Life without Pain
Amazing girl named Ashlyn Blocker lives in the U.S. city of Patterson. She is an ordinary-looking 13-year-old child, going to school, studying music, but there is one thing. She does not feel any pain and does not even know how to describe it. She could easily shove her hand in boiling water and see how the skin is covered with blisters. She can feel warmth and coolness, but not the more extreme temperatures that would cause anyone else to recoil in pain. At school, she was once asked if she was Superman. There was the time she broke her ankle and ran around on it for two days before her parents realized something was wrong.
Ashlyn wears headbands and flip-flops most days and also prescription glasses with black frames and bracelets that she makes with beads she keeps in an old Vlasic pickle jar. She sells her crocheted purses for $5 to friends at Pierce County Middle School. When she smiles or laughs, you can see her Invisalign braces, which she wears because the metal ones might cut into her tongue and gums without her being aware. She has a medical-identification tag that she clips to a silicone wristband — she has eight in different colors, which she mixes and matches with her wardrobe. On the back of the tag it reads, “Cannot feel pain — sweats minimally.”
At school, she was once asked if she was Superman. Could she feel a punch to the face? Could she walk across burning coals as if she were walking on grass? Would it hurt if she were stabbed in the arm? The answers are no, no, yes, no. She can feel pressure and texture. She can feel a hug and a handshake. She felt her best friend, Katie, paint her toenails. “People don’t get me!” she said one night while we played checkers on her iPod. “Everyone in my class asks me about it, and I say, ‘I can feel pressure, but I can’t feel pain.’ Pain! I cannot feel it! I always have to explain that to them.”
Ashlyn does cry. She cried when her dog ran away earlier this year, curling up with her mom and dad in their bed. “She can feel empathy,” Tara told me. “She does. I don’t know if they found that in their research. But I know she does, in my heart.”
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