Pain is a fundamental part of life, and often a very lonely part. Doctors want to understand their patients' pain, and we all want to understand the suffering of our loved ones. But pinning down another person's hurt is a slippery business. Is your relentless lower back pain more or less unbearable than my crushing headache? Problem is, pain is maddeningly subjective.
Producer Tim Howard introduces us to three attempts to put a number on pain in the hopes that we can truly understand another's suffering.
We begin with entomologist Justin Schmidt's globe-trotting adventure to plot the relative nastiness of insect bites and stings. Then, Paula Michaels, a professor in the History of Medicine at the University of Iowa, brings us back to 1948, to a well-intentioned but ultimately misguided attempt to demystify the pain of childbirth. And we end with a very modern, very personal struggle as non-fiction writer Eula Biss tries to rate her own chronic pain.