Does she feel pain?

We started our morning today with our new unpleasant weekly ritual: To give Shaina an injection. You betcha she doesn’t like it, but she doesn’t cry. Today, after Naomi administered the shot, Shaina looked at me and announced, “It’s sore”. I wasn’t sure if I should whoop or cry. The only thing worse than seeing your child in pain is inflicting the pain. On the other hand, she had told us that she was hurting. That never happens.

At school, I proudly told her facilitator, Abi, what Shaina had said. “Where was sore?” Abi wanted to know. Shaina smiled and pointed at her stomach. Naomi had given her the shot in her arm…  

We’ve taken Shaina to the doctor on a hunch that she wasn’t feeling right, only to discover she has a severe double ear infection. A “hunch” because Shaina hadn’t complained of pain. Every other day, we find a bruise on her body and have no idea when or how it happened. On the rare occasions when Shaina does cry out in pain, we know that it must be severe. 

We have an unscientific theory about it. Shaina must not feel pain like the rest of us do. Her doctors are iffy about it. They know little about her neurological condition and agree that it might dull her awareness of pain. They don’t know for sure. We hope that’s the case because it’s a more comforting theory than the one that says she feels pain but can’t express it. 

I don’t know if today’s shot was painful or if she’s learned that the correct response to getting it is to say, “It’s sore”. We may never know. 

But, we realise that, as unresponsive as Shaina is to her pain, she’s that sensitive to the pain of others. Without realising it, we’ve always said, “Shaina doesn’t feel pain like the rest of us“. We’ve never said, “She feels no pain”.   

“She c’ying!’ Shaina is hypersensitive to people’s emotions. She’ll rush over to a crying baby and stand sentry until the mom soothes him. Her face drops if an adult cries. She cosies up to her siblings when she senses that they’re upset. 

Ah, but those are the obvious signs. Shaina often surprises us- and others- with how attuned she is. She once dished out a pack of her Kindness Coupons to a young lady at an event. I had felt embarrassed at the time, thinking Shaina had had enough of distributing her cards and wanted to go home. Later that evening, the young lady’s sister messaged me to say that her sister had been through a tough time, and those cards were just what she had needed. How did Shaina know?

One of Shaina’s great friends is the remarkable Isaac, a young man severely injured in a freak accident last summer. When we took Shaina to meet Isaac and his family, she gravitated straight to sit next to him. We hadn’t yet pointed out who he was, and he wasn’t in his wheelchair at the time. Shaina intuitively felt he was the guy in the room who needed her TLC. 

We have at least a dozen more stories along those lines. 

We, adults, have our faces tucked into our phones and our minds stuck in our hurt. Not Shaina. She’s too attuned to the pain of others to feel her own. Perhaps that’s why she is the happiest person I know. 

Telling me “she’s sore” after her shot


A few hours after posting this, I received a message from Shaina’s school principal. She had not read this post and neither had the teacher whose anonymous message she forwarded. The message was perfectly timed to endorse the sentiment I had shared:

“Also, have to tell you something amazing which is so Shaina (Shish). I was feeling a bit low today from a personal issue from home.
Shaina doesn’t always give me time of day- depends on her mood.
I walked out of library, and she literally came straight for me to give me a hug as soon as she made eye contact with me. I can’t explain how much I needed it and it gave me such a lift.
And it’s happened before with her.
It’s properly unbelievable how in tune she is!”

Published by rabbiarishishler

Husband, father and rabbi of Chabad of Strathavon in Johannesburg, South Africa.

7 thoughts on “Does she feel pain?

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