A doctor finally explains the age-old question: Why do paper cuts hurt so much?
via Playful ZA / Twitter

This article was originally published by The Conversation. You can read it here.

Consider, for a moment, the paper cut. It happens suddenly and entirely unexpectedly, usually just as you are finally getting somewhere on that task you had been putting off.

Recall your sense of relief to finish that thank-you note to your aunt for the lovely sweater she sent you three months prior when, at the crucial moment, your hands failed you in their familiar task and the paper's edge slid past its restraints into the flesh.

Then pain – sharp, pure pain that bends your consciousness to the Only. Thing. That. Matters. Right. Now. There is sometimes a moment, between awareness and pain, when you bargain with fate, hoping that what just happened didn't. But the hand is gone and the blood needs tending.


Physically, paper cuts hurt as much as they do for a variety of reasons. They typically occur on parts of our bodies that are the most sensitive, such as the fingers, lips or tongue. The nerve networks of these body parts can discriminate with exceptional clarity and specificity, sensations of pressure, heat, cold and injury.

via Marco Verch / Flickr

Our brains even have specialized areas to receive signals coming from these parts in high definition. The exquisite sensing abilities that makes our fingers, lips and tongue so good at what they normally do, also makes injuries all the more painful.

These same highly sensitive areas are also parts we use all the time. Cuts on fingers, lips and the tongue tend to reopen throughout day dooming us to relive the pain again and again.

Finally, the depth of the wound is perfect for exposing and exciting the nerve fibers of the skin without damaging them the way a deeper, more destructive injury can severely damage the nerve fibers impairing their ability to communicate pain. With a paper cut, the nerve fibers are lit, and they are fully operational.

How to stop the ouch

As a family physician, I can recommend a few practical ways to minimize the discomfort of a paper cut. First, wash the cut as soon as you can with soap and water. This will reduce the chance of infection and help the wound heal quickly. Keep the wound clean, and if possible, for a few days cover it with a small bandage to cushion the wound and limit reopening.

While the physical effects of a paper cut are a real drag, I am fascinated by the mental and emotional response to the paper cut.

While both intentional self-injury (example: cutting) and major accidental injury (example: car accident with loss of limb or paralysis) have inspired important, ongoing research into their psychological effects, minor accidental injuries do not – and that is OK. There are more pressing issues in need of research than paper cuts.

But for a moment think back to the feelings you may have had about your paper cuts: surprise that the mundane act of licking an envelope could result in an injury (and so much blood!); shame that your body didn't coordinate such a simple task (why does this always happen to me?); anger for hurting yourself (arrrgh!); anxiety that it will happen again (I still have 200 more envelopes to go!). Paper cuts are trivial, but they may invoke a complex emotional response.

Paper cuts remind us that no matter how many times we have performed even a simple task we are capable of accidentally hurting ourselves. If that makes us a little more sympathetic to our neighbor's pains, and a little more humble, then maybe paper cuts do us some good too. Maybe.




Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
True

With the COVID-19 pandemic upending her community, Brooklyn-based singer Tiffany Obi turned to healing those who had lost loved ones the way she knew best — through music.

Obi quickly ran into one glaring issue as she began performing solo at memorials. Many of the venues where she performed didn't have the proper equipment for her to play a recorded song to accompany her singing. Often called on to perform the day before a service, Obi couldn't find any pianists to play with her on such short notice.

As she looked at the empty piano at a recent performance, Obi's had a revelation.

"Music just makes everything better," Obi said. "If there was an app to bring musicians together on short notice, we could bring so much joy to the people at those memorials."

Using the coding skills she gained at Pursuit — a rigorous, four-year intensive program that trains adults from underserved backgrounds and no prior experience in programming — Obi turned this market gap into the very first app she created.

She worked alongside four other Pursuit Fellows to build In Tune, an app that connects musicians in close proximity to foster opportunities for collaboration.

When she learned about and applied to Pursuit, Obi was eager to be a part of Pursuit's vision to empower their Fellows to build successful careers in tech. Pursuit's Fellows are representative of the community they want to build: 50% women, 70% Black or Latinx, 40% immigrant, 60% non-Bachelor's degree holders, and more than 50% are public assistance recipients.

Keep Reading Show less
via Amelia J / Twitter

Election Day is a special occasion where Americans of all walks of life come together to collectively make important decisions about the country's future. Although we do it together as a community, it's usually a pretty formal affair.

People tend to stand quietly in line, clutching their voter guides. Politics can be a touchy subject, so most usually stand in line like they're waiting to have their number called at the DMV.

However, a group of voters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania received a lot of love on social media on Sunday for bringing a newfound sense of joy to the voting process.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

Former President George W. Bush and current president Donald Trump may both be Republicans but they have contrasting views when it comes to immigration.

Trump has been one of the most anti-immigrant presidents of recent memory. His Administration separated undocumented families at the border, placed bans on travelers from majority-Muslim countries, and he's proudly proclaimed, "Our country is full."

George W. Bush's legacy on immigration is a bit more nuanced. He ended catch-and-release and called for heightened security at the U.S.-Mexico border, but he also championed an immigration bill that created a guest worker program and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people.

Unfortunately, that bill did not pass.

Keep Reading Show less

Ah, the awkward joy of school picture day. Most of us had to endure the unnatural positioning, the bright light shining in our face, and the oddly ethereal backgrounds that mark the annual ritual. Some of us even have painfully humorous memories to go along with our photos.

While entertaining school picture day stories are common, one mom's tale of her daughter's not-picture-perfect school photo is winning people's hearts for a funny—but also inspiring—reason.

Jenny Albers of A Beautifully Burdened Life shared a photo of her daughter on her Facebook page, which shows her looking just off camera with a very serious look on her face. No smile. Not even a twinkle in her eye. Her teacher was apologetic and reassured Albers that she could retake the photo, but Albers took one look and said no way.

Keep Reading Show less