“On a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst and 1 being the best, what is your level of pain?” the red-headed nurse asked the computer screen rather than the hunched over me who was on the verge of curling up into a cradled and comforting fetal position.
I tried to catch my breath and winced when the waves of nausea and sharp pains in my right upper quadrant slammed at me again. I cannot recall that there was ever a time I declared that my pain level was 10. I had experiences of such extreme and debilitating pain, but that often resulted in me nearly passed out, hallucinating, or not even possessing the ability to muster the words to give that high “10” number.
I managed to weakly say to her that I was “8” or “9.”
She finally looked up and into my watery eyes and pitifully said, “Don’t worry, honey. We’ll get you some pain meds for the nausea.”
“No, I do not want any pain meds,” I said firmly.
Both her and the emergency doctor stared at me in shock, and asked, “What?! Why?!”
I spoke up clearly in my voice as my body continued to throw its temper tantrum, “I want you to figure out what is causing the pain to then give me the right meds. I don’t want you to give me pain meds now just to mask the pain and what is causing it.”
They looked at each other and then at me completely speechless and wordless. In spite of my adamant refusal to pain meds, the nurse proceeded to stick me twice in order to find an IV line on me to give me pain meds. When my crimson blood spilled over in droplets, I snapped at her, “You do not need to do an IV access when I am refusing pain meds.”
She muttered, “Well, I guess it’s your choice.”
If my looks could kill, I think she would have dropped dead right in front of me. “Yes,” I seethed. “It is my choice.”
As the hours ticked by, the piercing abdominal pains and nausea that had begun in the morning were, thankfully, subsiding. I was feeling better even before an ultrasound technician came to pick me up for the test to try to determine the cause of the pains. I was so thankful that I had listened loudly to my even louder body to not take any pain medications. At that point, I was feeling better enough to actually leave the emergency room, but the emergency room doctor and nurse had a different viewpoint for me to stay put so they could find out the root of my pains through the ultrasound being done. I was fine with this because I was resting and nearly half asleep in a private room until one of the nurses who had not even looked me in the eyes since I arrived said that he was moving me.
“Why?” I sputtered.
Still without meeting my eyes and keeping busy with unlocking the gurney, he mumbled, “We have a new patient coming in who needs monitoring, and you do not need monitoring because you are not on pain meds. We just do not have enough rooms available.”
“What?!” I cried.
Without saying another word, he just wheeled me out into the hallway. Not even an apology from his mouth. Not even respect enough to look me in the eyes. Not even a chance for me to ask to speak with a manager before I was pretty much carted out.
I had never felt so disgusted in my life.
The hustle and bustle along with bright and blinding fluorescent lights in the hallway replaced the quiet and dimmed private room setting. I was absolutely livid. I requested to speak with the manager immediately who said the same thing as the nurse who was now scurrying around to avoid me and my vibrating and intense anger.
The nurse manager apologized profusely and explained that, unfortunately, there weren't enough rooms to accommodate the number of emergency room patients coming in. She was hoping to find a room for me soon. My mouth hung open to try to find the words, but I was wordless for the one of the few times in my life.
Feeling defenseless and defeated, there was nothing left for me to do but lie down and imprint the gurney with my twisted body. I felt drained of all energy at that point.
I shut my eyes to try to block the whirlwind chaos around me. While my body was at its most vulnerable yet again, my mind was at its strongest as it raced and flashbacked to memories of over ten years ago of emergency room visits and the pains that were at the root of all those times.
Not a year has gone by since I started working over ten years ago that I haven’t ended up in the emergency room due to my misbehaving body freaking out from most often backside muscle spasms that have left me bed-bound or unexplainably sharp abdominal pains. On those days of intense pains, I can feel them when the sun rises to mark a new day. In the mornings, pains have pushed me like a towering bully. The nights beforehand were when I imagine little pain gremlins adorned with horns and punctured fangs of teeth biting away at the body to react in pain in the mornings.
Now, you know why I’m not a morning person. *cue chuckle*
After being in my body for nearly 33 years and particularly after over ten years of dealing with painful muscle spasms, I can now proudly tell you what will be the catalysts of pain for me. Catalysts include overdoing myself by going full speed ahead without a reprieve, wearing different shoes of a different feel to them, stress, changes, anxiety, and, basically, the power of my mind eventually affect my physical shell. It is mainly psychosomatic.
