The Writing Mamas Daily Blog

Each day on the Writing Mamas Daily Blog, a different member will write about mothering.

If you're a mom then you've said these words, you've made these observations and you've lived these situations - 24/7.

And for that, you are a goddess.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Paging Dr. Mom

Memories from my childhood are reinventing themselves and becoming an ever-increasing part of my life. What seems foremost in my mind right now is rubbing and kissing bumps and bruises, a ubiquitous action of motherhood. Wiping dirty faces with a spit-on tissue is right up there as well, but that’s another story.

As my two boys approach the age of five, I find they are increasingly in need of such expert care, and frequently (and proudly) present their war wounds for the prerequisite inspection and kiss.

When I was little I was amazed by the ability of a kiss or a kind touch to take away pain. As adults, we instinctively do the same thing for ourselves by rubbing our own injuries. Is this just a reflex from our childhood? Does the rubbing remind us of comforts of yore? Or is there a deeper reason still?

Yes. There is an explanation and there was a smart old wife behind this one. She was way a head of her time as I am quite certain the rubbing and kissing of boo-boos predates modern medicine by a millennium or so. I know this because in addition to Mom I am also a doctor, specifically one who specializes in Pain Medicine.

Pain, you see, travels along one set of nerve fibers while vibration and light touch, the sensations produced by rubbing or kissing, travel along another set. These different nerves are bundled together, like the lanes on a highway. Vibration gets the carpool lane and travels very fast, while pain plods along in the far right-hand lane. Because our brains are both amazingly complicated and incredibly simple when two signals, like pain and vibration, show up at the same time the faster signal wins and the brain basically shuts a gate blocking the slower pain.

Some skeptics might wonder if this is an emotional response to the nurturing or even a placebo. I only need to think back to my last bikini wax to know there is hard science behind this one. Upon ripping off the wax (and what feels like the top layer of flesh) a good esthetician places her hand directly on your freshly ripped skin, jumpstarting the nerves in the car pool lane. And in case you are wondering -- a painless wax is impossible. I am a pain doctor, not a miracle worker.

I implant nerve stimulators for pain: complex, computer equipment that inevitably draws a comparison with the bionic man or woman. These implants stimulate the nerves that vibrate, like the soothing rub from Mom, allowing the brain to exchange the slower pain signal for the faster vibration. It is a fair trade because vibration can quickly be dismissed into the background of life whereas pain cannot.

As I describe these devices I start with the analogy of a mother rubbing away her child’s pain because all of us, at some point, have had our pain expertly tended to by soothing hands or gently kissed better by caring lips. It is one of those few truly universal experiences. And I love this part of the conversation because I see long-dormant memories of youth jogged and a look of understanding appears. Faces long strained with pain soften ever so slightly because they all know the power of that soothing touch and how well it worked in days gone by.

When I rub and kiss bruised knees and elbows at home I feel like I am Doctor Mom. And when I talk about implants and memories from childhood to my patients I feel like Doctor Mom. I like knowing what mothers have instinctively done for generations is incorporated into state of the art medicine. It is wonderful to see such a simple principle at work in the front yard and the operating room.

Now if I could only figure out a medical reason for spitting on tissues…

By Jennifer Gunter


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It makes perfect sense to me, all you write. As for the spit, all mammals seem to apply the tongue to
their wounds. Watch your dog, your cat, and animals in the zoo. Must be that spit was the origninal, handy cleanser, at least removing the dirt or foreign materials in the wound.
I enjoyed the medical side that you recorded.
Ruth Scott
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