Speak, Pain

When friends ask me sincerely how my back is doing after the bad fall I took on it last January first, I genuinely don’t know exactly what to say. If I answered, “Fine,” that would be a lie; and I’m nothing if not honest. When I answer, “Well, I’m just really thankful I didn’t break it,” I’m telling the truth, but deflecting.

The most honest answer, I think, is: “It depends.” It depends on the time of day or night, whether or not I’m wearing my snug faja (sturdy back brace), how active I’ve been, and the last time I took my (non-addictive) pain medication.

My doctor here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, who is young and very caring, thinks my back, which was clearly traumatized by the fall, is slowly improving. But as the person living inside this seventy-four-year-old bod, I must honestly say I’m frequently in pain.

This pain makes me think a lot (too much?), especially in the middle of the night in the darkness. It’s as if this pain is an intimate partner who shares my bed and wakes me sometimes with his snoring.

Annoyed, I shake him to wake him too, to demand that he speak to me.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” I grumble.

“No pain, no gain,” he answers, sleepily.

“Great,” I say.

“Do you know who was the first to say that? … Benjamin Franklin! Old Ben said, ‘There are no gains without pains.’”

“You’re such a know-it-all!”

“Yup,” he says. “Pain is universal. It’s part of the human condition, especially for old people like yourself. The body is a machine that begins to break down over time – wear and tear, tumbles and stumbles, and all that.”

His back is to me. “Thanks a lot,” I mumble.

“Remember the time,” he says, “when you worked at that alcohol and drug addiction treatment center in northern New Mexico and you learned, in the women’s groups you led, the stories of how some of the women became addicted to opioids in an effort to relieve their pain?”

“I do,” I say. “I remember one young Hispanic woman in particular who was prescribed OxyContin by her doctor for the severe back pain she experienced after nearly dying in a car accident. She soon got hooked and ultimately went to great – and illegal – lengths to obtain this drug. … Such a tragedy.”

“Yeah, Big Pharma, in its greed and deception, wants people to believe they can go through their whole lives pain-free. That’s a laugh!”

“Hmmmm…” I say.

(stock image)

By this time, my partner Pain is fully awake. He begins to wax philosophic about the necessity for empathy and compassion in this world and how pain can teach these sorts of things.

“Just think,” he says, “everyone you meet, everyone you pass on the street, is likely to be in some sort of pain – physical pain, mental anguish, heartache. You name it. And those who are locked away, out of sight – in prisons, hospitals, and mental institutions – are in even worse pain. You must care about these people, all members of your larger human family, and empathize…”

“Yes, you’re so right,” I say, yawning. It’s three in the morning.

I pat his broad back and thank him sincerely for our pillow talk.

“You can go back to sleep now, dear,” I tell him. I don’t tell him I love him — because that would be a lie.

~ ~ ~

(For the backstory on my work at the NM treatment center, please go to www.bonnieleeblack.com/blog/ ,  scroll down to Search the Archives at the bottom right, and type in “Underbelly,” my post published 10/29/17.)

12 thoughts on “Speak, Pain”

  1. Hi Bonnie, this reminds me of the doctor who said of tinnitus “make it your friend.” And I try. Sometimes I imagine the noise is being produced by a place in my brain that forgot what good music sounds like and believes it is playing some kind of symphony. Oh well, there are worse things (I am guessing back pain!). Abrazos.

  2. Wow, Bonnie – that little essay is extraordinary! WHAT A WAY to personify something like pain – to give it a voice. Masterful! And, of course…your message about being mindful of others’ burdens and journeys is always snuggled in…beautifully done.

    1. Thank you, P. I deeply appreciate your kind words and your insightful take on my WOWs. An old bf read this one and commented, “I see you see pain as male.” My reply? “Why, yes, of course!” 🙂

  3. Read “The Giftt of Pain” by Yancheng and Brand? Hope you’ll listen to pain and get more therapy to make it worthy of you? Great writing…..

  4. Bonnie – I feel your pain. Mine too is with me all the time. Sometimes more than others. Your story resonated with me because my sister, Peg broke her back and is in constant pain.
    Hang in there friend! Hugs Kate

    1. So sorry to hear about your sister Peg’s broken back, Kate! What a nightmare. Yes, I think we all have to “hang in there” with our new life-partners whose last name is Pain. Such a challenging time of life, huh?

  5. Dear Bon,

    Truth is always the best answer. Lying to spare others is useless and demoralizing. I am in complete solidarity with you on this.
    Why is it always bad voices we hear when we wake up in the middle of the night?.But they are not the only voices, and their advice is often a trap. Acknowledging that others are worse off is meaningless and only adds guilt to the pain.

    Love,
    Paul

    1. Wow, Paul, dear — you’ve packed a lot into this comment! Turning the nighttime pain into a person — whom I’ve just this minute decided to give a name to, Señor Dolor (Mr. Pain) — was helpful for me, I think. I welcomed “his” thoughts. I recommend it! 🙂

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