"The many men so beautiful! And they all dead did lie: And a thousand thousand slimy things lived on; and so did I."

When the pain started, I couldn’t sleep on my right side. After awhile, I couldn’t sleep on my left side either. Then, I couldn’t sleep on my back. Sleeping on my stomach was out because I use a sleep apnea mask, so I moved to a recliner. My shoulders hurt too much even there to sleep unless I put pillows under my elbows, and that didn’t help a lot. Three and half years have passed during which the pain has been better at times and worse at times, but mostly worse.

I saw the doctor Tuesday—39 days after surgery on my right shoulder—and he said the pain I’m having could be caused by a couple of things, either of which will require a second surgery on my right shoulder before I have surgery on my left shoulder. He ordered an MRI, which I had yesterday. People get MRIs and CT scans mixed up, but the difference is that the first kind of image is made with magnets and the second with radiation. For an MRI, you lie on a little trolley and are rolled into a long, narrow, and extremely noisy tube. I can best liken the noise to a whole lot of people rhythmically banging pieces of scrap iron together in a junkyard.

Yesterday, I knew that it would hurt a lot to lie on my back for a half hour with my shoulder in something resembling a vice, so I took two Norcos (the narcotic equivalent of three Vicodin). When the technician first positioned me, I couldn’t even begin the handle the pain, so he spent several minutes cushioning my shoulder. Peggy had helped me change clothes for the procedure, and the tech gave her a magazine and told her she could sit in the MRI room with me.

I knew that if I moved, I would have to stay in the machine even longer, and that if I moved too much, I would have to come back again, yet I despaired of holding out. I tried to count each four-minute series so I would have an idea how many more I had to endure, but I lost count. Then, I tried to relive memories of happy events in my life because I had heard that some prisoners of war survive torture that way, but I couldn’t come up with many memories or hold onto the few I did. I even tried counting the seconds, both as a way to distract myself from the pain and to know how much longer each series would last. One-one thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand and so on. But I had no idea how closely my counting coincided with the passage of time. I suspected that I was way slow.

The technician could talk to me over a microphone, and he started telling me that I needed to lie still. I thought I was lying still, but I tried even harder. My arm stopped obeying me any too well, and I was afraid I would lose control of it completely. Meanwhile, the roof of the tube hovered three inches above my face, and the metallic pounding of the machine blocked out the classical music in my headphones. I didn’t scream, cry, vomit, faint, or thrash about; so to Peggy, who was unable to see anything but my feet sticking out of the tube, I must have looked okay.

I thought of the months of torture that people were subjected to at Guantanamo Bay Prison, and I wondered what kind of lame-ass torturers needed months, rather than minutes, to break a man.

I remembered being told in church when I was a kid that hell was infinitely painful and lasted forever, but that the loved ones of people who were in hell were still able to experience unlimited happiness in heaven even though they knew what was going on down below.

I didn’t think I could bear it if the pain got worse, but I also knew that I could tell the technician to stop. This made me wonder about people who are in even worse pain, and for a much longer time, but can’t stop it. I’ve heard that they pass out, but what happens when they wake up and the pain is still there?

Years ago, I saw a documentary about Devil’s Island, the place where the French used to send criminals. In that documentary, a man was on his back, being manacled to a wooden bench for the night. He was in obvious pain, sobbing and pleading with the guard, for what I didn’t know; maybe to make the manacles looser. He was a little man, and he looked so pathetic that the image has stayed with me for years, although he was only on the screen for seconds. I think of him a lot when I’m hurting, because he had no drugs, and his guards had no mercy.

Another thing that went through my mind yesterday was that I couldn’t imagine anyone not killing themselves if such pain was all that lay ahead of them. I should think that even people who believe that God sends you to hell if you kill yourself would still kill themselves and take their chances. I should think they would even beg for a gun.

Later, I tried to tell Peggy how bad it had been, but words failed me, and I worried that she would think I was a wimp. Pain is a very private world. Sometimes, I feel like I’m no longer in this world (at least this world as I’ve known it), but have stepped into some other world.

For as long as I live, I will never forget the pain of my MRIs last year, and yesterday was even worse. I know it was worse because, last year, the technician complimented me on lying still. This year, the technician became annoyed. He didn’t say he was annoyed—he even acted like he was sympathetic—but I think he was annoyed.

