straight in the eye, the one that was almost closed up from the stings, and then said, “The best thing to do is go and find another Jep nest and let them sting you on the other side of your face so that both sides will be the same size.”  

There I was, concerned not just about my face, but in the intermittent throbbing thinking of my date with June the next day and knowing that short of plastic surgery nothing could fix my face for the big occasion.  I came very near to patricide.  

It is only later that I recognised that was the way my father dealt with his pain and worry because the hunt ended there and then and I was rushed home to my mother, tins of Thermogene, Tiger Balm, even Vick’s and several different kinds of bush applications, ice and laughter as well from anyone who found that I was feeling too sorry for myself.  

I was teased mercilessly about June with even my best friend Orland, the soul of solace so far, telling me that the best thing would be to wear a mask.  “Is Carnival,” he said.  “She can’t tell you nothing. And besides, she know what your face look like already and the mask can’t make you look worse.” At least nobody told me to “get a grip on yourself” or “pull yourself together”.


Recently there was a poll involving 500 Britons who said that those two phrases were the most annoying things to say to people if you’re trying to console or comfort them.  The poll also found that “There, there” and “Keep a stiff upper lip” did not help much either. Had anyone tried the upper-lip thing with me I would have gone berserk because my upper lip was already stiff from the wasp stings.  It would have been like wishing me a “swell time” or if I tumbled over a tree root saying “Have a good trip.”  

The others in the top ten of annoying phrases are “Pain is just weakness leaving the body” (Yeah, right!), “Plenty more fish in the sea”, “Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever”, “Worse things happen at sea”, “That’s too bad” and “Chin up.” The phrases that may work are: “One day we’ll laugh at this” and “I really feel for you”.    

Talking about pain I like this story, “There was once a young man who, in his youth, professed his desire to become a great writer. When asked to define “great” he said, “I want to write stuff that the whole world will read, stuff that people will react to on a truly emotional level, stuff that will make them scream, cry, howl in pain and anger!” He now works for Microsoft, writing error messages.


Tony Deyal was last seen saying he empathises most with the pain of batteries.  He understands how they feel because he is seldom included in things either.

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