A Painful Awakening

I was on my knees, forehead touching the floor in some perverted Islamic prayer stance. The echo of my scream still rang in my ears as I tried to catch my breath. I was dimly aware of my wife asking frantically what was wrong. I didn’t know how to answer and lacked the oxygen necessary to formulate a response. I felt her warm hand on my back as she patted me and kept repeating, “What’s wrong?”

It had started out like any other Monday. The alarm went off and I hit snooze. Just one time. Like usual. And then I tried to get out of bed and stand up. The sharpest, most intense pain I have ever felt shot through my left hip and lower back. It drove me straight to the floor and into the only position I could contort myself into which made the pain stop. Then I tried to catch my breath. I scared the hell out of the cat and my wife. For the next thirty minutes, I flopped around on the floor like an Asian Carp while I tried to find a pain free way to stand up. Eventually I succeeded although I let out several more yells and putting clothes and socks on elicited even more involuntary noise. Kim kept urging me to skip work and go to the doctor. But once I was able to stand up, I thought things would get better. Ignoring my wife’s advice is always a bad idea; I can be stubbornly stupid in this area.

I made it to work and through the day without too much trouble. I even took my daily walk. It made my hip sore, but there was no intense pain. The pain waited until I went to bed that night and then woke up to go to the bathroom. More screams. More flopping around on the floor. More Islamic prayer stance. This time I was banished to the couch. I took a washcloth to bite down on. That helped with the screams, but not the pain. It turns out I had pinched a nerve in my back while doing yard work. Lying down for as little as one hour relaxed my sciatic nerve enough that any attempt to twist or stand resulted in intense pain.

I admit that I am a baby about pain. I have the red hair gene plus doctors fed me a narcotic, belladonna, as a baby for a stomach condition. The result is a low tolerance for pain and a high tolerance for pain killers. I have had shingles, gall stones, a burst appendix, and an open compound fracture of my leg. None of those pains comes close to what I experienced with the pinched nerve. It is truly indescribable. A rusty knife covered in broken glass shoved into my hip might approximate it. But not really.

After three days, I saw the doctor, who diagnosed the problem and gave me pain killers and a muscle relaxer. Between the pills and the washcloth, I managed to reduce the screaming to muffled cries, not quite as loud as the cat’s squeaky mouse. An electric massager applied directly to the hip and back helped ease the transition from lying down to sitting up and then standing. But the process still took ten to fifteen minutes. This made it hard to sleep since the pills also acted as a diuretic as well as a binder. I couldn’t go three hours without having to get up and use the bathroom. Every trip to the bathroom cost me at least an hour’s sleep.

Thus began my new normal. The doctor said to be patient (groan) and rest as much as possible. Not that I could do a whole lot else. Two weeks went by and then Thanksgiving arrived. And with the holiday came new misery. I woke up at 4 AM unable to find a comfortable position. It wasn’t the sharp, “I’ll do anything to make it stop” pain, but sleep was impossible. I retreated to the recliner with a heating pad that gave me some relief. The entire day went like that. I could sit up for a little while but standing for more than a minute was too painful. Again I fell back on crawling to get from place to place. I now saw my house the way my cat does. Nice carpet even if it is beige.

I slept in the recliner which wasn’t very restful but getting up and down didn’t hurt as much. Friday and Saturday were more of the same. But by Saturday evening, I could stand for longer and longer amounts of time. By Sunday, it felt like I might be over the hump. After three weeks of some of the worst pain I have ever felt, I began to feel normal again. I began to feel as if I didn’t need to find black tar heroin dealer. As if suicide wasn’t a serious option to find relief from the agony I experienced.

There are a lot of people hooked on pain pills in this country. Tens of thousands die annually from their addiction. I am not one of them, but it could have happened. People who make the laws in this country tend to have a very egocentric view of pain. Their personal pain requires meds but everybody else should just tough it out. Exhibit A is that many of them believe that pain builds character. That suffering brings people closer to God. That good people don’t use drugs. Now that the President has declared an opioid crisis in this country, things will get done! When crack and heroin devastated black neighborhoods, politicians ignored it or imposed mandatory minimums that filled our prisons to overflow. But now that white people are dying, the government has decided it must do something.

The coming crackdown on prescription drugs will result in much needless suffering. A lot of the new heroin addicts in the country started with opioids that became too expensive or hard to get. Reducing access to legal pain meds will drive people to the black market. I think it’s time to ditch the Puritanical, Mother Theresa view of pain being good and address the real issue. Relieving people’s pain is both a religious and ethical duty. How any Christian can read about all of the times that Jesus healed the sick and not strive to relieve suffering is beyond me. People are hurting physically and mentally in this country. Drugs provide temporary respite from both. Until we can figure out non-addictive pain management, we should make pain killers cheap and readily available. Until we have a better understanding of the human brain and create an accessible mental health system, we need to destroy the black market by legalizing all drugs.

We won’t, of course. As long as health care is seen as a profitable business instead of a societal necessity we will stay the course. We will continue to address addiction as a moral and legal issue instead of a symptom of deep rooted social, mental and physical problems. In the meantime, I hope there’s a special place in Hell being prepared for Jeff Sessions and everyone else who shares his version of Christianity that chooses condemnation over compassion. Eternal suffering with no respite seems an appropriate punishment for such cold-heartedness. But I could be wrong. Jesus might be more forgiving. But I’m not.

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