Some results of chronic pain

I have two doctor appointments this week. I saw my internist yesterday, and he put me on Lexapro (I’ve lost count of how many drugs I’m taking). Today, I see my latest pain specialist who, like my previous pain specialists, has labored in vain (chronic pain is notoriously hard to treat) and whose staff won’t follow through with his orders for meds and other supplies or even return phone calls (I finally did get a call from his office--two minutes ago someone phoned to cancel my appointment).

I’ve felt as fragile lately as I can remember. I’m a bit like Moritz Thomsen, a WWII bomber crewman who wrote that people generally believed that the more missions he survived, the stronger he became, but that the opposite was true, that every mission left him weaker and more frightened. My ability to survive is directly connected to my belief that I will someday get better, and this faith has become increasingly hard to maintain, hence the Lexapro. I’ve resisted anti-depressants for years, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

People who have not suffered with chronic pain have no idea what it is like, and, as with acute pain, I have no thought that I would either if I were suddenly restored to normalcy. But I’m not normal, and I spend every waking hour of every day hurting. The emotional cost has been high, and the following represents my effort to convey that cost. After years of suffering, chronic pain...

Makes me unable to remember things.

Causes me to question my judgments and perceptions.

Makes me feel so confused that I need Peggy to tell me what’s real.

Causes people to lose confidence in what I say because I am so often in error.

Leaves me exhausted if I get out of bed, but won’t let me sleep if I stay in bed.

Makes it necessary to take numerous pills, sleep in the perfect bed, and use a CPAP every moment I’m in bed because the pills make my severe sleep apnea dangerous to the point of being potentially fatal.  

Makes me regard myself as a weakling because I’ve no doubt that a lot of people do a lot better in the face of a lot worse.

Causes people to treat me as an invalid who must be watched and protected.

Injects stress into my relationship with Peggy because small things can instantly send me over the edge.

Makes me isolated, and being isolated makes me more dependent upon Peggy. 

Makes me think that I have little to give, and that the day might come when Peggy will be better off without me.

Would make me even more impatient, irritable, and hateful without Peggy to give me balance and perspective.

Makes every action seem hard, and causes me to feel that I can never do enough and I can never do it well enough.  

Makes me cynical and distant because I have learned that most relationships end when hard times begin.

Makes me mourn for the person I used to be and even to wonder what that person was like.

Causes me to recoil from pity because I can’t separate pity from condescension. I would prefer that people believe I’m strong even when I’m unable to believe it of myself.

Makes me feel like I’m having a bad drug trip even when I haven’t taken any drugs.

Makes me guarded, watchful, fearful, afraid to ride my bicycle, afraid to take a walk, afraid my car will break down, afraid my house will burn down, and afraid an earthquake might hit, because I know I wouldn’t have the strength to cope.

Makes me fearful of losing my mind.

Makes me wonder at times if I’ve already lost my mind.

Causes me think that if I were smart and strong, I would find a way to escape the pain, or at least it wouldn’t bother me so much.

Makes me feel as if other people are together somewhere out there, and I am alone in here.

Makes me feel desperate enough to want to believe things about religion that I know aren’t true. I interpret this to mean that I lack integrity, and the fact that no church would want me anyway leaves me enraged by what I see as their hypocrisy.

Makes me rehearse suicide daily because I want to be ready when life becomes so hard that I can no longer bear it.

Has driven away most of those who once read my blog because they got tired of sad posts.

Makes it impossible for me to relax my muscles for more than a few moments.

Makes it impossible to plan events because I can never trust that I will feel good enough to carry through.

Makes the universe seem uncaring if not malevolent.

Forces me to evaluate every new physical activity in order to decide whether I should risk it.

Makes me hate that intrusive question that is asked by every acquaintance and every store clerk without the least desire on their part to hear the answer or on mine to give it: “How are you?”

Makes me fearful that one day I’ll explode.

Makes me wonder what it would look like to explode.

