Wednesday, August 30, 2006

On the Relativity of Pain, and Bunnies and Ponies and Very Good Mothers

No, not the pain inflicted upon you by your relatives. That's a WHOLE other post. But the relativity and subjectivity of physical pain, and how truly remarkable and mystifying our brains are in their capability of and proclivity for interpreting it in such an astonishing myriad of ways. You'd think that a thing like pain would be objective...but my opinion, at least, is that you'd be wrong to think so.

I've written about pain before. Probably, some of you are thinking, ad nauseum. I've written about pain medication, pain evaluation and pain management. Heck, I've even coerced a friend into writing about pain charts, with hilarious results (yeah, I know--that seems wrong, pain and hilarity). You'd think I'd have said everything there is to say about the quality, duration, frequency and intensity of my pain, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. Well, turns out I haven't. Because the events of yesterday and today have put me onto a whole new way of thinking about this. Well, it's new to me, but probably not to lots and lots of other people who spend a good deal more time than I do engaged in actual cognitive exercises as opposed to, say...browsing YouTube and obsessing about COUPONS COUPONS I MUST HAVE MORE COUPONS!

Hey--remember that short story by D. H. Lawrence, "The Rocking Horse Winner?" The one where the house constantly "whispered," "There must be more money! There must be more money!"? Remember that? (I'm tempted here to just end by saying, "That was awesome," like in those old Chris Farley sketches from SNL, but I won't.) That's what it's like in my house right now, but it's about coupons, circulars, rebates, and spending ledgers. If Bella starts rocking furiously on her rocking horse for hours on end so that I get more coupons, I swear I will stop IMMEDIATELY.

Well, anyway...um, that there, that just happened above? That's what it's like to try and speak to me lately, when I'm taking the good drugs. So, sorry, but I've always wanted my blog to be "conversational," and if you don't believe that this is what conversation with me is like these days, then just ask my husband. The alternative, during the not-sufficiently-medicated periods, is either a sullen silence and a fetal position, or voluminous, frequent, and TOTALLY rational requests of my spouse, such as, "Honey? Sweetie? I don't mean to be mean or anything but COULD YOU PLEASE STOP BREATHING SO CLOSE TO ME BECAUSE I THINK THAT WHEN YOU EXHALE IT MOVES THE HAIRS IN YOUR NOSE TOO MUCH AND THAT IT IS THAT SOUND, YOUR NOSE HAIRS MOVING, THAT MAKES MY TEETH HURT!?!" Yeah. I'm fun right now. But on the good painkillers? Can't. Stop. The. Talking. Or the racing mind and sudden derailments of my trains of thought. (Imagine Captain Kirk voice): Having--sudden--empathy--for husband's--hypomanic--phases... musn't--let him--find out...

Back onto the main track, now; it started yesterday. Alex was finally able to get back to work (yaaay, Lamictal and your super-slow titration to therapeutic levels...I guess), and I REALLY wanted to be there, too (I have wanted to, badly, for a long time, but yesterday seemed somehow like a show of support for my husband, too, so I just wanted to MAKE IT HAPPEN), so I tanked up, big-time, on painkillers, then some anti-nauseal meds to help keep the painkillers down, and of course some Lomotil for the extreme intestinal upset that heavy painkillers can cause. I topped all that off with the anti-anxiety med prescribed by my surgeon for the time between now and the operation (there will possibly be more on the fantastic, gibbering, poop-slinging irrationality of my mind in any period of time pending surgery, in a future post, but not now, and you're welcome), and I WENT TO WORK WITH MY HUSBAND.

Yaaay, me! Whatever. I was a zombie--total "Shaun of the Dead" wasteoid until about 2:00 P.M., when I produced for my employer nearly an hour's worth of SOLIDLY intermittent and slightly slurred phone-answering. Then it was time to go and get Bella from preschool. I picked her up, gauged the time, and since I felt pretty good, went on ahead to the grocery store to finish up with the last few items needed to complete the total OWNING of this week's circular/coupon manipulation, finishing up an hour later, exhausted but victorious, with a grocery receipt reflecting a FIFTY-FOUR PERCENT SAVINGS on my total grocery bill. OHHHH, yeahhhhh. (Note to Self: When Bella insists that she is "big enough to walk in the store" instead of riding in the cart--DO NOT COMPLY. The cart is your friend. The shopping-cart-seat is a crucial ISABELLA CONTAINMENT DEVICE, and without it your in-store time will be at least DOUBLED, as you look for light chunk tuna in water and she runs circles in the aisle around you, grabbing cans of artichoke hearts and black-eyed peas and asking, "IS THIS TUNA?" at 192 decibles. Please remember this, Self. PLEASE.)

