"Well, I suppose it's time you call the kids and tell them," I moan, lifting my head briefly off the pillow on the couch in front of the television. "Argh."
"Tell them what?" my wife asks, looking up from her newspaper. "And did you just say 'Argh'?"
"Tell them my sinus headache is terminal," I say. "And yes, I did just say 'Argh.' It's what a man says when he's dying. Do you suppose the kids can get here in time?"
"You're dying again?" she asks. "Let's see now. Last time was when you had the worst terminal cold in the history of terminal colds. The time before that was when your back terminally went out on you. And before that you that dreadfully terminal hangnail."
Something in her voice sounds less than sympathetic.
"Didn't you vow to take care of me in sickness and in health?" I say. "Play fair. Help me."
"Here," she says. "Take another decongestant. It's what I'm taking for my sinus headache."
"Not to make odious comparisons, m'love," I say, "but your sinus headache isn't nearly as serious as mine. You take a decongestant. I need a Mickey Finn, a glassful of knockout drops, a bottle of Dreamy Dream pills. I have serious pain. I need serious painkillers."
"And just how," she asks, "might you know my sinus headache isn't nearly as serious as yours?"
"Because," I say, "you don't cry out the way I cry out. You just make little sighing sounds. I say 'Argh.'"
"You say 'Argh' because that's what comic strip cavemen say when they drop large stones on their naked toes. You say 'Argh' because you think it's primordial and macho."
"I say 'Argh' because my pain is unbearable," I say. "Yours is bearable."
"Look," she says, "we both got our sinus headaches from the same pollen off the same maple tree just outside the bedroom window that you insist on keeping open all night."
"Hah!" I say. "Then why do I cry out more often and more loudly?"
"Because," she says, speaking very slowly, "you are a wuss. You are male."
"Hah?" I say.
"Look at this," she says, pulling from her bodice the April 8 LJS. "It's about a medical research conference on pain and gender."
The headline says "Women achethen handle it." The subhead says "Study shows men are wimps when it comes to pain." The story says "Women really do feel more pain than menbut they cope with it better."
I snort even louder than she does.
"When," I ask, "did bra-burning women-libbers take over our medical research? First they tell us that IQ goes down when testosterone goes up. Then they tell us that men's brains shrink faster than women's brains. Now they tell us that women endure pain better than men. I detect a feminist takeover of the medical profession."
The Truth, Mainly
"I imagine that when they get around to testing it," she says, "they'll discover that men are more paranoid than women too. But it turns out that two-thirds of the bra-burning women-libbers at this meeting were men. So Hah! your own damn self."
The story says other things too. She reads them aloud to me.
One of the researchers says "while women may experience more intense pain, they may be better able to limit its emotional consequences than men."
I'm not listening. In the throes of my sinus headache, I rolling on the floor, kicking my feet, and moaning. My wife goes on.
Another research says women understand pain because they're conditioned by childbirth. "They know it's going to hurt," so they practice that Lamaze stuff. "Men," the researcher says, "wouldn't do that."
"Just hit me on the head with a maul," I wail. "I'll go off to a corner to die."
But the most important gender difference, the report says , is the way testosterone and estrogen "affect the nervous system differently."
"Testosterone," my wife translates, "is sissy juice. Testosterone is the vital bodily fluid of wussdom and wimphood."
"That's it?" I say, my voice so pitful it brings tears to my eyes. "That's all the comfort you offer me in my extremity? A decongestant and the news that you hurt more and yell less while I yell more and hurt less? That's it?"
"You got it, big boy," she says, making a little sighing sound. "Acknowledge it. You'll feel better. And if you really are man enough for something stronger, take one of my estrogen pills."
I moan. I whine. I cry out.
"Call 911," I gasp. "Argh."
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage clarity from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.