By Gabriel Neal, Texas A & M University
(The CONVERSATION) – Look at the paper cut for a moment. It happens suddenly and completely unexpectedly, usually just as you finally get to the task that you postponed.
Remember your relief to write this thank you to your aunt for the beautiful sweater she sent you three months ago, when your hands failed at the crucial moment in her familiar job and the edge of the paper passed his shackles slipped into the flesh. Then pain – sharp, pure pain that bends your consciousness to the simple. Thing. The. Affairs. Law. Now. There is sometimes a moment between awareness and pain when dealing with fate and hoping that what has just happened has not happened. But the hand is gone and the blood needs to be taken care of.
Physically, paper cuts hurt just as they do for a variety of reasons. They typically occur on particularly sensitive parts of the body such as fingers, lips or tongue. The nervous networks of these body parts can discriminate with exceptional clarity and specificity, pressure sensations, heat, cold and injuries. Our brains even have specialized areas to receive signals from these parts in high resolution. The exquisite cognitive abilities that make our fingers, lips and tongue as good as they normally do makes injury even more painful.
The same high sensitive areas are also parts that we use all the time. Cuts on fingers, lips, and tongue tend to reopen all day, causing us to experience the pain again and again. Finally, the depth of the wound is perfect to expose and excite the nerve fibers of the skin without damaging them, as a deeper, more destructive injury can severely damage the nerve fibers and affect their ability to transmit pain. With a paper cut, the nerve fibers are lit, and they are fully functional.
How to Stop the Ouch
As a family doctor, I can recommend some practical ways to minimize the inconvenience of paper cutting. First wash the cut as quickly as possible with soap and water. This reduces the likelihood of infection and helps the wound heal quickly. Keep the wound clean and, if possible, cover it with a small bandage for a few days to cushion the wound and limit the reopening.
While the physical impact of a paper cut is a real burden, the mental and emotional response to the paper cut fascinates me. While deliberate self-injury (such as cutting) and major accidental injury (such as a car accident involving loss of limb or paralysis) have stimulated important ongoing research into their psychological effects, minor injuries do not ̵
But for a moment, think back to the feelings you might have had about your paper cuts: surprise that the everyday act of licking an envelope can lead to injury (and so much blood!); Too bad that your body has not coordinated such a simple task (why does this always happen to me?); Anger because you hurt yourself (Arrrgh!); Afraid that it will happen again (I still have 200 envelopes!). Papercuts are trivial, but they can provoke a complex emotional response.
Papercuts remind us that, no matter how many times we ourselves performed a simple task, we may inadvertently hurt ourselves. If that makes us a little more sympathetic to the pain of our neighbors and a little more humble, then maybe paper cuts will help us too.
Gabriel Neal, Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, Texas A & M University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.