And that was when the "good" part of my day began to end. By the time we got home, I more or less collapsed into my bed and didn't much move again until today. And every time I did (move, that is), IT HURT MY WHOLE BODY. I mean, everything from head to feet to uterus to joints to possible mysterious internal surgical adhesions to the very skin of my teeth. It hurt to MOVE. Like, rolling over in bed. I was just beaten.

But this morning? This morning was something out of a nightmare. Once I had managed to gain a standing postion, I was literally unable to move. There was no move I could make with my feet that would not result in bone-shearing pain. But, you know, stuff had to be done, and Bella can be difficult in the mornings if not handled just right. She's like one of those exotic, temperamental zoo animals (probably a small, big-eyed monkey of some sort, with a prehensile tail), and I'm Jack Hannah. Who, as we all know, always screws something up when he brings the critters onto the Letterman show. But I did manage to get the little darling dressed, fed, and coiffed, and loaded up in the carseat in Daddy's truck, before I took a fistful of meds and fell back into bed. I have a vague recollection of screaming some serial numbers off our downstairs freezer into the phone at Alex for the purpose of scheduling some repair work on the unit, but I could have dreamed that. You'll have to ask him.

The next thing I remember was the telephone repairman ringing the doorbell sometime between noon and 1:00. He did fix our phone, yaaay. So, by about an hour later, I had begun to feel human again (yaay, pharmaceuticals!), and phoned to tell Alex that I thought I would be able pick Bella up from preschool. This is good, because the span of time between her getting out of school and him getting off work is two hours, and that would have been more loud, frenetic preschooler-delivered entertainment than the customers or employees at the office would likely have appreciated.

And can everyone please give my precious daughter a round of applause for the fact that, after RUNNING to me and flinging her arms around me with an enthusiastic "MOMMY!" upon my arrival at the preschool, her VERY first question to me was, "Do you feel much better, Mommy?" God, I love that kid. I assured her that I did, indeed, feel MUCH better, especially after seeing her. We briefly stopped by the office to see Mom and Alex, then headed home, making a stop at the feed store. There was then this whole ponies-escaping-into-the-woods fiasco that I don't even want to get into (stop that "hallelujah"-ing, ingrates), but I got 'em all fed while Alex captured the fugituves, and then collapsed a little more. I had a short burst of energy tonight, mostly out of guilt that Alex was working heroically down in the basement, and I got a good deal of housework done, and I know I'll be paying for that in the morning.

So I think I have figured out the pattern, anyway: It's either BRIEF bursts of effort, with frequent rests in between, OR it's a day of work followed by at least a day of recovery. Both methods require lots of medicine, and more medicine to counteract the other medicine, and a finely-tuned sense of careful timing concerning when to take which meds in relation to which tasks you are facing. It kinda sucks.

Which leads me to my mental machinations...I began to ask myself, "Is it--the pain--is it REALLY worse now than it was before? Before my "good surgery" and the blessed relief that followed? Because I had kind of been thinking, lately, "WOW, this is just way out of line. This is worse than ever it was, and I am surely going to die because there MUST be an endometrial tumor working its way through some vital organ or other in an attempt to kill me before September 29th." (the date of my surgery, which is WAY to far away) I have felt like this pain was unprecedented. I cannot count the times I have said to my husband or my mother (the rest of you may now thank your lucky stars for having been spared), "I just can't go on like this for another MONTH. I CAN'T." But then I thought some more, and I realized that I was way off base with this idea. THIS pain, it is NOT worse than what I experienced before. So why have I thought it was? Well, I think I figured this out. If you're still with me, this is where you find out either how smart I am, or how totally self-absorbed. Probably the latter.

In the days before my surgery in New Orleans, I had a great deal of pre-surgical diagnostic work done. There was much amazement expressed among the doctors, nurses, and technicians, along the lines of, "Hey, c'mere; "y'all gotta SEE this mess to believe it!" and "Can you believe she's still ALIVE?" that makes patients feel sooooo comfortable. My surgeon (the main one--there were THREE) told me flat-out that if I hadn't had that exact surgery when I did, I'd have been "DEAD BY CHRISTMAS." That's really a phrase you don't ever want to hear about yourself, even when said tragedy has been averted. Because once you've heard that, you will ever-after be wondering what silent and deadly thing could be going on in your body RIGHT THIS MINUTE that could cause you to be DEAD BY CHRISTMAS. Or whenever...it could just as well be DEAD BY ARBOR DAY, I suppose, but DEAD BY CHRISTMAS has a uniquely ghoulish feel to it, don't you think? There everyone will be, trying to celebrate their holiday, which you will be ruining, what with your deadness. Pass the cranberry sauce.

