IMAGINE not being able to feel any pain, even after suffering all manner of injuries.
This hardly believable condition is part of 31-year-old Enock Mambo’slife.
Since childhood, he does not know how pain feels regardless of how potentially excruciating his injuries would be.
He has had the misfortune of “suffering” broken bones several times and once bit off his own tongue and yet felt nothing.
He only becomes aware he has been injured when he either sees blood or feels discomfort.
In an interview with The Sunday Mail at his home in Ashdown Park, Harare, Mambo said he has seen specialist doctors who told him he suffers from a rare condition called congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP), which does not have a cure yet.
“When I was around 17, my parents took me to a doctor who said I have this rare condition of insensitivity to pain. The doctor said there was no known treatment yet for this disorder and I was one of a few people in the world who had it,” he said.
Doctors say CPI is an extremely unusual and dangerous genetic disorder that condemns sufferers to the pain of not feeling pain.
But the condition also comes with unwanted consequences.
Mambo said he has had so many injuries that his body constantly tries to heal itself, leading to fatigue and discomfort.
“It’s difficult when you don’t feel pain because you are always going through this underlying feeling of your body trying to heal itself. So you become fatigued a lot and you don’t feel in the best of moods,” he said.
“For the most part, I deal with effects of all my previous injuries — I have a bad right knee. It’s not pain I deal with; it’s extreme discomfort. If I am lying in bed at night, my body tries to constantly heal itself. I only get three to four hours of sleep, so all this has a psychological effect on me.”
The worst discomfort, he said, is when it’s cold.
“It feels as if my hand is being plunged into a bucket of ice. When I bathe, I can use extremely hot water without feeling a thing.”
He yearns to be normal.
“I no longer wish for this pain-free life.”
His mother, Ms Anastancia Mutseuka, said she realised something was wrong with her son when he was a toddler.
“He would prick himself with needles and would never cry. It seemed normal to him,” she said.
Dr Akim Ndebele, a general practitioner, said pain plays a major physiological role in protecting people from danger.
“This could be one of the rare conditions that come with insensitivity to pain called CIP. It is an incredibly rare dysfunction; only 20 cases are mentioned in the literature, but researchers assume that there are more undocumented cases out there. It is considered a form of peripheral neuropathy since it affects the peripheral nervous system.
“Research has shown that in most extreme cases, babies will mutilate their tongue or fingers while teething, then comes a lot of accidents, burns and walking on fractured limbs, which heal badly,” he said.
CIP patients, he added, should be advised on how to protect themselves.
“When there are no warning signs, danger lurks everywhere for such cases.”
A life without pain might sound like a dream come true, but the reality is it feels more like a nightmare.
Worldwide, few people have the condition.
People with CIP have been recorded putting their hands in boiling water, impaling themselves with rods, walking on hot coal and stepping on nails without registering any pain.
Research shows that CIP was first recognised in the 1930s, and numerous studies have since identified a genetic mutation that blocks a person’s ability to feel pain. It is hoped that studying how CIP works could lead to the development of a new kind of painkiller. Sunday M