September 29, 2023

The pain of learning

Author: Clark
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My dad, in his last years, lost the use of his hands and most of his hearing. It seemed like he then gave up. I finally challenged him on it, and he said “when you’re in constant pain…”.  And I got it.

So, turns out I’ve a misbehaving disk in my back, and it started pressing on the nerve over the summer. Pain scales are 1-10; this ultimately got to an 8 when I was trying to walk or even stand (from my lower back down my leg to my toes). Tried physio, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and then a steroid pack; nope. The ‘big hammer’ option was a cortisone injection, and that happened. Better yet, it knocked it back; down to 1). Er, for some six – eight weeks, then it came back. They gave me another one sooner than they were supposed to, but it hasn’t worked (ok, it’s knocked it to a 6 on average, but…this isn’t tolerable).  And my point here isn’t that I’m looking for sympathy, but to (of course) talk about the learnings. Because, despite the physical pain, there are learnings (good and bad).

Because there’re a physiological basis (pressing on the nerve), I’ve stuck with treatments likely to minimize the inflammation. I haven’t looked at a chiropractor nor acupuncture. Given that the current approaches are failing, those may come up, though I’m expecting surgery as the nuclear option. Not that I’m eager (to the contrary!). One learning is how close minded I can be about exploring alternative solutions. On the other hand, as it shoots down the leg into my foot, dI’ve learned a lot more about physiology!

In the course of navigating airports and the like while in the throws of this (long story), I also found that the milk of human kindness can be diluted by pain. When you’re muttering obscenities under your breath because of the knives that accompany every step, clueless actions on the part of others – like stopping suddenly, blocking access, or even just bad signage – can earn muffled imprecations and aspersions on parentage and intelligence.  I’ve always tried to maintain ‘situational awareness’ (and know I’ve failed at times), but I highly recommend it!

On the other hand, when sitting (the only time it settles down), I’m expanding on my growing recognition over the past years that I have no idea what anyone else may be going through.  I’m sure my limping through parking lots and stores can be perceived as congenital damage or wear and tear. There’s no real way for anyone to know how much someone else hurts. We don’t have meters over our heads or icons.

And I’m increasingly grateful!  That may sound odd, but this experience is teaching me (and I am trying to find the positive).  Finding ways to minimize it is an ongoing experimentation. The support of my family helps, and I’ve learned (some) to ask for help.  But even an involuntary and undesirably challenging experience still is an experience.

Also, as much as it may be hard to struggle to find time and motivation for exercise, you learn to miss it. It seems every time I start taking a serious stab at diet and exercise, something goes wrong!  It’s almost like I’m not supposed to; and I know that’s wrong.  (I’ve also learned to secretly suspect my pain doctor is a closet sadist, but that’s the pain talking.)

This is definitely nothard fun‘, to be clear. This is much more lemonade.  Fingers crossed that this, too, will pass. And if you do see me limping around, cut me some slack ;).  But also, please understand that it’s hard to know what other people are going through, and do your best to be sympathetic. Which seems like the right message for this time of year anyway. Wishing you and yours all the best for the holidays and the new year!

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