Saturday, September 20
I wrote this several years ago, immediately following my second serious accident. Chronic pain had only recently become a fixture in my life, and I was not handling it at all well (I also have rather severe IBS with complications, adding it’s own level of hell). I’ve since convinced my doctors to provide semi-suitable medication - meaning I can, at least (at the very least) function. Semi, as it doesn’t manage it completely. There are still days like today, weeks like the last, where pain and the management of it becomes the sole focus of my life.
Amazing how people just do not (or should I say will not) understand. Societally, we’ve created the myth of the super human – people who laugh off cancer, are never affected by the resulting chemo; ‘hero’s’ who lose limbs or become paralyzed and immediately morph into super-star Olympians. There are no stories true to real life – how extreme pain can fuck with your equilibrium, affect your moods, alter the simplest of perceptions. How pain medication has its own compendium of affects – from nausea to plunging the mind into a state of perpetual fog.
But that’s not what most people expect. They want to see Christopher Reeves. They expect the afflicted to get up and walk (pain free) across the room to thundering applause. So when you say you cannot do or accomplish something because the pain is particularly bad on any given day – they become irritated, impatient. Why not? Why can’t you? ‘Other’s’ do – why not you? Phones get hung up in anger, friendships lost – all because the person afflicted can’t seem to find the ‘handy’ in handicap – and it’s expected that they do.
So I responded the only way I can these days – I began to write. I turned my pain on its head – both the real and the imagined. ‘Pain’ as its own character: murderer, thief, destroyer of worlds. This is the first chapter in a book I am writing. I haven’t gotten very far, I’m afraid – just two chapters and an outline. There are other responsibilities, other commitments that eat up what pain free time I have. Life, as always, gets in the way. I do the best that I can with the cards I’ve been dealt. I only wish other people could see it that way – would understand the difficulties. After all – I’m not Superman.
Somewhere, deep inside - so deep she could hardly know where to find it should she need to look - something broke. It was during a particularly bad wave of pain - so bad she had to stop screaming because her throat had frozen. It had the same quality as the pain - fracturing along the same lines. The taste was different though. The word ‘damage’ flashed through her mind, followed by the color red. For an instant she was curious, then it faded. Not that it mattered. You see, breathing was now an issue. The pain was a thief, robbing her of everything human. Soon the room would be filled with the harsh sounds of her lungs laboring to catch a breath before shutting down entirely.
How analytical. To observe the decline of her body’s functions. Maybe this time she would pass out. Not that that would help. The pain would be there when she awakened - wringing her gut, shattering her stomach and chest. There were no pain pills, no morphine - nothing to help in any way. Addictive, they said. Mustn’t take, they said. Learn to live with it, they said. So there she was – alone; just her, the devil - and something else - something different. Something broken.
Her husband was, as usual, at the other end of the house; as far away as possible from the consequences of her pain. Anywhere he couldn’t hear her screaming. Sometimes he would stand by the bed, stroking the dog, noting her pleas for help, cataloging her tears - detached and unmoving. From a distance she would see herself reach out, begging, pleading, threatening – or perhaps it was only in her imagination that she actually spoke. Her voice had given way months ago, vocal cords shredded, larynx gone. Her mouth certainly opened, like a little bird snapping and clicking till it received attention. But no real voice, no coherent sounds – just silence. Perhaps the pain had stolen that as well.
Not that it mattered to her husband. On his way out, he would close the door, leaving her to endure her torment alone. In the beginning, he had tried to have regular conversations - discuss the mundane bits and pieces that made up his life – what was on the radio, or who pissed him off at work - expecting some reply. He’d even get angry, slamming through the house, shoving at the dogs, wondering why she didn’t put away the pain and cater to him. After a while though, he stopped - finally realizing she was either unable or unwilling to pet him. Even he got tired of talking to a corpse - or very near like it. Ever since the pain, all she did was occupy space. They never had any fun anymore – that’s what he would taunt her with - she was no fun. Eventually, even that drew no blood and he’d become bored, drift away. He certainly wasn’t interested in what she had to say (on those days she was lucid). After all, her life was now about the pain……when it would come, how bad it would be. Would she, could she, please God will she - really die this time? No - the petty tics and moments that made up life escaped her now.
Her husband liked to think it was a matter of choice – her ignoring him. That’s how he put it to anyone who would listen – she shut him out, not the other way round. That way, he remained above the pain, separated from it. It never became about his lack of humanity. She was malingering, lazy - a fat useless lump. He liked it best when she was frozen and breathless. She was quiet then. You see - the screams got on his nerves, even from the other end of the house. God forbid he try to sit in bed and watch TV! The distended lines of her neck would bother him, along with her open mouth. He really hated that mouth. He knew that the screaming could commence any time, and it angered him; how she could do this to him? He used to fantasize about doing things to that mouth, cruel little things - things from ‘The Wall’. Her lips had long since given up their pinks to disease. How fresh they would look dipped in the carmine colors of blood.
She knew he thought those things. She could see it in his eyes: Hatred, anger, disgust. No pity, though; nor compassion. Since the beginning there were no cool cloths, no easing of cramped muscles, no words of affection – no sympathy of any kind. He couldn’t bear to touch her, even by accident. So she was left with the consequences of her illness - it had been ages since she was even able to even move from the bed. Hunger, thirst – all moments in a day; moments that passed without indulgence. It’s not like she could keep anything down, anyway - so it really didn’t matter he ignored her wants.
She was thinking about death again. How Donne had the right of it! If the pain ever let up long enough, she just might………if only she could………but the pain never really let up - not any more; nor was it likely to according to her doctors. You see, her illness wasn’t ‘life threatening’ as they put it. Another 40 years (if she could live that long). But she couldn’t live that long. Not even God could be that cruel! Just let it happen in what passed for sleep - and not on the crest of agony. Suddenly anger boiled up, mixing with the acid that scarred her esophagus, tearing through her throat. A perfect moment occurred, deep within the break, so perfect it became an epiphany.
She thought about visiting death on her doctors.
Those men who wouldn’t bend to her pain. Who viewed her tears as proof of weakness. Suddenly, a fierce hatred of all things male consumed her, especially all those men who mocked her pain. Death shot up from her gut, forcing its way out her mouth, scenting through the house until it found its first victim sitting in front of the computer playing solitaire. How she hated that game, hated seeing the cards flip through virtual air. And as she hated, Death hated too.
Down his throat it flew, bursting cells as it went, straight into his stomach where it turned into ten thousand razor blades, shredding him in an instant. He barely had time to take a breath before he died. Death poured out with the blood, separating from each droplet, gathering itself above what was left, looking down at the body. There wasn’t much to look at. He seemed surprised. That’s all – just surprised. There wasn’t even an indication of pain.
Anger, instant and immediate. Why didn’t he feel pain? Why didn’t he feel her pain? It was too quick, too easy. No – must go back, must do it right this time. There must be pain.