Sometimes, I write about how bad things are for me, but what I don’t write about is how much I respect myself for how well I am handling it. Part of what keeps me going is that I have settled my mind on the idea that I am facing a year of pain and disability, but that, if I can hold out, I should be in good shape this time next year. If I’m not, I’ll deal with it then. For now, I need to believe that things will get better.

Some of the people who read my blog have cancers that will probably kill them. Another woman, Cali, has a disease that’s six words long, but which means that the nerves all over her body are screwed up, and that she is in permanent pain, and might get worse. Others are in pain from bad backs, rheumatoid arthritis, and so forth. These people hold me in their hearts with compassion. Maybe it’s true of people who suffer a lot that they are more loving toward those who are suffering less, than are people who haven’t known much suffering. Sometimes, such people tell me that I speak for them when I write about pain, not because I hurt as much, but because I describe it better. Still, I doubt that many of us feel understood by those who are closet to us. It’s like war in that you have to go there to have a clue.

I tend to think in terms of how bad things would have to be before I killed myself. I have already endured a lot, and this makes me think that I’m a lot stronger than I gave myself credit for. I have been depressed for much of my life, but for the most part now, I am not particularly depressed. I think this is because I regard my condition as so frightening that I don’t have the luxury of indulging myself in too much negativity. I get negative, of course, but I bounce back faster than I did when I was emotionally depressed but physically healthy.

I’m sure there are those who think what I might have once thought, that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. After all, my main complaint is shoulder pain, and how bad could that be? Everyone has had sore shoulders, so when they try to imagine how I feel, they probably picture it as simply a bad case of sore shoulders. Peggy sometimes expresses the wish that she might feel my pain for a short time in order to know what it is like. I wish she could too, because even a few minutes of it would give her some idea.

Something else that comforts me is my knowledge that, throughout the millennia, most people who have suffered as I suffer had no hope for anything but more pain. And what of those who, despite the pain, had to work hard physically to survive? I have no idea how they could bear it, but knowing even a little of what their lives were like makes me better able to face my life, that and the fact that I have a doctor whom I like and trust.

Mark is big. Maybe in his upper thirties. A serious bodybuilder. Strong but gentle. He takes his time with me. He listens. I went through three other doctors to find him, and I would not be coping nearly so well without him—or his assistant, Laura, who is so prompt to call back when I need something.

What I would really like would be to compartmentalize my suffering so that I could still have a more or less normal life, but I’ve found this to be exceedingly difficult because I can’t do so most of the things I would normally do. It’s like my life is on hold, and getting beyond that is a struggle against which I’m not making much progress.


Michelle said...

Oh Snowbrush. I am sending you healing and love, its all I can do :)


Natalie said...

Being in pain IS another world. Not being understood, only compounds the first problem.
I have been in the position where I thought I might take my own life, because the pain was so bad. The thing that I kept seeing was Viktor Frankl's (A man's Search for Meaning) butterfly in my brain, and like you, torture victims.It is the relentlessness that is the killer (no pun intended). Even having a taste myself, doesn't give me any words to say, that will help you.

I can only stand by you in comradeship, and in love, and wish you all my best.xx

Lisa said...

of course you have my love and support.......pain doesn't seem to be a very private word of late.so many people going through so much.
In many ways your life is on hold (as you observe) because now at this time, pain is making YOU the priority, and there is no avoiding that.
Sending love
and angels
with drugs
snowbunny x

Snowbrush said...

Thank you, MIchelle.

Natalie, I didn't know it had been so bad for you. That's a problem with blogging--people arrive at different places in one's story, and often don't go back far enough to get it all.

Thank you, Lisa. I know that you're right in that pain is not private, but I also know that I'm right in saying that it is. Maybe that's because it puts you beyond the reach of what other people can do. It makes their limitations so obvious no matter how much they love you or want to be there for you, Your suffering is yours and their suffering is theirs. We can care about one another, but we cannot enter into one another, not really.

Hilary said...

I'm sorry that you are in such pain. I have dealt with rotator cuff pain and diminished mobility (though much less severe than you have described), and the MRI for it. I coped just fine with lying still for it, because the pain was not intense if I wasn't moving, but I'm claustrophobic and that part was a nightmare for me.

I hope your pain eases and you can find some comfort soon.

