According to the medical texts, endorphins are small-chain peptides, which activate opiate receptors, producing a feeling of well being, tolerance to pain, etc. These compounds are hundreds or even thousands of times more potent than morphine on an equivalent basis.
An abstraction, right? Who has ever benefited from endorphins? How do you conjure up these marvellous endorphins when you really need them?
Me. I’ve done it. It was purely by accident, mind you. Let me tell you about it.
The scene is a dentist’s waiting room. I hate dentists. I have always hated dentists. I cringe at the thought of needles and drills. So there I am, waiting my turn to be called in for a gum-line filling, one of life’s least pleasant experiences. I picked up a magazine in an attempt to take my mind off the forthcoming torment. In it I found the following probably apocryphal story about an English train. English trains are known as “Intercity 125s” because they rocket along at speeds up to 125 miles an hour from city to city. They really do rocket. To go down the swaying corridor to the dining car or to the wash room you have to hang on to seats, windows, and even other passengers. Tunnels are an explosively loud experience.
The article described an express leaving Kings Cross station in London, bound for Edinburgh. As the train pulled out the conductor came through the carriages saying, "Tickets, please."
In one compartment there is a young man in pinstriped suit, bowler hat, tightly furled umbrella, and clutching a brief case. The conductor examines his ticket and says: "You’re on the wrong train, young man. This is a ticket for York. We don’t stop in York. This is an express non-stop to Edinburgh."
The startled young man protests: "But of course you go to York. I know because I took this train last Thursday."
To which the conductor replies, "Yes, but today is Wednesday. The company has long realized that nobody goes to York on a Wednesday so we don’t stop there anymore on Wednesdays. We go straight through to Edinburgh."
The passenger says, "But you’re got to stop in York! I’ve arranged a demo of our product, I hired a hotel room, and all our firm’s best customers are coming in to hear my talk. If you don’t stop in York I’ll get the sack!. You’ve GOT to stop in York."
To which the conductor replies, "If I stop this train in York I’ll get the sack," and leaves the shattered young man to contemplate his fate.
A little while later the conductor returns to the young man and says, "Listen. I’ve been thinking about your problem, and I’ve had a word with the engine driver. We can’t go through York station at 125 miles an hour, it creates a terrible vacuum. We have to slow down. Just this once now, the driver is going pass slowly through the station. So, as we come in to York, take your briefcase in your left hand, step outside, stand on the running board, close the door of the compartment, and drop off onto the station platform."
"Now be sure your legs are running at top speed or else you’re going to fall flat on your face. That’s the best I can do."
The young man profusely thanks the conductor, and indeed it all takes place exactly as planned. The driver has slowed the train down to a crawl. The young man drops off with his legs going like pistons. In fact the young man is running so fast he actually overtakes the train.
As he is passing the next compartment the door opens, an arm reaches out, grabs him by the collar, and hauls him on board.
As the train picks up speed and rockets out of the station, a voice says, "Hey lad, you’re bloody lucky to catch this train. You know, it doesn’t stop in York on Wednesdays!"
At that point I burst out laughing. Now, if you want to create a minor sensation in a dentists’ waiting room, burst into loud uncontrollable peals of laughter. Everyone present will give you the strangest looks.
The nurse then opened the door and called out, "Mr. Gregson."
I followed her in, sat in the chair, and took my gum-line filling like a man. I never felt a thing. I now know it was the endorphins. Even now, when I’m facing pain, all I have to do is think of that poor young man on his way to Edinburgh.
Paul is one of those wonderful story-tellers who has a vast range of personal experiences that he draws upon for his humorous vignettes about his life. He and his wife Madeleine lived in Placerville until his death in 2006.
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