In the days following my surgery, while I stayed in the hospital (and there were 14 of those days), nurses who knew the details of my case and my surgery (and/or had been present during said surgery, all 6 hours of it), several of them, sometimes alone and sometimes in groups, would approach me as I lay in my lovely hospital bed and say, "Can I ask you a question?" Me being me, I always said, "Sure." I mean, what have I got to hide from people who have seen me poop on myself multiple times and then cleaned it, and me, up, with never a complaint? They knew that Alex had brought me down to New Orleans early, so that we could visit some of my favorite places and eat some great food and hear some great music and just basically fill up my senses with beauty before the potential death-walk that is, in my mind, ANY surgical procedure. The question that followed was unerringly some variation of: "Seriously--HOW WERE YOU WALKING AROUND WITH ALL THAT CRAP IN THERE, TWISTING YOUR GUTS INTO KNOTS AND GLUING YOUR ORGANS TOGETHER, NOT TO MENTION THE TUMOR FROM HELL THAT WAS SLICING YOUR BOWEL IN HALF AND THE DOUBLE HERNIA THAT WOULD HAVE BROUGHT A LINEBACKER TO HIS KNEES?"

My answer to them then, and my realization anew at this time, is that back then, that was just my LIFE, pain and all. I had no idea that there was any real relief possible. I mean, I'd already had multiple endometriosis surgeries, even lost an ovary to it, and had gotten precious little to zero relief from my pain, so I was kind of trying not to believe the miracle stories of blessed recovery I'd been reading and hearing from the patients of the amazingly talented and compassionate Dr. Andrew Cook. That way I'd not be as disappointed, you know? I didn't believe there was any relief in sight, having been told by countless doctors that this WAS my life, and "here's the number of an acupuncturist you could try," and "maybe you could take some Motrin every day," or "see a psychiatrist, since this is so often just in womens' minds," and finally, when I could no longer work, but still managed most other things, "here's a prescription for some demerol and phenergan. It's all we can do for women like you." I think that when misery is all you know, you just internalize it and, for better or worse, cope. Somehow. Looking back, I think I did a heckuva job, Brownie, for a LOT of years.

But now? Well, now, you see, I've seen the Promised Land; I've been to Beulah Land. The land of NO PAIN. Which, unless you've suffered chronic pain, you've never been anywhere so phenomenal in your life as The Land Of The Total Absence Of Pain. Recovering from those extensive surgeries? That felt GOOD compared to what had come before. In that regard, I look forward to this upcoming awful operation like a just-bathed dog looks forward to that first big shake-off. I know, in my heart, that THE RELIEF, OH THE RELIEF will be blessedly wonderful, and that I will have my life back, and even though my little girl asks me repeatedly, "...and THEN you will have another baby?" no matter how many times I try to explain just what they're taking away from me to make me "well," that I will most likely feel good for the rest of my life. It's almost frightening, letting go of the Devil You Know, however evil he is.

And that is why, I think, my current pain levels are overwhelming me. Because I've been over the fence, and I know how great it can be. I'm like one of those rabbits from "Watership Down"...if you took it away from that nirvana-like hilltop warren they finally created for themselves in the end, and plunked it back down in the original, militia-run community. It was bearable before because it was all they knew, but to go back, well, that would be torture.

Once, when I was very young, five or so, and very horse-crazy (still not cured of that), I had the opportunity to ride a real live pony. Unfortunately, the pony was one of those poor souls who are attached to walking machines and made to go around in endless circles all day for countless small (and not-so-small) riders. The thrill of being in motion on a real, live, warm, furry, pony-and-leather-smelling divine creature controlled most of the actual ride, but my ride was the last go-round of the morning, and I watched, fascinated, as they untacked the ponies for their lunch-break. I was sickened and horrified to see a large, round, red wound, what I now know to be a saddle-sore, on the withers of the very pony I'd been riding, once they pulled off his saddle and blanket. I asked if they would take that pony off the walker now, because he was hurt, and was told, "No, he'll be fine." I knew a lie when I heard one, even then, and I began crying as the attendant rubbed a thick yellow salve on the gall, and the pony heaved what seemed a big, world-weary sigh.

