Mar 11

my deep and abiding interest in pain

Proven By Science5 comments • 522 views

The diagnosis came at the age of 2. My father had set me down some distance from the hives, handing me a jar of honey, and he went to tend the bees. Or “keep” them. I got stung as I sat there, and my little body swole up like a tomato. The hospital nurse (my father claims) said I was the most allergic case they’d ever had.

Count Tyrone RogenI was stung 11 times in the next eight years. Each sting required a trip to the emergency room. Trust me when I tell you that “the ER” isn’t as sexy as George Clooney made it out to be. One time I saw a guy with multiple stab wounds in the waiting room, sitting calmly on one of the orange plastic seats, holding his sides. (Many of my friends had never been stung at all. Is there something about the flesh of allergic kids that proves irresistible to bees – and indeed to yellowjackets, wasps, and hornets? Something about the way they smell?)

The full-body swelling is what distinguishes your allergic types from run-of-the-mill stingees. When it happens, it’s serious. So throughout my childhood I went every six weeks, like clockwork, to get “my shots” – four injections, each with a different blend of hymenoptera serum, designed to mitigate any systemic reaction to a bee sting. But the shots hurt, too. Was it worth it? Getting “stung” 30-some times a year by a needle just in case I got stung once by a bee?

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I’d never realized there was a qualitative difference between the sting of a needle and the sting of a bee. Or if I had, I’d never thought to try and describe it. But one man has. He’s attempted not only to quantify every range of sting that it’s possible for a human being to feel, he has begun the almost brain-breakingly admirable work of describing these stings. Ladies and gentlemen, Justin O. Schmidt, and the Schmidt Sting Pain Index (thanks to Wikipedia):

  • 1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
  • 1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.
  • 1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
  • 2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
  • 2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
  • 2.x Honey bee and European hornet: Like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.
  • 3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
  • 3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
  • 4.0 tarantula hawk: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.
  • 4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.[3]

By the way, did you know that a bee will always die after stinging you? Its body isn’t capable of pulling the stinger out of your flesh – but it doesn’t know that. Thus, it will struggle so mightily to retrieve it that the effort rips its own guts out of its body. There, something to look forward to.


  1. 1

    “Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel”

    I am unpersuaded that Mr Schmidt has studied these various likenesses scientifically. WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES THE RUSTINESS MAKE?

  2. 2
    Tracer Hand on 2 Mar 2011 #

    Of the many wonderful things about Schmidt’s scale is that it shows up its own linearity as simply not enough for the connoisseur (cf Robert Parker and his marks out of 100 for wines, or Pitchfork’s own 100-point scale for music).

  3. 3
    Logged out Tracer Hand on 3 Mar 2011 #

    So if I had to guess (as Schmidt HOPEFULLY is doing!! — This scale calls upon imagery that no one reading it can possibly have experienced first-hand — which makes it all the more strangely vivid) I’d say a rusty nail’s entry vector would be a damn sight rougher than a nice clean one. I sliced my finger open with a Swiss army blade once but it was so sharp and clean I didn’t feel a thing until minutes later.

  4. 4
    Logged out Tracer Hand on 9 Mar 2011 #

    there’s a photo of a tarantula hawk here –


    it’s the state insect of new mexico!

  5. 5
    logged-out Tracer Hand on 6 Apr 2011 #

    “To me, the pain is like an electric wand that hits you, inducing an immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations.”


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