By Monica Vest Wheeler
Pain is a royal pain, isn't it?
The frustration of not being able to fully convey something only YOU can explain, AND someone else getting "it," is maddening and saddening … especially when it comes to the issue of individual pain … no matter its source.
We're not all created "equal" … in our pain tolerance.
In my countless hours of being with and serving individuals confronted with the deeply personal challenge of REAL pain — whether the cause is visible or unseen bodily discomfort, or the physical ramifications of emotional and/or spiritual aching — I've heard every description and witnessed so many tears of loss and anger. Some people suffer in silence … some proclaim that agony loudly …
No, we're not all created "equal" when it comes to pain.
I tell the following story NOT out of seeking comfort or sympathy, but to share what I've learned about pain recently.
I tumbled on the ice in Indiana, two days after Dad passed away unexpectedly. My left knee took the whole force of the fall. I told myself I had no time to be down. My bonus mom and the rest of the family needed me as much as I needed them to get through the real tragedy … losing Dad, NOT my bad ice walking skills.
I hobbled through the following days emotionally and physically. By mid-February, the knee pain intensified, and I had my doctor check it out. I was referred to a specialist, but the earliest appointment was six weeks away. I got myself a Velcro brace to ease those fearful moments of it giving out, and drove to Las Vegas and Louisiana for my beloved camps serving stroke and traumatic brain injury survivors and caregivers. (Thankfully it wasn't my driving leg!)
When you focus on and care for others, it does take your mind off your own discomfort. One of the best treatments in the world for what ails you! I highly recommend it!!
Then I'd wait for a private moment to cry when the temporary waves of pain were overwhelming … before getting back to work again. And that was okay.
During my visit with the physician last week, he said he didn't see anything other than arthritis and inflammation in the X-rays and MRI. He was very nice but he couldn't understand why I was experiencing so much pain. When he felt around the knee, it hurt like h-e-double hockey sticks. My husband Roger also explained that while I have had an incredible tolerance for the chronic pain of fibromyalgia for nearly 20 years, I also have a very low threshold for sharp pain.
Yep, I passed out once after dropping a book on my foot.
Yep, I passed out once from getting blood drawn after being poked too many times.
Yep, I passed out once trying on contact lens. (Imagine that eye doctor's surprise!)
And there are several other sharp pain moments that sent me to la-la land …
When the doctor administered a numbing injection before the real thing, the pain was very real, prompting several "ow ow ow!" though I tried visualizing being anywhere else. He encouraged me to relax, and my tears then rolled in silence … because I didn't want to be a pain.
No, we're not all created "equal" when it comes to pain … because we're all wired differently.
Some have high tolerance or are great actors to hide it. There are some who say "ouch!" when you look at them "the wrong way."
There's also no clear understanding why some individuals opt for a declaration of pain only to get attention. Or those folks who need some redirection to stop focusing on it, real or imagined.
I remember my dad-in-law complaining about pain as he became somewhat of a hypercondriac in his dementia. I'd try a few things before determining if we really needed to see a doctor. When I redirected him or changed the subject, he forgot his pain mantra 99 percent of the time. Then when I asked how his leg or whatever ailed him earlier was feeling, he said he was fine. I'd touch the area in question or ask him to move it, and he was fine.
There is no one answer or cure for everyone's pain. Our economy now runs on it.
What I remembered too late during my own experience was that the most basic human connections do help ease physical and/or emotional pain. So many times I've offered a hand to hold to a loved one or friend who was in pain or afraid, and I was either comforting or distracting. They'd often thank me later for that gesture.
I didn't think I needed it for myself, but I should have asked Roger to hold my hand. I didn't because I didn't want him to be in the medical staff's way. We know that now and going forward that I need a hand in more ways than one, so they'd better make room.
You have a miracle in those God-given tools … and a responsibility to give and receive these drug-free doses of human compassion.
Yes, the cure for pain may be close at hand.