Eighty percent (80%) of those impacted by osteoarthritis experience pain. The most common symptom is acute pain – often deep-searing pain. For the longest time, it was hard to relate. Sure, my muscles exploded in pain, frequently from the simplest of movement. The most extreme form of osteoarthritis pain I experience comes from walking when the pain becomes so significant that the body stops whatever it is doing and says, “F*** it. We’re done. I am done until everything calms down.” I have always been grateful my body has down in the middle of a New York City crosswalk during rush hour, running from an avalanche, or just as a tsunami approaches. (Although sitting on a toilet during a Los Angeles earthquake was my biggest fear). I always presumed I experienced ‘maxed out.’ I was wrong.

This past Monday night topped everything. Running from bed at 2:17 AM, I managed to make it to the hallway, doubled over in pain, and screamed. No one came to my rescue. A minute into what became a thirty-minute episode, I realized I was alone. No God. No Angel. No one to awaken me from a bad dream. I had to run it out. I could not physically stand. Moving more than a few inches produced the most significant pain I experienced. Maneuvering to my recliner, I was pretty impressed neither neighbor heard my squeal. Then again, maybe they heard and presumed I was watching Saving Private Ryan, said “F’n neighbor,” and drifted back to sleep.

I will be honest; those thirty minutes were the darkest of my life. Loneliest period of my life. Most horrifying night in my life. When Jesus talked of hell, I now understood what ‘hell’ might be. In Luke 16:23, a rich man was in torment. He looked up to Abraham and said, ‘Father Abraham, pity me and cool my thirst, for I am in agony in this fire.’ There, in those silent, dark hours, I knew real torment. I tasted a level of pain never experienced. Desperate to rip any portion of pain from my spinal cord, I spotted an emergency stash of pain medication next to a partial, unused glass of tea from the evening before.

I grabbed three Tylenol #3 (Acetaminophen and 30mg Codeine) and downed them with tea. Seriously, if it was used motor oil, it wouldn’t have mattered. I would have drunk it. At that point, anything liquid would have helped. It could have been a down a bottle of infant milk, a glass of Efferdent, or mouthwash. I would have used it. Fortunately, I swallowed tea. 

For the first time in decades, I wanted to be understood. I thought of phoning a friend, but at 2:30 AM, I felt the response wouldn’t have been positive. “Urfmghh?” Working through the pain to present a cheery tone, “Hey Marcia. I am in deep pain tonight and just needed to chat. How are you?” Nothing but rumbling on the other end. “Urfmghh.” Dial tone, followed by, “If you want to make a call, please hang up and try again.” A two-forty in the morning, nobody could say anything that would make me feel better. I have to live it.

For most, Tylenol #3 takes about an hour to work. While codeine is metabolized into morphine, the afflicted must sit and wait. I try to read something useful, be even I couldn’t do that. How about watching something on YouTube? Nope. YouTube fails (ArmyFail is my favorite)? Nope. AFV? Nope. Hell, I’d even watch Jeffrey Toobin (which I do not anymore) if that would relieve the pain. Nope. I had to sit through it.

In his book, Power of Awakening, The: Mindfulness Practices and Spiritual Tools to Transform Your Life, I remember the late Wayne W. Dyer said, “Observation has been used effectively in the area of pain management, especially for people who live with chronic pain. Instead of identifying with the pain, people are instructed to become the witness to the pain. They are asked to notice everything about it: its color, shape, and size; when it appears or doesn’t; how it can be relieved. As folks become the observer to their pain, they see that where they place their attention is what they manifest. They find that they can literally manifest an absence of pain by becoming the witness rather than identifying with the pain.” So, rather than become holed up somewhere in loneliness or denial, I became my own personal ‘witness.’ I tried to see every f***ing color, shape, size, and method of my pain. I even named it. (Freddy, if you care to know.) After ten minutes, I learned two valuable lessons.

First, Dyer’s full of shit. Second, in some way, only God can ease most fears. I mean, life is about living and dying. I still have to die. I still have to live through greater pain than what I am now experiencing. Yet, even post-pain, I can sympathize with those who suffer greatly, that I can enter a patient’s room, look at their pain, and say, “Hello. I understand you. Want to talk?” And maybe as I die, through my own pain, God provides a path toward helping others. And helping others is the best medication of all.