Life minus pain has its disadvantages

Ross Marriner
Ross Marriner

Fifty years ago a 4-year-old Inglewood boy had medical buffs around the globe stumped.

Ross Marriner had a rare nerve deficiency and no-one could fathom why. The affliction meant he felt no pain and while that was useful while playing rugby and league, it caused him a raft of problems.

As a child he'd pick up the coal range rings and make nice neat circles on the carpet or lino. He burnt his hands, but didn't feel a thing, he says.

One day he came home from primary school and told his mum that his shirt was sticking to his back. He had been leaning on the school radiator and had burned himself. The blister had popped, he says.

"There was no point giving me a good hiding, it wouldn't have worked."

The only thing that did work was throwing cold water at him, he says.

Fast track five decades and you'll find Mr Marriner leading a normal life. His teeth are the only things he ever had to give up because of his "congenital indifference to pain".

They went because he bit off a piece of his tongue and kept biting his cheeks. The dentistry never hurt a bit.

There are scars all over his body, his fingertips are burnt, one is missing completely and his toes are split.

"It's a bloody curse," he says.

When his three adult children were young, Mr Marriner had to take care when bathing them - he couldn't tell how hot the water was.

"I had to check and recheck, then still I got the wife to check. I can stick my hand in boiling water and feel no pain."

The only way he can tell if his coffee was too hot is when blisters appear in his mouth.

Mr Marriner has never been able to find out what caused the condition. It's just one of those things, he says.

He can tell the difference between hot and cold. If he holds his hand above an element on the stove he can tell whether or not it is on. And he can tell the difference between sharp and blunt. He just can't tell how hot or how sharp.

During the biopsy of a segment from his back he could feel the movement of the knife and then the stitching, but it didn't hurt.

"There was no anaesthetic. Halfway through the doctor said I should be climbing off the ceiling [in pain]."

"The worst part was the blood dripping down the side, it was tickling."

Just like when he caught a fingernail and pulled it off, he could feel the skin pulling, he says.

Then there was the time he caught the end of his finger in a pallet press. Hospital staff had to "nibble off the dead skin to the bone".

"If I hung my arm down it was pulsing, but if I held it up against the wall I felt nothing."

The worst part was taking the dressing off, it pulled his skin.

The doctors were sceptical about him not feeling anything, he says.

"They told me not to look but I said why not?" A nurse couldn't look and had to walk out, as did his wife, Jean.

Mrs Marriner says she found it hard to get her head around the situation when she first met her husband, but after more than 30 years of marriage it is just normal.

"You get used to it. You know what to look for. If it's really hot [weather] we know to tell him. If we go out for tea and the soup is really hot, we tell him. It comes naturally now."

The children grew up knowing if they saw blood on the floor they needed to go and find Dad because he must be hurt, she says.

"He'll come home with blood down his arm and he won't know what he's done. That's what we have to watch because he could have done something really bad."

Once Mr Marriner was fixing the chimney and the ladder he was standing on broke. He hit the ground and grazed his arm. He said he was fine, but Mrs Marriner took him to the doctor, she says, because he might have broken something.

"We have to be careful with that sort of thing."

None of their children have inherited the condition and there are no other family members who have it.

"I don't know why it happens. I know there are not many of us. I've never met anyone else, but then I don't say 'Hi, I'm Ross, I don't feel pain'."

He doesn't usually tell people, except workmates in case something happens.

"Some people remember the piece in the paper."

Another issue Mr Marriner has is a lack of smell. He doesn't know whether it is connected to his indifference to pain or not.

"Maybe I've just run into too many brick walls and stuffed my nose. I don't know."

Taranaki Daily News