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The Fires of Hell

October 3, 2011

When I was a young Roman Catholic child, I was admonished to “be good.” “Being good” meant being obedient to the injunctions of parents, relatives, teachers, and other people in authority. It meant nor causing them too much trouble by making noise, not picking up my scattered toys, and eating all my dinner without complaining. It meant believing in God, in Heaven, and in Hell.

Heaven and Hell were essential to the moral authority of the Church, and to the authority of my parents. After all, they had been given authority over me (and my soul) to raise me in goodness for the Church and for God. If they were successful, and I was “good,” then I would go to Heaven when I died. If not, I would go to Hell. My ultimate destination was my choice, and was completely dependent on how I behaved.

Heaven wasn’t too clear a destination in my mind. I got the impression that it was a place full of clouds, where I would always be happy. I would be happy because I was with God. Being with God would make me happy for eternity. It was a tautology to my poor little brain, giving me no usable information. No one could tell me much about the pleasures of Heaven, and what they did tell me sounded boring. (The fact that I thought Heaven sounded boring made me just a bit scared for my soul, because I was sure that thinking Heaven sounded boring was something only a sinner would do.)

It was Hell that I could most clearly imagine. It was a pit of flames. I saw it as a vast cave, like the ones I’d seen in photos, but with flames everywhere. There were devils mocking you, making fun of you for being trapped there, and poking you with sharp, three-pointed pitchforks. A person in Hell was stuck there forever, and knew it. (That was part of its horror – that you knew you could never escape.) The flames surrounded you, burning you constantly – but they did not “consume the flesh.” That meant that you would just burn forever. You would never, ever stop feeling the horrible pain of the burning – and you would also feel the deep sharp piercing pain of the devils’ pitchforks.

You would feel “the worst pain you could imagine,” the pain of ceaseless fire, and you would be trapped feeling it, and you would know that.

Whoever described Hell in those terms must have either been, or known someone who was, suffering from Central Pain Syndrome. That is the description of exactly how Central Pain Syndrome feels: an endless burning within your body, which never ends. It is the burning that you feel just before your extremities begin to freeze. Of course, when you are freezing, you will eventually go numb and feel nothing. But with Central Pain, the numbness (called “allodynia”) never leads to a loss of the burning sensation. You are trapped with limbs and torso on fire, freezing cold, and numb to all surface touch. At the same time, there are sharp piercing sensation, as if you were being stuck with large needles, or stiletti, or, yes, pitchforks.

That is the sensation of Having Central Pain Syndrome. Actually, that is Central Pain Syndrome. Central Pain Syndrome is a disease caused by a lesion on, or damage to, the Central Nervous System: your brain or spinal cord. This lesion somehow interferes with the normal experience of sensation. Instead of feeling “normal,” your brain perceives that your body or your limbs are burning, freezing, being pierced. Of course, there is nothing actually burning, freezing, or piercing your body or your limbs. It just *feels* like there is.

This feature of the disease means that when you seek out a doctor to treat yiou, and they find nothing wrong with the limb that you perceive is causing you agony, they think that you are crazy. In this way, CPS is almost like a reverse phantom limb syndrome. In phantom limb syndrome, damage from the nerve ending convinces your brain that there is severe damage (burning, crushing, etc.) occurring to a limb that is no longer there. With CPS, you are convinced that there is damage to the limn when there is none. In both diseases, the pain is very real. It’s just that the cause of the pain is in the very nervous system that is simply supposed to relay the pain messages. Instead, the CNS is causing those pain messages itself.

There is no cure. The treatments that are presently used are inadequate and always in danger of harming you, due to their own side effects.A CPS sufferer cannot escapeĀ  its fires, because they are not “out there.” They are *within.*

It’s been quite a long time since I considered myself a Roman Catholic. But, as my friend Jim says, you never escape the long reach of the Church’s teachings. We fantasize about forming a “Veterans of Catholic Childhoods” group, with lodge and meeting halls, where the former child veterans of Catholic schools and CYOs and Catechism classes after Sunday mass can meet and speak to other people who understand *exactly* what we are talking about when we talk about preparing for First Holy Communion. It really doesn’t matter how long ago you left the teaching of the Church behind, how far you have fallen into other religions, agnosticism, atheism, or even Unitarian Universalism. You never forget those childhood lessons. You never forget the idea that there might be Heaven and Hell out there, waiting for you, depending on whether you’ve been “good” or “bad.”

I am in Hell right now. I live with the fires of Hell every moment of every day, whether I am awake of asleep, happy or sad, diverted or bored. No matter how good I may feel, the fires of Hell are there, burning within my body. I have Central Pain Syndrome as the result of a stroke that occurred when I was 51. What wicked things did I do to earn this punishment?


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