I don't pray. I do ask stupid questions. Everyone asks "why me?" and I'm not above it. That deep cold hour of morning, of course I do. Pain makes you selfish. It makes you inconsiderate. Makes you aware only of your own plight, and fuck the world around you. They all have no idea.
But some do. In conversation via email with one, she asks (and I paraphrase): the pain defines what you do, who you are, so what happens when it is gone?
I can hear that wind-in-an-empty-stadium thing, for one. What if this pain, which has so thoroughly ruled my life, what if it were just....gone? What has it brought me? What guidance do I receive from it? How much easier is my life with this excuse? This reminder of my mortality? How much easier is it to just...give...up?
It's a slippery slope filled with narcotic rages. My wife tells me, "sometimes you're fine and happy and other times you're just so angry." Yes. Those times when I am fine and happy, I'm drugged out of my head. Even a small amount of vicodin (I'm taking 2 a day instead of the prescribed 10) changes everything. It permeates every breath, colors the pain in bright and beauty. My leg (it's my back, remember, but you may want to look into radiculopathy) dulls to a dim roar, and the opiates connect to their sockets and I get chemically fucked, sweet and slow and beautiful. My eyes tear up a lot when I'm looped, everything just feels so beautiful.
And when they wear off, or in the morning when they haven't kicked in? I am pitiful. My leg drags behind me, I cannot bend. Today I bent over to turn the shower on, had a spasm which kicked my legs from underneath me and I fell face-first into the tub. And normally I'd have laughed it off, but there I was, shower raining cold water on my still-clothed torso, face planted in the soap scum, and all I could do was cry.
Because it's easier to give up.
I pulled myself up, sure. And in getting up I taught myself new lessons in threshold. Internally, we speak a lot about threshold pain, that point at which you black out, where the pain becomes "unbearable." What can you take?
I can take a lot. I don't say that to brag, I don't say that because I am tough or because I am compensating for my weakness. I say that because I know, for a fact, to the Nth detail, exactly how much I can take and you know what? It's a lot. My baseline walking pain is about a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10, but that is a sliding scale. I've had whole weeks of today's 10, and it felt more like an 8 at the time, I knew I had more in me with each wave. I had one night of pain so profound that I started to hear things, my brain overwhelmed after so much signal and so little noise, and right before I passed out, I hallucinated. Mylar shiny bright things, like oil on water, this wash of transluscent color. I saw that and knew I was fucked, and I came to about ten minutes later, my leg throbbing. Everything else that night was easy.
I can take a lot. It takes a whole lot to break me. But I think we found it, you and I. I think we've discovered that fractal edge. It's not an instantaneous thing, how much I can bear for ten or fifteen hours. It's how much I can deal with over time, that baseline walking pain. Turns out I'm not so tough. I'm done past that edge.
I need to manage this. I can't let it just grab me by the nerve roots and throw me around the room. Certainly can't rely on these opiates anymore, and withdrawal is going to be a huge pain. Can't rely on anyone but me to make this work. And I need for it to work. I can't be the guy who is crippled by surgery or fear of it. I need to work with and through this pain the same way I do any other problem.
In two hours I go to see my neurosurgeon and my spine doctor. I'm on 15mg of vicodin, which makes me brave and loosens my tounge. I will tell them that I know that look they've been giving me, the "this can't be fixed" look. I will tell them that there's a program at a hospital in Boston, teaches people to work through it, to bear down and just fucking cope, and they do it through movement and exercise and psychology. I will tell them that I want to have all the options, mot just the big dollar fuck you money western ones. And I will start to manage my pain. And yes, it will hurt.
That's what pain does.
And it's what I do. But with enough work, and the right kind of support, and hopefully the right sort of approach to physical therapy and mental therapy, hopefully I will be able to get up one morning and look past the bright ball of pain that sits in my right hip.
I'll be able to get over it.
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