Welcome to Stanford University's Human Pain Research Lab, in the far corner of the quiet fourth floor of the hospital, one of the premiere research facilities in the country.
Here is the comfortable chair where I'll be spending a couple uncomfortable hours. Those who've reclined here before helped show that taking pain killers like vicodin for over a month makes a person more sensitive to pain, an (undisclosed) heart medicine might actually be a breakthrough pain killer, and depressed people feel more pain. The test which I'll undergo as a dry run hopes to show that pain sensitivity is linked to genes, thereby opening the door for gene therapy to become a new method to control post-operative pain, for example.
This is the transcutaneous neurostimulator, aka skull shocker, I won't be using. (That's another pain lab doctor's realm.)
Meet my doctors: Martin Angst (left) and Brooks Rohlen , both astoundingly accomplished (and justly paranoid about ethics and safety). Nurse Martha Tingle, the wonderful and intelligent and incredibly organized lab manager, is not pictured. Angst and Tingle? Yes, those really are there names; please stop with the snickering.
Have fun! Here Dr. Rohlen tests my pain threshold, the small paddle on his forearm heating upwards of 115 degrees before he clicks the mouse to stop the heating and indicate that the temperature has turned uncomfortable. Some people kick, others say "ooh, that was a good one," I tend to whistle in through my teeth.
Please do come again (to have your hand frozen, forearm scorched, thigh sunburnt, and quad inflamed with chile paste and pricked by pinsover and over and over again)! The generosity (and fearlessness) of volunteers is what allows them to perform red-hot, bleeding-edge studies on how pain works and can best be alleviated.