Pain — An Expedition Into Uncharted Territory

A palliative investigation into the meaning(lessness) of chronic pain

Pain causes a lot of suffering and comes with a huge price tag, yet it remains under-reported. Words often fail us. We try to measure it on a scale of 1 to 10, but have no idea what those numbers mean. Can we ever know what someone else’s pain feels like?

Sanne Bloemink
Original title
Pijn. Een expeditie naar onbestemd gebied

In 2010, Sanne Bloemink made an unfortunate move during kickbox training. Since then, the slightest movement of her leg has caused shooting pains that ‘seem to split her body like a lightning strike in an ancient oak tree’. Scans showed a herniated disc pinching a major nerve pathway, but because eighty per cent of herniated discs resolve themselves, the neurosurgeon decided not to operate. Years of medications, exercises, treatments, hopes and setbacks followed.

After five years, Bloemink went for an operation. Her hernia was finally cured. But the pain hammered on undisturbed, and with it, any hope of a pain-free existence was gone. Doctors suggested an overloaded nervous system, psychological stress – nothing helped. In her search for a solution, the author connects her own experiences with perspectives on pain from medicine, philosophy, literature and history.

She takes the reader back to the Middle Ages, draws on Greek mythology, explores what new technologies can mean for pain management, and what the works of Susan Sontag and Marina Abramović, among others, can teach us. She concludes that chronic pain is a combination of physical, psychological and social factors that patients cannot easily influence themselves.

  • In the vein of Susan Sontag’s On Illness as a Metaphor

  • One in five people suffers from chronic pain

  • Combines history, philosophy, literature and personal experience

Year of publication

Page count


Stella Rieck
Sample translation available

A personal account, an investigation into the science of pain, a glimpse into the past, a philosophical essay and a medical-ethical appeal all in one. Too much for one book, you might think. A whirlwind of ambitions, styles and layers: hold your breath. But it works. The result is overwhelming, almost suffocating, and ultimately very impressive.


Engaging, entertaining and written with humour. You learn a lot from it.

de Volkskrant

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Sanne Bloemink
Sanne Bloemink (b. 1973) is an essayist, and writes for the Dutch weekly De Groene Amsterdammer. She also worked as a lawyer and jurist in Amsterdam and New York. She has written several books, including 'Happy Me' (2012) and 'De wilde wereld' (The Wild World, 2020).
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