Makes me certain that I’m failing at life at a profound level.

Makes it harder to bear life’s hurts because it’s all I can do to cope when everything is going well.

Makes me too tired to work, travel, meet people, or attend events. 

Has taken away whatever gifts or intelligence that I might have once offered the world.

Makes me feel dead while alive.

Makes me want to run from people because I don’t feel like a normal person who says and does normal things.

Makes me resentful of people who feel good and have the energy to be a part of life.

Makes me scared that the pain will keep getting worse and that new kinds of pain will be added to it.

Makes me almost phobic that I might have to have more surgeries, and that they will leave me in even more pain for a year or more.

Makes me want to die prematurely.

Makes me scared that I will die prematurely. 

Makes me wonder why the pain is a lot worse at some times than other times.

Makes me wonder if at least some of my pain isn
’t imaginary.

Makes me feel alone because other people don’t know what it’s like and few really care.

Has taught me that pain specialists have little to offer, and they’re damned slow to offer that.

Teaches me that the only way I can get narcotics is to be very careful about what I say and do.

Leaves me fearful that if anything happens to my internist, I won’t be able to get narcotics. 

Causes me to switch back and forth from near normalcy to near suicidal despair and hysteria.

Starry, Starry Night

The Prison Courtyard by Van Gogh
I stayed up last night watching Schlinder’s List and interviews of Holocaust survivors, and this plus having awakened with a passage by Loren Eiseley stuck in my head following a night of physical pain and sleeplessness, have put me into such an altered state that when Peggy played the song Starry, Starry Night,* I wept for an hour. Not perceiving this at first, she asked if I thought that great artists and writers really are prone to insanity. I couldn’t answer without betraying my tears, but my silence had the same effect.

The following is from an Eiseley essay entitled “The Dancing Rat.”** I do him a severe injustice by quoting so little of it, but someone still owns the copyright, and I feel morally obligated to respect that. He’s writing about his days as a hobo during the 1930s when an unregulated stock market left millions impoverished and sparked considerable interest in Communism. His face is swollen from a beating by a railway brakeman who had tried to kill him just for the hell of it. The man with whom he is speaking is another
hobo with “prison eyes” who is more than twice the age of the nineteen-year-old Eiseley.  I first read this passage 40-years ago, and realized upon awakening that much of the misery in my life has come from resisting its truth, that is from trying to think better of man and God than they deserve.

“The sack was empty. He stood up in the firelight and cast it on the flames. The paper flared briefly, accentuating the hard contours of his face. ‘Remember this,’ he said suddenly, dispassionately, as though the voice originated over his shoulder. ‘Just get this straight. It’s all there is and after a while you’ll see it for yourself.’ He studied me again without expression. ‘The capitalists beat men into line. Okay? The communists beat men into line. Right again?’

“‘I reckon,’ I ventured, more to fill the silence growing around us than because I understood.

“He pointed gently at my swollen face. ‘Men beat men, that’s all. That’s all there is. Remember it, kid. Take care of yourself.’ He walked away up the dark diverging track.

“That man, whose name I never knew, must be long dead. I know he would have died as he lived, perhaps in his final moments staring silently upward at the cracked ceiling of a Chicago flophouse, or alone in some gun-lit moment of violence.

“Years later when the bodies of men like him lay on dissecting tables before me, I steeled myself to look at their faces. I never found him. I’m glad I never did, but if I had, I would have claimed him for burial. I owed him that much for some intangible reason. He did not kill the illusions of youth, not right away. But he left all my life henceforward free of mobs and moments, free as only wild thing are both solitary and free. I owed him that.

“Before nothing
behind nothing
worship it the zero.”


