Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Life with Chronic Pain

by Sue Falkner Wood
A personal take on chronic pain

December 12, 2006
Chronic pain and an unexpected life
As I was addressing Christmas cards over the weekend, you know, the old-fashioned kind you send through the U.S. Mail? I browsed through my address book. Talk about a depressing experience. I guess the moral to that story is to change address books at least every two years - so many names of friends and family who are no longer alive. I discovered something else, however, when I read the names of those who are still around. I realized with each name there is a story. It isn’t a story about what they had planned for their lives. The stories are more about what they didn’t plan.
I have come to realize each of us face unexpected aspects of life. Many of them are wonderful, life-changing happenings that involve good fortune, life-long love and love one never imagined, such as becoming a parent. Other changes have to do with misfortune, loss, both personal and financial and loss of health or life due to some unforeseen disease or accident.
Each life in my address book was touched by some unexpected incident. One friend I just lost this year due to severe, long-lasting complications following a stomach stapling operation. She wanted to be thinner. One friend is still battling cancer. Another friend, who is like a brother to me, is struggling with ALS. The list goes on, painfully so, with lost parents, sisters, as well as friends. Three others have had to place their spouses in assisted living due to debilitating illness or Alzheimer’s. Many friends have had heartaches with their children, devastating auto accidents and other near cosmic events. This thing called life. It’s a risky business. Tomorrow is always a surprise. Plan as we may, we are not in charge. Always, the unexpected is there, lurking in the wings of our lives.
We don’t graduate from high school and autograph our yearbooks to friends with the salutation, “Good luck with your cancer.” “Sure hope you finally find true love after your two divorces.” “Hey, that’s really too bad you will never have children.” The future is filled with the unknown, the unplanned for and the unexpected, but here it comes anyway.
I have found some friends and family more prepared than others for life’s great variety. I often wonder what it is that separates us at times like that? Is it inner strength? Is it family fealty and devotion? Is it in the genes, or is it learned behavior? Is it a deep religious faith? Maybe some of us are just too ornery to give in and give up. My husband, Jim, tells me when I die I’m going to argue with St. Peter. That is, if I make it that far. I’m not sure what I’ll be arguing about. Accommodations? Wings? I know he was just trying to make a point. I get it.
My husband is the R.N. at our local county jail and works with people everyday who feel certain they have been dealt a bad hand in the poker game of life. Almost every one of them blames someone else for their fate. Someone else was responsible for starting them on drugs. They can’t get a break. The interesting thing is they don’t tell you what the problem really is, perhaps because they don’t know. Most of their problems started so far back, they can’t even remember. Problems passed on to them by parents who had problems with their parents. At other times, young people from good homes end up in the pokey because of bad choices they made along the way. They are often choices their parents had no knowledge of until it was, tragically, too late.
That seems to be the story. Batten down the hatches, gird your loins and all that other old-fashioned stuff because life is coming at you and one never knows what it will bring. I didn’t plan on giving up a career I loved as a nurse manager. I didn’t plan to have pain everyday of my life. One night, several years ago, I was crying and said to my husband, “I don’t think I can do this.” I felt so totally trapped by this disease and its many variables.
His reply was, “I don’t think you have a choice,” - direct, to the point and ultimately true. My husband is one of those unexpected events in my life that I am grateful for every day, well almost every day. It wouldn’t be honest of me to say our life is a romance novel because it isn’t. It’s totally real. Early in our relationship, I had to have abdominal surgery to remove some adhesions left from a somewhat violent tubal pregnancy that left things a mess “in there,” and had almost taken my life. I had to sign a consent form before the surgery in case I should need to have a colostomy - you know, that plastic bag that attaches on the outside of your body in case you can’t “go” the natural way. Although I was a nurse, I wasn’t prepared nor did I want to even think about that event. I asked Jim a typical woman’s question, “So, would you still love me if I have to have a colostomy?”
His reply was, “Well, sure. You’re not gonna spill it on me or anything, are you?” You see, that’s the kind of reality we live: me with my, oh, so many pain-filled problems. Jim with his “felons and fools.” Reality is a good thing. I like it most of the time as a coping mechanism. Denial doesn’t work too well for me because I’m always “slamming my head” against some physical problem or other. My life is unexpected but that’s not all bad. Many wonderful things have happened to me, too. With apologies to Clint Eastwood, I say, “The good, the bad and the ugly,” it’s all there. I don’t think if given the opportunity, I would trade places with anyone in my address book.

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