“Dad, your hand was on fire!” So summarized my youngest daughter after watching my culinary disaster unfold in front of her. We had been chatting as I began to pop some corn the old-fashioned way – in hot olive oil in a pan. As the oil heated, the popcorn kernels were not where I thought and I took an extra minute to locate them. Turning back to the heating pan I saw it was smoking – overheated oil. I quickly slid the pan off the heating element and – here’s the big mistake – lifted the lid to release the smoke. As the air hit the hot oil it burst into flame, briefly igniting my left hand. Can you say, OUCH!? I pivoted immediately and plunged my hand under the cold faucet as the pan sat flaming on the floor and the smoke alarm began to screech. We quickly doused the flame and opened the doors to air out the smoke.
As I got my hand back under the cold water, and then applied Silvadene burn cream and wrapped my very unhappy hand I was struck by something: what an amazingly intense array of sensory nerves we are equipped with! – or, put more plainly, holy cow this is stinking killing me! For about two hours it still felt like my hand was in burning oil. My mouth was dry; I was nauseated. Then it began to ease.
As incredibly unpleasant as that was, and somewhat still is (I’m typing with a bandaged hand), I am thankful for the rich sensory system God built into us. Even in the two seconds it took me to get from flame to water, I sustained a fair bit of injury. Had it not hurt much and I’d moved slower I can only imagine the additional damage that would have been done.
Touch (including pain), along with sight, hearing, taste and smell are what help us make sense of the world around us. These five senses not only protect us from danger, but they allow us to enjoy the world we are in.
We have just marched through another vibrant parade of fall colors in East Tennessee. Our eyes, which consist of more than two million working parts, processed the images and sent them to the part of your brain called the visual cortex. Somehow patterns of light falling on a two dimensional retina were interpreted into a pulsating three dimensional world by our brain.
At birth, our ears are unspoiled organs capable of discerning among more than 300,000 sounds. Of course after years of exposure to loud noises, the hair cells in the inner ear are sheered and flattened, becoming less sensitive – go easy on the volume through those ear buds. Our eardrums are also finely tuned, able to pick up sounds so faint that the eardrum itself moves a distance less than the diameter of a hydrogen molecule.
What about taste? Our mouth and tongue are spread with over 10,000 taste buds that give enjoyment to what could otherwise be just a boring process of refueling. Then, in a part of the brain known as the anterior cingulate, tastes get married to emotional reactions such as delight or disgust.
And smell? Though we pale compared to our canine friends, even the human sense of smell can pick up a whiff of skunk when the amount of scent in the air is less than one ten-trillionth of an ounce. We are able to distinguish about 10,000 different odors.
And that brings us back to our sense of touch. There are hundreds of nerve endings in every square inch of skin. Some are specialized to feel texture and pressure, while others, thankfully, detect temperature and register pain.
When we’re hurting it’s hard not to complain. But as we enter this Thanksgiving season, it’s a good time to thank our Creator for the amazing sensory system He’s given us to interact with the world He’s put us in. In her book, One Thousand Gifts, which I’d highly recommend especially at this time of year, Ann Voskamp quotes Alexander Schmerman, “Eucharist [thanksgiving] is the state of the perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption, and gift of heaven.”
Andrew Smith, MD is board-certified in Family Medicine and practices at 1503 East Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville. Contact him at 982-0835