This country will have a presidential election in November of next year, but news of the contrivances of the many hopefuls already dominates the news. Maybe my sickness over the state of American politics is why I awakened with Eiseley’s words in my head because seldom is the truth of them more obvious than in the greed, filth, tackiness, and brutality of America’s money-dominated political system. It creates in me the feeling of being under the thumb of people who are as malevolent as they are powerful, people whose moral forebears caused the crash of 1929 and who are working to create the same deregulation now that existed then.

*Rather than having committed suicide, it is likely that the emotionally fragile Van Gogh was murdered by bullies. Though he lived in poverty, his paintings are now too spendy for art museums but are instead sought by investors who lock them away in vaults with the hope of turning a profit.


Bud and others

Precious memories, unseen angels
Sent from somewhere to my soul.
How they linger ever near me
And the sacred past unfolds.

Precious Father, loving Mother
Fly across the lonely years,
And the home scenes of my childhood
In fond memory appear.

 —JBF Wright, 1925

In 1961, when I was twelve, a preacher took some of us kids to sing this hymn and others to a hundred-year-old lady named Stewart who lived in the country with her two “old maid” daughters and her bachelor son. Like my family and many others when I was growing up in rural Mississippi, their house was small and unpainted inside and out; their light came from kerosene lamps; their heat from a wood-burning cookstove and fireplace; and their refrigerator was cooled with ice that was delivered by the iceman. The boards on the outside of the house were weathered a soft gray, but the ones on the floors, walls, and ceilings, had been darkened by the smoke of wood and kerosene until they were a dark and depressing brown. The house smelled of wood smoke, and the only decorations were a Cardui calendar* and ancient photographs of grim-looking ancestors.

I knew and loved the Stewarts and as I sang I wondered what it must be like to be feeble, blind, a hundred years old, and sit in a rocker all day everyday with nothing to do but think about but the past.

Bud in 1989, a few months before he died
In the Stewart’s backyard was a well that they drew water from with a bucket, and on their back porch was a shelf that held a dipper, a bucket of water, and a washbasin, all of which were made of white, porcelain-coated metal. There was also a bar of homemade lye soap. They farmed with a mule and brushed their teeth with salt and baking soda. I would sit in the shade while Bud plowed during the day, and he would tell me ghost stories in the evening. One evening, his cows didn’t come home on time, so he and I went looking for them. When he asked me if I heard anything, I didn’t know that he meant cowbells, so I said I heard birds, frogs, and crickets, and he laughed about that every time I saw him for the rest of his life. Bud died in 1989, and I still miss him. The worst thing I can say about my life is that I didn’t adequately appreciate much of what I had until it was gone, although I spent a lot of time pursuing things that were worse than a waste.

As I travel on life
s pathway,
I know not what the years may hold.
As I ponder, hope grows fonder
Precious memories flood my soul.

As I was buying my groceries this week, an old and feeble man was buying his when another old man approached him, and the first apologized for taking so long. I assumed that the second man had driven the first to the store, and I’ve felt badly ever since that I didn’t offer to drive him sometimes. I miss having elders.

Peggy’s father is 85, and she worries daily about him dying. I know how she feels because I dreaded losing my parents. In one way, it was a relief when they died because it meant that I had escaped a lot of the problems that elderly parents can pose, but it was also an unhealing grief, although I didn’t anticipate this at the time. The fact is that I still need to feel loved and protected by people who are older and wiser than I, but more than that, I need to know that they care about me more than anything else
and that they would do anything for me. I lost my mother when I was 39 and my father when I was 45. These losses bothered me like a stabbing pain when they occurred, but they’re more like a bruise now. 

From the time of my childhood, I heard that life would look better in the rearview mirror, but I didn’t believe it. Now, I can never get used to the fact that people who remained in my life for years and years without the least effort on my part are gone forever, and there’s nothing that all the powers on earth can do to bring them back for even a moment.

Precious memories, how they linger
How they ever flood my soul.
In the stillness of the midnight,
Precious sacred scenes unfold.

Oh, how those precious memories;
They flood my soul.

*Cardui Tonic produced calendars from 1890 until 2012.