I was no less grotesquely sensitive then than I am now--probably was even more so--and I was upset and crying over this for a good part of the day. As I sobbed to my mother about how cruel, how unfair, this life was for "my" poor pony, my young mother searched for whatever words she could to console me, and what she finally found did act as at least something of a balm on my heart that day--it didn't make it RIGHT, but it was better than nothing, and it certainly applies to my current situation. (Being the world-wise horsewoman that I now am, I now know that she was almost certainly wrong, but she, my severely horse-phobic mother, didn't know that, and she was TRYING.) What she said was, "That life may be all that pony has ever known. I would imagine that those ponies are born at the stable, raised there, and trained there to work. They might not have ever known the joy of running and playing, free, in the grass under the sunshine, so perhaps, if they don't know what they are missing, then they aren't really too unhappy." (And my mother did SO talk to me like that. Ask ANYONE. She treated me like a little person with a brain, a heart, and a soul. And she gave more of herself to my groping, reaching, grasping little psyche than any child could rightfully ask, and did so with grace and a seemingly endless supply of energy.)

And so it is with me now. I'm a bunny, I'm a pony, I'm a crazy woman with a stupid disease that is hopefully on its way out the door by virtue of me sacrificing a good part of my own body in order to usher it out. So: I'm declaring a moratorium on the whining that "it huuuuuurts!" and promising to try and shut up about how verrrrry long thirty days is. I realize that there are people with life sentences of pain, to whom my thirty days would seem a miracle, and people who don't have thirty days of life left, and would take them, if they could, with ANY amount of pain, and how very ungrateful I've been about my own situation lately. I wonder how many opportunities I may have missed to help someone else, because I was so mired in self-pity. It ends today, and I will be praying for sustenance in this effort, so I know that sustenance will be given. If you're inclined to join in, please do so. It helps, whether I know you're doing it or not.

And I wonder, I really do, now that I've made this conscious decision and prayed on it, if my marvelous brain (that's not arrogance; I think ALL brains are marvelous, and capable of feats that are tantamount to MAGIC) will work it out for me so that the next month becomes suddenly more psychologically bearable. I kind of think it will. My brain, at least, has always been pretty good to me (NO, Brain, I'm not going to bring up Algebra. I thought we had agreed back in the late 80's, sometime, NEVER TO SPEAK OF THAT AGAIN), even if my hormones haven't.

OK, go. I know you all probably need a breath of fresh air, a Xanax, or a stiff drink after all of THAT self-indulgent foolishness. So git. Belinda's Duke's Book Contest winners' photos will be posted here either Saturday or Sunday. I will post every photo I get, so if you missed out but have a great shot, go ahead and send it...it'll be a great weekend thang. And if your photo is one of the first NINE, you need to send me your mailing address. That is all. I'll be back tomorrow, if you can still stand me.

18 comments:

  1. Belinda, because it's you I pushed my attention deficit to the max and actually read that entire post. My freaking brain just hasn't been able to wrap itself around much lately.

    God, I'm definitely praying for you. I simply cannot imagine the levels of pain you're living with. If I could push time a month down the road so that you could get your surgery faster, I would.

    Even in the midst of chronic agony you never fail to make me chuckle. Bella running around yelling, "Is this tuna?" Adorable and hilarious.

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  2. I cannot imagine the pain that you are going through. I have dealt with back pain for the last 3 years and can understand the wish to be able to wake up in the morning without pain or not worry about how you are even getting out of bed.

    I hope this month can pass by quickly for you and your surgery will end this suffering.

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  3. Karl, here's a tip: When shopping with someone who can't yet read, but wants to "help," it's better to stick with items the child can recognize, such as BANANAS or MILK or packages with pictures on them. And yes, Starkist does have a picture on it, but to Bella, Charlie Tuna is a shark, end of story. And we weren't shopping for shark. And really, the hurt? Better already. I'm going all zen. Or something.

    Kim--I fear chronic back pain and have the UTMOST sympathy for sufferers. I wouldn't trade this for it. It's like I said, "the devil you know." It's bad, yeah, but it's...familiar. I know what to expect, and when. If that makes sense. Are you in a situation where you might wind up having some vertebrae fused? I can't believe you do all the things you do with that problem!

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  4. I feel so guilty now that all I have is a mild headache and plantar fasciitis! Seriously, though, I think your post will be a real therapy visit for chronic pain sufferers (I'll send any I know here) and I hope writing about it helps you sort it out mentally/emotionally (if only it could help physically, too). Keep on keepin' on, my dear. There is a light at the end of this tunnel.

