Tag Archive: Pain

A week has phased since my last blog post. I could have generated a few excuses, but none fit. I awoke Thursday morning stiff. Friday through Saturday, my neck felt like a volcano near eruption. I couldn’t hold a thing, had a hard time moving, and every muscle in my body regurgitated at the thought of moving, anything. Staying awake was difficult. Awake one moment, drowsy the next, then awake again.

Sleeping provided respite. I slept ten hours from Friday night through Saturday morning. Saturday to Sunday, thirteen hours. I felt comfortable enough not to use the restroom, though I did. When the act of laying down caused more grief than getting up, I nudged to the bed’s edge and stood. Shuffling over the cold hardwood floor provided momentary relief as I stood under a hot shower and wondered, “What the f***?”

I debated whether the Parkinson’s or osteoarthritis was the cause. Rigidity is seen in many Parkinson’s patients. Though not entirely understood, researchers believe stiffness is associated with the reduction of dopamine. If that is the case, then my Carbidopa-Levodopa failed and I should demand a refund. However, osteoarthritis pain can occur at either rest or night. In my case, nearly every part of my body was on fire, and more than once, I wished a ‘water scooper’ (aircraft that drops water on a forest fire) would drown me in Aquafina (purified water). Having inside knowledge of medical science, I know osteoarthritis usually does not affect the wrists, elbows, or shoulders. In the end, neither argument won.

Like many suffering in major illness, I am left with daily challenges. Whatever body part that’s inflamed today may not be tomorrow. Others experience it differently. Buddhists believe suffering is part of life. Pain is expected. Therefore, if a person experiences pain calmly, he can attain higher states of being without becoming emotionally distressed. At 2:26 AM, not sure I can buy Into that argument while every limb screams, “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” A pancreatic cancer patient once described abdominal and back pain, “I had woken up in the middle of the night screaming because of the pain, terrified to move because each time I did, it hurt more. It felt as if someone was stabbing my lung over and over again.” Such stories are not uncommon, and it’s hard to neatly fit spirituality when nature Is gnawing upon the body.

Even though I didn’t complain, the prospect of living under this type of pain is hard to fathom. I know pain is part of our human living experience. There is no way to escape and we often feel victimized. Being in pain also makes one anticipate further discomfort in the future and reminds us how finite our life is and of our fragility. Therefore, I chose my pain to be ‘teacher.’

My educator will help me to prepare for the pain that might be present as I die. Given a chance, I will try to explore whatever lessons that bring my life into greater focus and meaning, teaching me strength, patience, and giving me compassion and humility. Of course, I will take whatever medication is prescribed. Yet, maybe this pain level will allow me insights to endure, make me more mindful, and see the road ahead. Like others, I might even view it as a gift, like many of those dying realized their pain and suffering made their relationships more valuable and helped them reorder priorities.

There are numerous spiritual and psychological approaches to pain management. Medications make it possible to manage pain without diminishing awareness and provide one time to strengthen practice, be with others, and not have pain or be of an unclear mind. In such ways, I often say to myself: “I am in pain, but I am not suffering.” I say this to remind myself not to amplify the pain by building Some grand story. Rather, I can become ‘friend’ to my pain. Reach out to it. See what it needs. I may not know what to do, but the pain might. I can give it latitude, and try to see what it may teach. Therefore, I can use the experience of suffering to develop compassion for the lives of others who have pain like me.

Over several weeks, many have queried about why I haven’t sought additional treatment. It’s a fair question that often has nuanced answers. Probably the best answer I heard comes from Andrew Luck.

Having worked in the medical field, many patients have chosen the quality of life over treatment. That choice can be hard for family and friends, but for the most part, people who can make decisions for themselves have the right to refuse any treatment. The reasons vary. For some, there are associated health problems with treatment. For others, it’s age. Others, it’s a moral decision. And so on.

Coming to the end of life, I had one goal: die in the least objectionable way. Of course, doctors have arsenals loaded with weapons against infirmities of the body. Unfortunately, medicine focuses on longevity, not quality. Need an example? Me. I take 13 different drugs daily, three are required before I’m able to get up change clothes. The rest are ingested via a carefully crafted schedule. As I told my mother, medical technology is terrific, but sooner or later, the body wins.

I’ve often said to my physicians, “We all know I’m going to die. Help me die in dignity.” Therein lay the truth; everyone knows I’m going dying. It’s just a matter of when not if.

During a recent walk with my parent’s dog, Skip trotted ahead. He looked back with sympathetic eyes that could only say, “. . . you look like shit.” Sometimes in my humorous way, I reflect upon Doc Holliday’s witty quip (Wyatt Earp 1994), “I wake up every morning looking in the face of Death, and you know what? He ain’t half bad.”

Why am I deciding now?

