“A little pain never hurt anybody.”
That has been a mantra of mine for as long as I can remember, which at 77 isn’t always as far back as it used to be.
What I forgot about, until recently, was that a lot of pain actually does hurt, and it is not only me but some websites in the know that put sciatica on a scale with childbirth and passing a kidney stone. I have the fortune to be familiar with all three and I can testify like a born-again Christian to the simile.
I had a minor accident in August that punched in my car’s left hindquarters (patched up with a kind of accident saran wrap) and slammed the driver’s side door on my left leg. “That’s going to hurt later,” I remember saying as I climbed out of the car swearing at my own stupidity. It did, but it hurt in the “never hurt anybody” category. Painful, but I could still walk so what the whatever? Nothing was broken, there was a nice purple hematoma that faded as September drew nigh, and then it seemed all was back to normal.
Not so fast. Sometime in late September the sciatica kicked in and escalated to the point of asking my doc to represcribe some rather strong Ibuprofen. In other words, it was starting to hurt. The Ibuprofen helped until it ran out and I was reduced to an old remedy: Xtra-Strength Excedrin and left-over Vicodin from some dental adventures.
Then it got bad.
Sciatica is a condition in which the sciatic nerve becomes trapped in a wad of enflamed flesh, in this case as in many cases the bulging spinal discs of the lower back. My lower back had been complaining for years, with the kind of pain that didn’t so much hurt me as tell me it was time to go sit down now. I am of the opinion that my stupid little accident had become one of those cascading events in which the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the body, just couldn’t quite get over itself and took its complaint to the home office in the discs of the lower spine, where it was upgraded to a crippling event.
First, the pain insisted on an embarrassing imitation of Igor, Dr. Frankenstein’s lab assistant (movies only). Not only did my left leg not want to support my weight, it also felt strangely numb from the knee down. Coming in from feeding the squirrels their breakfast, I led with it over the threshold and collapsed. Not a good sign.
Next my left thigh began an escalating sort of ache that ended with me groaning out loud with the pain, crying no, no, no, no, no, and swallowing way too many OTC pain pills which did not do the job.
I messaged my docs asking for Vicodin. They asked to see me.
So, several X-rays, a CT scan, an MRI, and a steroid shot later, they finally settled on a workable drug cocktail which actually seems to work. So now I’m finally down to “a little pain never hurt anybody,” because it hasn’t gone away but I’m not crying “NO” to an unhearing universe anymore either. So even if it’s not exactly a happy ending, at least it’s a somewhat cheerful bandaid, and I can hobble on my way once more.
Here's the thing about pain. About the kind of pain that causes you to cry, silently or not so, to an uncaring universe. It’s true that a little pain never hurt anybody, but a lot of pain really hurts. It’s debilitating. In my case, the effort to get up to do anything at all was most often just too much. It hurt to lie down, it hurt to stand, it hurt to sit, it hurt to turn over in bed, it hurt not to turn over in bed. It hurt like the bloody dickens.
I couldn’t write. I’m supposed to be following a little girl who was turned into a fairy on an adventure through her backyard, but although I saw her disappearing into the grass and can imagine her hearing a lawnmower in the distance, those images disappeared into the pain. Severe pain makes everything impossible. From getting your own banana from the kitchen to having a moment’s thought about anything at all. Pain becomes the world.
At least, I joked on FB in a rare lucid moment, now when I say I feel your pain, I mean it.
It does seem a bit relevant that these moments of intense pain happened to me in 2020, although it may be a bit over the top to compare it to the pain of the nation as a whole given the thousands of people who have lost loved ones, who have cried silently or not to an unforgiving universe, “No, no, no, no,” as they watch a YouTube video of a father or a daughter slipping into the river of no return. I have experienced intense physical pain, but theirs will not be comforted with three capsules of Gabapentin a day.
For the survivors, this morning a nurse in New York was given the first dose of our first vaccine. Today is also the day the electors meet to affirm Joe Biden’s rise to the presidency. Hope looms, as I like to say. Even for those thousands who have lost, there must be some hope that even if they continue to suffer the pain of irreparable loss, they need not continue to suffer the pain of a country reduced to a shambles. Pieces may be picked up and reassembled into a new picture that resembles the United States of America.
And that’s a hope worth limping into.