Around 4:30pm on a hot day in August, 2006, I was sitting in my car outside a friend’s house in San Antonio, Texas. I had just finished a phone call with my girlfriend at the time and was about to get out of the car when I felt a sharp pain in my left hand. I looked down and saw that my hand was bleeding. I had accidentally cut myself with the car key.
I got out of the car and walked to the front door, where my friend answered. I showed her my hand and she took me to the hospital.
It was there that I learned I had a rare condition called congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA). In other words, I can’t feel pain or temperature.
It’s not just that I have a high pain tolerance—I genuinely can’t feel pain. I’ve never felt a paper cut, a stubbed toe, or a burns. I once accidentally put my hand on a hot stove and only realized it when I saw the blisters forming.
The condition is caused by a mutation in a gene that’s responsible for sending pain signals to the brain. As a result, I don’t have the sensation of pain, but I also can’t sweat.
Since I can’t sweat, my body can’t regulate its temperature. So, in hot weather, I have to be careful not to overheat. I have to take breaks often and drink lots of fluids.
In the winter, I have to be careful not to get too cold. I have to dress warmly and avoid activities that would make me sweat.
There are other potential dangers that come with CIPA. Because I can’t feel pain, I’m at risk of injuring myself and not realizing it.
I’ve fractured bones and torn muscles without knowing it. I’ve had surgery to remove diseased tissue that I didn’t even know was there.
I’m also at risk of developing infections because I can’t feel when I have a cut or a scrape.
It’s estimated that there are only about 700 people in the world with CIPA. Because it’s so rare, there’s not a lot of research on the condition.
There is no cure for CIPA, but there are ways to manage the condition. For example, I have to be careful to avoid injury and infection. I also have to be aware of the dangers of overheating and hypothermia.
I’ve learned to adapt to my condition and live a relatively normal life. I’m married and have two children. I work as a computer programmer.
I’m grateful that I have a supportive family and friends who understand my condition. I’m also grateful that I have the knowledge and resources to manage my condition.