During the past 35 years, I’ve not known a day without pain. What I learned from the military, from football, and my ol’ man was to suck it up, take the pain, sacrifice the body for the good of the team, and if required, for the good of the country. I’m aware of the physical toll of that profession as well as the traveling of my business. Throughout years of travel, I fought through pain and injury while simultaneously remaining stoic. I felt breaking through the pain helped proved myself. I accumulated significant damage.

Like many sitting behind their desk right now, I silently “self-medicate” to keep fighting at peak performance. Pills hide the pain from 8 partial ligament tears in my left knee, with 6 in my right. I was partially paralyzed from a spinal injury nearly forty years ago; had bone chips removed from my spine; feet suffer from severe arthritis that sometimes the left foot locks; experienced two concussions; one eardrum tear that requires hearing aids; had a silent heart attack; cracked some ribs; fractured a wrist; suffered a shoulder separation; have cervical stenosis; lumbar osteoarthritis; and now a cervical spinal tumor, and multiple sclerosis.

Andrew Luck, the former first overall draft pick and one of the NFL’s league’s brightest stars, eloquently summarized my thoughts. When questioned this past Saturday about his surprise retirement, Luck stated he could no longer take the years of pain and rehabilitation from a host of injuries.

It was not the first time a professional athlete stepped away during the prime of their career, but Luck was one of the more vivid examples of a player weighing the consequences of continuing a career. His decision to retire didn’t occur in the limelight, in front of a cheering crowd. “I’ve been stuck in this process,” Luck said during his retirement press conference. “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game. It’s the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me.”

I echo the same thought; it’s a hard decision, but it’s the right decision. Thus, that’s where I’m at, stuck for thirty-five years. In truth, I have not lived the way I wanted to live. The decision to choose a treatment or not to choose treatment isn’t easy. My body is tired, and I’m tired. Eventually, technology loses – the body wins. The body always wins. Pain has devoured my body, my mind, and my soul.

All of us, at some time or another, will be at a similar crossroad. At some point, one will have to prioritize their health or personal well-being rather than the good of a team or a company. We have to learn to invest in ourselves.

ScarsAs a group of retirees gathered the hospital chapel, the young preacher proclaimed his knowledge of Christ, “Jesus cares. He knows your pain. He feels your every pain.”

Personally, I know no one who’s suffered more or paid more for the allowance of sin than Christ. And certainly, no one has had more grief of a race gone bad. But in the real world, how could one worship a God who seems so immune to that of His followers? Can a follower really look at the cross, see Christ and His tortured figure, and say, ‘This is the God for me.’

One can’t help but notice pain’s prevalence while walking the medical center hallways. A man in room 204 received a catheter. How does Christ empathize with a patient having a small tube shoved up his urinary track? The woman in room 314 was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. So how would Christ share someone’s slow loss of mental capacity? How does Christ understand death from an Ebola virus, cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, HIV or any number of alignments the human body is destined to experience?

Of course there are other scenarios. Christ never died in a 13 car pile-up somewhere near Small Ville, USA. ISIS did not force God to renounce His faith, convert Him to Islam at gunpoint and then behead Him. It’s never been recorded that Christ ever experienced a loved one dying from an earthquake, Tsunami, being blown from the sky by a BUK missile or suffering from a building collapse while sewing clothes for paltry few bucks a day. Christ did not die from starvation and was never bought, sold and smuggled by human traffickers.

How do we respond when someone says, “Jesus loves you and knows your very pain?

I pass room 652. I look upon a solitary man whose lungs are periodically pumped full air from a pneumatic ventilator. “How would Jesus feel this?” I query. Ironically, following with, “How can I feel His?

Every instance of pain is different and every person faces pain differently. And while none really understands how God experiences our suffering, most of us want to be the savior of someone’s pain versus the one who will share their burden.

When contemplating pain, it may be helpful to know the artist. We need to lift our head from faith-based Biblical readings and grasp what’s happening. For instance, one cannot find catheter insertion in any Scripture Index. But by becoming humble, we can understand scripture’s uniformity of love – something more powerful and beautiful than anything ever created.

We’re never told the reason for pain. Outside of two celestial God’s playing a childish game of ‘… my people are better than yours,’ Job never learned of the reason for His pain. Neither men in rooms 652 or 204 nor the woman in room 314 will never know theirs. Accordingly, most will never discern what good, if any, our discomfort will create.

A monk said his chronic pain helped him to become more compassionate, courageous, and patient. For me, my personal potential for dignity is dependent upon experiencing that of others. My pain allows me an ability to cultivate awareness in a world in which many reside in shaded and textured lives, hiding from and in petty snits and anguish.

When we fall ill, we have unnoticed opportunities. By releasing the shadows of our life, we can present our body unto one another’s faith and become flooded with healing energy of love. This is the world I go willingly – where love’s purification penetrates and washes the soul. Only from within this lush canyon can I stare death in the face and annihilate it.

This form of living is very Buddhist and very Christian.

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