I’ve written about pain quite a bit, but I think it still deserves some word time here considering that my life and I will casually assume yours is full of it. In fact, in my post Death and Taxes I had planned to write about how pain is one of the most concrete constants in life. My plans for that post however were interrupted by a horrifying, and, well, painful tragedy that has come to be known as the Boston Marathon bombings. You see, pain is so normal I can almost guarantee you will feel it sometime today, either by way of a paper cut or broken heart. Big, small, physical, emotional, the possibilities are endless. Our lives are surrounded by it, filled with it.
Pain is normal, if you think about it. Right? Most things that are constant become normal, we adapt to them, build a tolerance, understand them, and then, in some way, lose our fear of them. The unknown disappears. Pain however, doesn’t seem to work this way. Let me explain.
As a nurse, a significant amount of my work is spent managing pain. It isn’t as easy as you may think. Those of you in the medical profession, or those who have ever had surgery or a significant illness may understand. Some medications help some, while others do nothing, or make things worse. Someone else may respond completely differently to those same medications. Some pain is best managed with opiates, some responds best to NSAIDs, sometimes hot or cold are best, other times the pain isn’t possible to fix unless the underlying cause is treated first. In the course of a day I have at times devoted almost every minute to figuring out how to control someone’s pain.
I recently cared for a patient experiencing severe post-operative leg pain. The cause of her particular pain was unknown and controlling it had been an ongoing battle. Certain medications would help for a few doses, then, unexplainably lose their ability to help. At one point, I gave her a new pain medication we hadn’t yet tried. After 30minutes when I asked her how she felt she told me this;
“The pain is still there but the medicine made me feel less anxious, more relaxed, so the pain feels tolerable right now.”
This feeling didn’t last of course, and I was soon back to my frantic search for a solution, but I realized something I have been aware of in the past in a very blatant way in hearing her response. It isn’t just the pain itself but the fear of it that holds us back.
Maybe I am alone here but I worry about pain all the time. I worry that my stomach will hurt at inconvenient times, lately I worry about a terrible pain I have been having in my knees and hips, I worry about relationships, about being hurt in them, and about the pain of rejection. The pain I worry most about is loneliness. For some reason being alone is in its own category of pain for me. I do everything in my power to avoid that one, yet I am constantly afraid that I will feel it again.
Sometimes the anticipation of pain hurts more than the pain itself.
Have you ever wondered how you would live your life differently if you weren’t afraid of pain? I thought about that a lot last night and today. About the choices I have made in an effort to avoid letting myself feel hurt. Feel something that is inevitable, that is normal. I am a big believer in exactly that point; that pain is normal, a life free from pain is not, and pain isn’t always bad.
So now I have to figure out how to get to where my patient was, for that brief time. To a place where I am not afraid of the pain, that place where you are aware that it hurts, but ok with it, even more importantly, aware that it will hurt, yet ok with that as well.
In the meantime, my life here is great. I love the city, I love exploring, and knowing that there is always something I haven’t done, somewhere I haven’t been, something I haven’t eaten. My job is good as well. It is exactly what I had hoped for, a big hospital with big problems, big personalities, and big messes. I have made a few new friends, caught up with a few old.
I miss grass, and flowers, and stars. I am excited for a visit Upstate soon. Oh, and by the way, when people ask me where I am from I respond “Geographically Upstate” with a little hand motion as well, in case my nasally central New York accent doesn’t give me away.
I hope whatever pain you are feeling today is short lived, and I hope the fear of it doesn’t hold you back.
Sometimes you just have to say “Ouch” and move on.