Pain Unplugged

Yesterday, a researcher from the pain clinic I’d attended a few months ago called for a follow up. The interview centered around my levels of pain and coping over the past six months. She asked about sleeping patterns, daily activities, whether my movements were limited, the characteristics of pain (Burning? Aching? Shooting? Tingling?), support groups, therapy, and medication.

Rather than continuing to dissolve pain into the white-noise, wallpaper background of my current life, as I’ve tried hard to do, the woman’s questions catapults everything right (back!) into the foreground. Like a dormant devil shaken into action, pain is once again magnified, reasserting itself as the locus of life, to the exclusion of all else. How I loathe such voluminous pain-talk.

Pain. Like a bank vault stuffed with molten lead instead of gold. A vast ship loaded with uniformly heavy and homogenous cargo. An impermeable bulk of a word, one you can’t even poke holes through.

Pain, a four-letter word not unlike the others. Injected so effortlessly into casual conversation. Perhaps it too should be banished from our vocabulary. Pain? Verboten!

Earlier in my recovery, I’d decided that I prefer taking cues from a spiritual thinker and guide like Louise Hay. I needed to stray from the well-worn path of talking about pain by choosing to use new words – such as sensation. Why? Sensation can refer to a continuum of changes in physicality. It allows for nuances of discomfort and difficulty, without jumbling everything into a huge amorphous mass of negativity.

Think for a moment of the sensation you feel when you are struck by an ice cream headache. Ever notice that it can suddenly and momentarily feel like you’ve got a burst of HOT pain sweeping over you? Or if you’ve burnt your finger on a stove-top, it might fleetingly feel like a powerful burst of sheer cold.

Your brain can indeed play tricks on you. Which is partly why I weaned myself off painkillers.

How could I otherwise differentiate between pain levels 5 and 9? How would I know if a particular treatment, activity, food or rest was a factor in reducing my pain – or worsening it? I had to stop masking the gnawing, the shooting and tingling in order to hone in on the ever-changing and undulating sensations that were permeating my body. I understood implicitly that moving towards lessened pain was a goal for mind-+-body; and possible only without the addictive balm of Oxycontin, Percocet and friends.

These days, when people ask about my recovery, a question about pain inevitably arises. It’s a catch-all term, a generic word, universally used and recognized. So I acknowledge and answer, generally in short-hand.

But between me and myself, I’ll continue to monitor sensations as they plant exclamation marks throughout my body; and I’ll rein in those bursting-at-the-seams expletives when the tingling in my arm, the spasms and arrow-like shooting in my legs and the bolted-down anchor in my pelvis, threaten to undermine my resolve. Even among the worst of fractures, there are still precious moments when a fleeting sensation reminds me that a painless existence just possibly, gratefully, lies ahead.

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