More often than not, when asked how I feel, my short response is “I hurt.” (Longer response next line is “But it only hurts if I live…unfortunately it appears that I’m gonna live, so….”) I am the possessor of a bout of chronic pain. Mine is joint pain from arthritis centered mostly in knees and left hip, but including right shoulder (I finally have accepted that my pitching career is over; lifetime stats in little league was 16 wins and 22 losses) neck and hands. And just about every other place that bends.
I can’t remember for sure when it actually started, but I remember going to my doctor sometime while driving a propane truck for a living, so it happened sometime in the mid 1980’s. My job was to haul cylinders around, small tanks for fork trucks and hundred pound tanks for water heaters and ranges and stuff like that. Didn’t lift the big tanks so much as drag them around on a cart, but the “thirty-three pounders” were carry and throw around. The truck held 72 in a load, did two loads three times a week and another single load on Monday’s. Individual tank weights varied, but by the time you took a 40 pound tank loaded with 30 pounds of propane and carried it on the truck, took it off at a customer and put an empty back in its place, then unloaded the truck back at the plant, each tank was lift and carry over 220 pounds. Each truck maxed out at 15,840 pounds, up to seven loads a week for 110,880 pounds a week and a monthly load about 480,480 pounds. When I actually calculated the numbers one lunch hour, moving up to 240 tons of material each month might explain why my back hurt constantly (disregarding for a moment the idea that I drove about a million miles while working for the company). Sometime in here was the beginning of my long-term relationship with my “friend.”
Dr. Call prescribed Naproxen Sodium (the stuff that is in the Aleve OTC pain medication). I had tried all the other “without a prescription” drugs from the local drug store without success. My first day on this stuff was SO good, I wanted to go back and kiss the man. For the first time in a long time my back just didn’t hurt. And this stuff was pretty cheap, less than half the effective cost of buying generic substitute OTC drugs (the box says all day pain relief comes with taking two 220 mg pills a day; my dosage was 500 mg twice a day, over twice the recommended dose).
However, all good things come to an end (or, as I’ve heard it put, “no good deed goes unpunished”) and over time the benefit received declined. I continued to take this drug essentially continuously for the next twenty-five years. Habitual use without much recognized benefit. I did seem to notice if i failed to take the stuff I felt worse (even long after leaving the job driving tanks around) but I didn’t feel pain-free. Over time, various other events and needs allowed for the use of “stronger” drugs (Tylenol 2 and 3 with various amounts of narcotics and Vicodin) but for the most part the most they ever did was to knock off the edge of the pain. Eventually I had my hip replaced (the right one, twice in fact, but that’s another story) and was on a morphine pump to manage pain. Oddly enough, the pain from the surgery was minuscule compared to the pain in my knees from being forced to lie flat on my back and straight legged (something that I had not done for decades). And even then, the drugs only took a percentage off the top (a minor percentage at that). So pain has been around for a long time.
I don’t think a “normal” person can relate to having a chronic condition. A friend of mine has nearly continuous migraine headaches. Erica has gone on long term disability and has spent over a week in a specialty hospital trying to get relief. In my teens I went through a time when I had one a couple times a month but to experience nearly continuous and unrelenting torment is nearly inconceivable. (Or would have been before the hip experience… pain never less than three and rarely greater than eight, but going on continuously.) To maintain her sanity and her sense of humor during her trials is nothing short of amazing. And humbling, as my levels now run in the two-to-five range.
Then again, perhaps we all share more than I am giving us credit for. Not all pain is physical, and not all physical infirmity results in pain. Maybe by sharing in the chronic condition of life we are closer than what a casual glance might suggest. Peer and cultural pressure to conform to what passes as “normal” can generate substantial chronic psychic pain. Stress from work, conflicting obligations within limited time and resource restraints and poorly chosen decisions can drive health issues ranging from sleep deprivation to actual illness. Interpersonal relationships, often a source of healing, unless maintained with care can add to your level of life’s pain. And don’t get me started on the whole “getting older” theme…
I am truly grateful that I am in as good shape as I am, regardless of my limitations. I understand I could be worse off. But I also am more aware of others as a result of what I have gone through (and still am going) and am encouraged by the endurance of those around me. Perhaps I need to revisit my expression to read: “It only hurts if we live…and because it hurts, we LIVE!”
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