A while back I had to have an IV put in but the nurse couldn’t find a vein. She started in the crook of my arm. When that failed she moved to my hand. When that failed she called in another nurse who assured me, “I’m the best at this.” When she couldn’t find a vein, they called in the nearest MD and made him hunt around for it. Finally another nurse was called in from some other wing. She was a short, older woman with a warm smile but determined eyes. I imagine that, internally, they refer to this nurse as “The Closer” for her ability to find veins in anything — arms, hands, pillow pets, the bookshelf.
Let me set the scene:
Our mild-mannered protagonist, Laine, is curled in a ball of pain. Laine is wearing a dull purple hospital gown trying to crawl under the bed. Our needle-wielding villain, The Closer, wears hospitals whites and grips a tired-looking IV.
Laine: Um, er, can I get a minute here?
The Closer: No, we have to get this in. It’s been 45 minutes.
Laine: I don’t have any skin left on my arm!
The Closer: Okay, I’m going to try now.
The Closer: YES!
The Closer: YES! It will help if you stretch out. It will hurt less.
Laine: What? NO!
The Closer: YES! It doesn’t help that you’re in a ball!
Laine: YES IT DOES!
The Closer: Calm down! Stretch out!
The Closer finally found a vein, and all was fine. But this story came rushing back to me this week when I read about a study that, it galls me to admit, proves The Closer right! It turns out that the more dominant, non-curled-up-in-a-ball-like posture you adopt, the less pain you feel.
A study by Scott Wiltermuth, assistant professor of management organization at the USC Marshall School of Business, and Vanessa K. Bohns, postdoctoral fellow at the J.L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, found that by adopting a more dominant posture — a person is able to tolerate more physical distress. A dominant posture is the opposite of being curled up in the fetal position — sitting or standing up straight, pushing your chest out, widening your stance and expanding your body. The researchers speculate that these postures help generate a sense of power and control over your environment that lessens your nervous anticipation and makes the procedure/painful event more tolerable. Previous research has also suggested that expansive postures may increase levels of testosterone in the body. Higher levels of testosterone are associated with better pain tolerance and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.Best of all, say the researchers, you can fake it until you make it. When you’re feeling nervous or you’re anticipating pain or faced with your own version of The Closer, take a wide Superman pose and the pain will be more tolerable.