But, thanks to pain, I learned and grew to actively take care and protect my body by preventative means, including taking an extra day off from work if I was going to have an overly busy bout, regularly going to my osteopath for my body tune-ups, rubbing ointment and cream in mornings and nights, nightly heating myself up with a moist gel-pack heating pack, and, most of all, and do without overdoing. I learned that we do have limitations and boundaries and we need to set them to preserve and endure for the long haul to savor and bask in all of the small moments that were milestones, rather than crash and burn—which I was infamous for.
In my youth (not that I am that old chronologically, but aged mentally like fine wine), I was filled with anger and resentment at the pain gremlins, but then, over time, I learned to live in harmony with them and was even filled with gratitude to pain for teaching me the fine balancing act and art of “pacing myself.”
Yet, here I was in the emergency room yet again. Just when I thought that I had artfully mastered my mosaic masterpiece of pains, I was back to the rough drafts. In the days leading up to the emergency room visit, my body had talked to me, but I reverted stubbornly by not listening. I could literally feel my body was going in overdrive and ready to crash. I knew it was stress-induced. I knew that I had overdone myself like an overly char coaled slab of steak. I knew that it was only a matter of time that my body was going to misbehave. And, misbehave, angry, and flared it did.
Unlike prior bodily disasters and ER visits, though, I was strangely calm and zen with this latest encounter. I was no longer angry. Heated and heavy anger took up too much energy that could be directed to moments of pure and lighthearted happiness. It was not that I had given up on my body. It was that I was accepting my body and any and all the unforeseen experiences that we have to let go and learn from. I was accepting that pain is all a part of life to teach us about living and feeling. Throughout all these years of pain, I never felt that I had suffered or was less than, but that I was at my strongest and more than with the amazing array of possibilities that only enhanced and catapulted me to make my life worth meaning and myself better than ever imaginable. I was realizing that we are all like kaleidoscopes with our beautifully broken and shattered pieces for us to constantly work in progress to make our own personal mosaic masterpiece.
So many people I know are absolutely petrified of pain and suffering. So many have said to me that they would love a life without pain and to take all the pain medications in the world. The mere idea of me NEVER feeling pain actually terrifies me more than feeling pain. I wouldn’t have learned, gained, grew, and knew all that I would have known if it wasn’t for pain in these last over ten years. I would have potentially hurt and harm myself even more if I had never felt the painful sensations of sharp, numb, tingling, aches, and zings. Please do not get me wrong that I am a full supporter and cheerleader of pain medications to severe pain and salute and am eternally grateful to the pharmaceutical industry and science for all the leaps and bounds that have helped so many and have even allowed my second kidney transplant to go twenty years and counting, but my utmost observations of our society has led to critical concerns that we are taking pain medications unnecessarily and even most harmfully to avoid truths and understandings that only pain can bring to us. There is also the complete opposite where people purposefully harm themselves to try to feel something from nothing, but feeling nothing is still a feeling of pain emotionally and mentally where the intention is to feel it in the physical sense—very complicated. Nowadays, it seems to me more than ever, we try to control and manage pain by ironically and actually escaping with pain medications that hide the root of the pain rather than truly to heal from the pain.
I ended up staying in the hallway for the remainder of my emergency room visit. The ultrasound came out clear. All medical professionals on that day and the days thereafter could not determine a diagnosis and what had happened with my body. They chalked it up to abdominal pain. I chalked it up to severe gas pains and a muscle spasm. The body works in mysterious and monumentally amazing ways of talking loudly and then, sometimes, just healing quietly and slowly when it is ready. For me? I was thankful to my body for speaking to me to slow down and return to my work in progress kaleidoscopic masterpiece of pacing myself.
There is actually still not a day that goes by that I do not feel pain. In a way, pain has become my normal. I am accustomed to it. And, I am eternally grateful to the great gifts of contemplation, understanding, awareness, feelings, living, and healing that pains have brought to me.
For, if it were not for pain, I would have never gained all this and more.
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,