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.
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.)