Leprosy is often thought to be an ancient disease as extinct as the Black Plague. It conjures up false images of scaly skin, peeling off the way a snake sheds her skin. It is, in fact, not extinct but referred to today as Hansen’s Disease. It affects not only the epidermis’s appearance, but how the nerves underneath react to touch.
What it Looks Like
People affected with Hansen’s Disease are not flaking away into nothingness. What they may have is skin lesions, either abnormal growths or discoloration. The effects of these lesions may be missing limbs, like fingers. A person with Hansen’s is not rotting, though. It was physician Paul Brand who discovered in the late 1940’s that this symptom is caused by damaged nerves. Meaning, someone with Hansen’s may not be able to feel pain
No Pain, No Problem?
The thought of never having to endure pain seems picturesque to those who live with it chronically. But pain is your body’s way of alerting you. Paul Brand’s experience in India opened his eyes to how grateful we should be to our aches and pangs. In his book, The Gift of Pain, he recounts watching a man with leprosy reach his hand into a burning barbeque pit to fetch a fallen yam. The act allowed Brand to realize the man’s scarred and blistered stumps were the result of sensation numbness. It may have taken so long to discover this because in many societies, lepers were ironically untouchable.
Being Thankful for Pain
Nociceptors are the neurons in your body that sense pain. “They’re the reason for my agony,” you’re thinking. They’re actually your friends. Your body is telling you something is wrong. That’s why rather than filling you up with pain killers, we’re devoted to solving pain at its source.