Tag Archives: Erika Hayasaki

He Doesn’t Know What It’s Like to Feel Pain. She Feels It All the Time

In the 2000 film Unbreakable, we’re introduced to two characters at opposite ends of a spectrum: an extremely frail man with a brittle bone disease played by Samuel L. Jackson, and a man with superhuman levels of strength and invulnerability played by Bruce Willis.

“However unreal it may seem, we are connected, you and I,” Jackson’s character tells Willis’. “We’re on the same curve, just on opposite ends.”

In a recent issue of Wired reporter Erika Hayasaki introduced us to another set of people on the opposite ends of a spectrum.

Steven Pete has a rare neurological condition that makes him unable to feel pain.

Pete pauses for a moment and recalls a white Washington day a few years ago. “We had thick snow, and we went inner-tubing down a hill. Well, I did a scorpion, where you take a running start and jump on the tube. You’re supposed to land on your stomach, but I hit it at the wrong angle. I face-planted on the hill, and my back legs just went straight up over my head.” Pete got up and returned to tubing, and for the next eight months he went on as usual, until he started noticing the movement in his left arm and shoulder felt off. His back felt funny too. He ended up getting an MRI. “The doctor looked at my MRI results, and he was like, ‘Have you been in a car accident? About six months ago? Were you skydiving?’ ”

“I haven’t done either,” Pete replied.

The doctor stared at his patient in disbelief. “You’ve got three fractured vertebrae.” Pete had broken his back.

Pam Costa has the opposite neurological condition — she feels pain constantly, as if her body is on fire.

Because the inflammation is exacerbated by physical contact, stress, and even the smallest elevation in surrounding temperature, Costa lives her life with great care. She wears loose-fitting clothes because fabric feels like a blowtorch against her skin. She sleeps with chilled pillows because the slightest heat makes her limbs feel like they are crackling. “Have you ever been out in the bitter, bitter cold, where your feet were ice?” she asks me. “Almost frostbite? Then you warm them up and it burns? That burning sensation: That is what it feels like all the time.”

Pete and Costa are also connected, sharing a genetic link that has helped scientists understand why we experience pain and how to treat it.

Read the story

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories by Ijeoma Oluo, Michael Hall, Erika Hayasaki, Jerry Saltz, and Caren Chesler.

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Buried Alive in a Grain Silo

Erika Hayasaki | December 2014 | 2,554 words (10 minutes)

 

Four years ago, Erika Hayasaki learned about the death of two young men in a corn grain bin accident in the Midwest. Over the next two years, while pregnant and later with her then-six-month-year-old daughter and husband in tow, she left her life in Los Angeles to visit Mount Carroll, Illinois, population 1,700, to capture the story. Her interest, however, wasn’t so much in rehashing the deaths of the two young men, but in telling the story of the survivor, Will Piper, who nearly died trying to save his friends from the deadly pull of the grain bin, and whose life took a surprising turn after the accident. The following is an excerpt from Hayasaki’s story, Drowned By Corn, which describes the lives of the young workers before the accident. Read more…