I burned my arm last Friday night. Big time. Hell-raising home chef that I am, I was prepping a friend’s gas grill when the whole thing went up in a fireball. Starter malfunction combined with a high flow of gas and basic gas grill unfamiliarity (mine is charcoal) conspired to singe my brows, my eyelashes and every single hair on my right arm...from hand to axilla. In streaks, it burned the skin, too, so that once the adrenaline had worn off my arm felt like it was unrelentingly aflame.

ER or GP? Luckily, my GP is one of those old-fashioned docs who answers her beeper with an alacrity most of us deny exists elsewhere in human medicine.

No ER, she says...not if you can stand the pain. First degree burns just hurt––more so when they affect a wide swath of skin. So go take some Tylenol, keep the cold compresses coming and I’ll call in some Ultram.

Despite the tramadol I didn’t get much sleep that night, tossing and turning in pitiful, arm-preserving ways. So it was that by six AM I was feeling thoroughly sorry for myself; more so because I couldn’t take the prescribed pain reliever in advance of a full roster of Saturday morning appointments. (Floating through appointments is NOT recommended. Pain is always preferable.)

Yet halfway through the AM the pain had reached a crescendo. It was either time to call it quits and go home or suck it up and power throgh. It was then that I shoved down a couple more Tylenol and grumpily went in to see my “walk-in” appointment (AKA, someone who has not taken the time to call for a scheduled time slot). One look at the patient, however, and all my pent up hostility evaporated.

The eight week old kitten had sustained some kind of trauma within the past week or so. Both right feet, hind and fore, had been crushed. The few remaining toes were either “degloved” (entirely devoid of skin, as if it had been pulled off) or hanging by a stubborn bit of sinew. Worst of all, these feet smelled rotten. And the young “owner” was in tears.

She had no money, couldn’t take the kitten home to her parents’ house, had found the kitten an hour ago and had been unable to let her remain by the side of the road, etc. etc. A familiar tale that leads inevitably to a sign-over. As in, leave whatever you can afford to pay at the reception desk and sign this piece of paper proving the kitten is now Dr. Khuly’s to treat, take home or euthanize. $100 did the trick.

By now, my arm was feeling soooo much better. Miraculous, really. But how could it not? Compared to the kitten’s painfully rotten feet, my wounds seemed like nothing more than a simple scratch. Pain meds were rapidly aboard and I swear she was purring within ten minutes of her dose.

Perhaps it’s because I once suffered a fracture sans pain medication. Maybe it’s the rare migraine that informs me. Or the natural childbirth I can’t manage to forget. My frequent burns (including a horrible scalding a couple of years ago) can’t but contribute, too.

It’s when we suffer pain and retain the capacity to recall it vividly that we’re extra willing to work quickly and effectively to alleviate it. We remember that every second counts when it hurts. And that if they feel even a fraction of what we do along with the stress their limited cognition confers, it’s an agony they shouldn’t have to bear. Not when we have drugs to make it go away.