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  5. As a guy, I am a wimp about immediate pain. Long term pain I can bear in silence and refuse to get it fixed.

    But that initial pain?

    I want my mommy. :)

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  6. Okay, I admit it...I stopped reading halfway through, but it's only because I am going to have to take a BREAK before I can muster up the energy to read the rest. Ohhh you make me tired!

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  7. As someone who also lives with pain (though nothing on your scale) on a daily basis, reading your post has me in tears.

    I know how sometimes, just being able to think it through and write it down can help. It doesn't make the pain any less, but it helps to cope with it.

    Thank you for sharing.

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  8. You're just so amazingly strong--it's awe inspiring. I'm not really the praying type, but I will keep you in my thoughts and send some well wishes your way.

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  9. Oh Belinda, I'm so sorry. I'll be sending positive, pain-free vibes your way.

    I wish you could send Bella to me, I could use some help with the grocery shopping!

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  10. As I read Bella was running in circles asking "Is this TUNA?" All I could think was "Why is Belinda grocery shopping with Jessica Simpson?"

    Take care.

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  11. You inspire me.

    I'm praying for you. Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help.

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  12. Belinda I hope this month goes by fast for you. You are so brave. I have an aunt who lives in chronic pain and I've never understood exactly how difficult that is for her. Your sharing here has really helped me understand her better. So thank you for that.

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  13. I think we'll all be counting down the days with you. I'm so sorry about the wait. You are amazing!

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  14. Okay, I'm back...and I finished! (said with the triumph of someone who has just completed a marathon.)

    You are a very brave and very strong woman and just the fact that you DO cope and cope very WELL, all the while managing to be a wonderful mother and wife, makes you my hero.

    I pray that the next month FLIES by and that afterwards you have nothing but days filled with rainbows, and ponies, and kisses, and chocolate, and flowers..and everything that makes one feel GOOD forever and ever.

    Amen.

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  15. Okay, it took me two days to get through the whole opus, but I finally made it.

    And all I have to say is, "Oh honey, I do love you."

    I'd give you a big hug if I could, but since I can't be there I'll do the next best thing. Watch your email (assuming I can find it).

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  16. I think you have definitely hit upon something Belinda. That *was* all you knew and it was normal for you. Now you know it's not normal and you can be pain free. Plus you only had yourself (and animals) to take care of before and now you have a family. Big difference.

    You're down to less than a month now!

    Since you said we could still send photos, I'll send the one I told you about in the email.

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  17. Here's hoping that the month flies by.

    (((HUGS)))

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  18. Belinda,
    It's been a hard road hasn't it honey. But, you know I will walk with you every step down this path of life. In sickness and in health . Pain or no pain, or whatever troubles our family may face. You have always been there for me. Now, its only fair I be there for you in your time of need.

    I do remember the pain free times, just as I remember the times you hurt so bad you couldn't get out of
    bed for what seemed like weeks because the pain was so severe. I want you to know that there was
    always a constant, I loved you. I stood by you then and of course I will stand by you now.

    We have seen some real doozies of some doctors haven't we, darling? I think the greatest incompetency and then proof of God's miracles, was when one doctor told us that is was not only not likely, but there was just no hope of having children. With one sputtering ovary and a bleak outlook, we beat
    those odds then, didn't we? God smiled on us then when he gave us Isabella, and he will soon smile on you again soon when he heals you from this misery. He gave us the greatest gift I could have ever asked for. A child that looks
    so much like me and has all your wit, intelligence and sweetness. Sweetheart, I know how much you
    love me. You gave me my only blood relative. You made me a daddy. These things darling are all I have ever wanted.

    Your pain will be over soon, my sweet. It will be over soon.

    Our lives till this point have not been easy ones. God knows you have had to deal with my health
    problems and done so with the patience of a Saint. I think you know what I mean when I say that you saved me. Belinda, you saved my life in so many ways. I could never repay you. I owe you so much.

    Your surgery is coming and I know it seems so far away. But, we can make it, together. I will help you. And afterwards you know I will do whatever it takes to help you comfortably heal. I am having
    chocolate trucked in, already practicing making your favorite chicken and dumplings and I have Ben and Jerry on speed dial.

    We still have a long road to travel. We have a life to live together. But, this time it will be hopefully, pain-free.

    Your pain will be over soon, my sweet. It will be over soon.

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