Bandages? We Don’t Need No Bandages

Women are more sensitive to pain than men but are better able to cope with it, new research suggests. Men are more likely to let the discomfort sour their mood and, in the long run, suffer more. Women take measures to relieve the discomfort; men tend to wait, get ambushed by pain, then cope with it poorly. Their pain is our gain. Two Times columnists square off on the topic. And they pull no punches. Ouch.


Now comes word that there’s something else men don’t do well. We don’t handle pain. We don’t complain enough.

“From now on, I’m complaining more,” I say to my wife.


“That’s a relief,” she says.

I’m sitting at the table, reading about these studies presented at a National Institutes of Health conference this week, mumbling to myself the way men do when they read a study they don’t agree with, looking for the bad paragraph.

I’ve studied enough studies to know there’s always one bad paragraph, a paragraph so senseless that it casts doubt on all the other paragraphs. Makes the whole study look flawed.

“Found it,” I say, stabbing a finger at the paper.


“What?” my wife asks.

“The bad paragraph,” I say. “Listen to this: Women reported 40% more pain than men. But women coped with it better.”

“That makes sense,” my wife says.

To me, this makes no sense. I look at the paper closer, mumbling as I go, making sure I understand it.


“If women reported 40% more pain, how are they coping with it better?” I ask my wife. “If they were so tough, they’d gut it out.”

“Because they’re acknowledging the pain and dealing with it,” she answers. “Men just ignore it.”


“So dealing with it is better,” she says.


Apparently, pain is now something to dwell on. Used to be, you could be a little courageous and suffer in silence. No more.

“Isn’t ignoring pain a virtue?” I ask.

“No,” she says.

Funny how these studies never find flaws in women’s emotions. It’s always the men who need the work.


I secretly suspect that these studies are funded by some militant feminist sect--the Sisters of Estrogen or Women Against Baseball--who are out to discredit men and take over the world.

Well, they can have the world. It’s got a lot of mileage on it, this world. Just leave us baseball.

“You know why men don’t admit pain?” my wife asks.

“Because they hate whining?”


“Because they hate to go to the doctor,” my wife says.

She may have a point here. Most men hate doctors. They will suffer in pain for days to make certain they are really sick, then call the doctor and schedule an appointment a month away in hopes they will feel better by then and never have to actually go.

“I don’t really mind doctors,” I lie.

“When was the last time you went?” she asks.


“Twelve years ago,” I say.

“When was the last time you took the car in for service?”

“Last week,” I say.

“See?” she says. “Men will get the car serviced every three months. And once a decade, they will see a doctor. They hide pain because they’re babies about doctors.”


Fact is, I haven’t felt pain in about 15 years. At most, a little tingling sensation when I scrape my knuckles with the wrench while turning a leaky pipe in the basement.

“What’s wrong?” my wife will yell from upstairs after I scrape my knuckles.

“Nothing,” I will say. “I just scraped my hand. Felt pretty good.”

“OK,” she’ll say. “Let me know if you need anything.”


I wipe the knuckles off and start turning the wrench again. It slips. I scrape the part of the knuckles I scraped before, the part with no skin.

So I do that little disco dance men do when they scrape themselves, throwing the tool down and walking in a little circle, shaking my hand and exhaling through my teeth.

But this isn’t quite enough. So I cuss a little. Not a lot. Not so anyone can hear, I think. Just so I can hear.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” my wife will ask.


“I’m fine,” I’ll say.

“Then why are you cussing?”

“Just practicing,” I’ll say. “In case I ever hurt myself.”

But now all this pretending is over. According to this study, I don’t need to be tough. When I hurt myself repairing a leaky pipe, I should vent my feelings, maybe even seek the support of others.


“Paul?” I’ll say to my buddy over the phone.


“I hurt myself with the wrench,” I’ll say.



“I think I need a Band-Aid,” I’ll tell him. “It really hurts.”

“You poor guy,” Paul will say, then laugh and hang up.

At least I hope so.

* Chris Erskine’s regular column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is