Four o’clock A.M. is an ungodly time of the night, but surely the gods-of-pain were in the neighborhood at that hour, hovering around me, ready to strike, because, at 4:17 this morning, they struck with a vengeance – and I was ripe for a rant.
That’s when I was rudely awakened by a shooting pain in the left side of my groin; not the kind that slowly creeps up on you, rather the type that bursts forth in a moment of unadulterated agony. My guess: neuropathic pain. It felt like someone had snuck up from behind, pierced me with a sharp projectile through my buttock and groin, and left me for dead. Perhaps it’s how a cow feels when it gets branded, a searing heat impressed into the skin causing inhumane pain, subsiding in slow-motion time. I literally had to cover my mouth to stifle a groan threatening to release itself from somewhere deep inside my body.
I cowered under the covers, counted to ten slowly – about thirty times, threatened to give up and scrounge around in the dark for a pill – but then convinced myself to help breathe it away. And then I remembered that today was Wednesday, a.k.a pain clinic day. Up until recently, I’d been participating in a ten-week pain management group for chronic pain sufferers. It had ended last month, but I realize at times such as this, that I’ve yet to process some of what I witnessed, heard and learned…
Offers to this group are by invitation-only, extended to those who pass the standard pain-scale test with flying colors. I jokingly commented to a friend that we had all eagerly sought admission into this exclusive club (with a six-month waiting list) – yet, it was the kind of club you’d prefer to resign from sooner than join. Looking around the room on the first day, anguish noticeable only on a few faces, I realized that pain was the common – and, largely, invisible – thread that bound us together. Here we all were, united, if at all, by our desire for pain relief.
What struck me most from my first session with the group was how down everyone was. The air of defeat and resignation was palpable. People were angry, depressed, lonely, tired, bored and feeling guilty. They were in dire need of a rant. S. was dealing with the aftereffects of a botched surgical operation, while G. and D. were both coping with worsening fibromyalgia. A. had been struck with paralyzing arthritis at a relatively young age, and P. was still struggling with painful injuries resulting from a car accident. The source of T.’s pain remained a mystery to me, yet I found it sad to hear how she found solace only in food or when spending time with her parrot.
There were tales of emotional isolation, sexual dysfunction, abandonment of friends and lessened interest in life. Some wept in sorrow about their losses, about irreversible changes to their bodies, about lack of strength, about stymied love. The way people compared their medications and doses, they could have been swapping details about their newly-purchased tech-gadgets and gizmos.
I listened carefully, sometimes with empathy and other times with frustration, refusing to succumb to the overwhelmingly negative aura that permeated the room. I started to call these weekly pain-bitching sessions “complain” management, because it occurred to me early on that the session provided a safe outlet for people to kvetch.
I often wondered what benefit I was deriving from attending those sessions; and a couple of times I played hooky, unwilling to subject myself yet again to the rants and raves, the negative outlooks of others. At the start of each session, conversation would inevitably center on negative thoughts and feelings, problematic side effects from the drugs, insensitive and unsympathetic relatives. Thankfully, the group facilitator repeatedly steered the conversation to problem-solving and forward-looking options. In other words, by refocusing their attitude and outlook, she was helping the participants not just to manage their pain – but also their complaining. Glass half-full rather than half-empty type of talk.
Looking back on those sessions, I remember that I never really cared to join the chorus of ranters. Instead, I suggested book titles and visualizations that provided me with guidance, I brought in the sound machine that helped lull me to sleep at night, and I tried to share what I thought were more positive messages – despite the pain that I too was coping with.
Ultimately, I imagine that some aspects of the pain group may have served my own goals of healing. And yet, this morning, as I lay cringing, massaging, wishing the pain away, I also longed for just one more session. Dammit, I decided, today I am REALLY entitled to a kvetch of my own.