Nicolas Danziger

Life Without Pain?

Nicolas Danziger is a neurologist and researcher at l’Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière, in Paris, where he treats patients suffering from chronic pain, as part of a specialised consultancy. His most recent research led him to study the extremely rare case of patients who have been insensitive to pain since birth and, particularly, to examine the neuro-physiological mechanisms that determine their perception of pain in others. He was recently awarded the Prosper Veil Prize of the French National Academy of Medicine, for his work.

When we evoke physical pain, most of us have in mind a known, familiar experience. At one time or another, we have all felt the unpleasant, invasive sensation that suddenly crashes through the body’s quiet placidity. But pain is not necessarily correlated to severe physical harm. Unfortunately, it is possible to suffer unbearably and indefinitely, without any visible anatomic lesion.
One patient is bizarrely convinced that her aching leg is no longer part of her body. Another patient is afflicted with terrible facial pains that are unresponsive to analgesics but that suddenly disappear when he is wrongly made to believe that a neurostimulator has been implanted in his brain. Yet another patient, following bereavement, develops a toothache — which only affects his devitalised teeth. While some people are excessively sensitive to pain, there are some rare individuals who have been totally deprived of sensitivity to pain since birth.
In what way does the sensation of pain change the way we perceive our bodies? How is the pain affect elaborated in the brain? In what way can the symbolic meaning of a lesion determine the resulting sensation of pain? Is it possible to live without suffering pain?

• Necessary and senseless, protective and cruel, tragically present and yet profoundly anchored in the individual’s and the species’ past, pain is revealed here in all its violence and mystery as the very hallmark of life.

• The various areas of research covered in this book offer a series of guidelines that allow us to go beyond our fears and stereotypes, and enable us to recognise the real nature of the sensation of pain and to take stock of our ambivalence toward those whom pain has imprisoned.

• An intellectual and affective journey, paved with unique stories and experiences, and their often amazing outcomes.