Thanks for your kind words on my raccoon kit blog post. :)

nollyposh said...

i once listened to a talk about pain on the radio and they went on to do a meditation that was all about separating yourself from pain... It talked about how the 'pain' itself was actually a 'reaction' to something that was 'happening' in your body and that you could have some measure of control over the 'reaction' you had if not the 'actual event' (for want of a better word) and the point was to get yourself to where you were able to view the 'physical event' occurring in your body, in the third person, without the reaction and so have some measure of control over the intensity of your reaction ... i'm sure i'm not explaining myself properly here, but it was very interesting and made me think about the word cancer and how many people don't actually see the word cancer when they are first diagnosed but actually the word 'death' because of all the 'stuff' attached to the word itself...
You have also made me think about my neighbor who had a degenerative spinal problem/disease and is in constant pain (and also suffers depression and sleep apnea)... She told me how the other day one of her sons commented on how much 'better' she is now, compared to a few years ago and it made her upset because in actual fact her pain is now far more intense, and she explained that she has just now learned how to live with her pain and has re-structured her life accordingly so that she has more control over the amount of time that pain intrudes on her life... Perhaps the secret may lie in the fight/reaction/s we put up against the changes that can occur in our lives? X:-/

Renee said...

Just think that this time next year, you will be better. You will feel better and that is a hope worth reaching too.

I call what I live in sometimes the 'shadowland'. You are right, people don't know.

The MRI machine, actually all of the machines are a real bugger, because it is so hard to hold up my arms.

I understand the shoulders because that too is where I get a lot of pain.

People forget that they are attached to your neck and your arms which makes the neck a killer and the weight of the arms just hanging like dead weights just hurt the shoulders even more.

I have faith that next year at this time, you will be feeling better.

I'm wishing it for you.

Love Renee xoxox

Gaston Studio said...

Oh, I think pain is a very private matter! A person can only know what another feels if they were/are in that other's body and since that's an impossibility, there's absolutely no way for anyone else to know exactly what kind of pain another person feels and exactly how much and where it hurts.

Hoping for a little smile from you, I offer the following:
I was taking osteopathic treatments for 3 slipped (and one ruptured) discs from a female doctor in Egypt once who told me this: first, that the female Egyptians couldn't handle pain as much as any other nationalities; second, that men could not handle pain as much as any female; and third, that Egyptian men in particular couldn't handle pain as much as female Egyptians.
It's since been proven that men overall can't handle pain as much as females, so here Snow, we have a problem unless you might consider a sex change operation.

JOE TODD said...

I try to use some of the same mental tricks you used when I go to the dentist (which I really don't like to do).. I know a lot about pain medications (probably more than I should) but not a lot about the kind of pain you are experiencing. Hope everything works out ok Joe Todd

Life at Star's Rest said...

Oh my...I do so completely understand. When I had my last PET/CT scan in April, I had to keep perfectly still with both arms stretched out above my head. I knew it would be rough due to the main nerve meridian damaged under my left arm during lymph node dissection; but I had no idea just how bad it would get. Like you, I took pain meds ahead of time and still, no amount of yoga breathing and meditation touched it. Like you also, there were no words for me to explain to my husband or anyone else just how bad it was. I've dealt with chronic back pain since 1979 when I fractured my spine and then in 1991 when I ruptured a disc. I thought I was pretty good at dealing with chronic pain but this kind of stuff would make you sell out your best friend. My heart truly goes out to you - Carmon

Matawheeze said...

I think you are coping wonderfully with a "Just keep passing the open windows" time in your life. Talking about it, with your fingers anyway, is a mechanism for getting through and you do it with élan. I wish you fortitude and, wherever possible, joy.

Snowbrush said...

Hilary, thank you for visiting.

NollyPosh, I agree that meditation can be somewhat effective in dealing with pain, but it's like bodybuilding in that you have to work long and hard to get good at it, and I don't regularly meditate. I've tried, but it's simply not for me. If I experience enough pain over a long enough time, maybe I will revisit meditation. Please see Life at Star's Rest post.

Renee, I think you are right about part of what makes shoulder pain so bad is where it is located. When I had steroid shots in my shoulders, my considerable middle back pain disappeared instantly. My doctor also thinks that, the closer a pain is to your head, the worse it seems to hurt.

Jane, I don't know if there has been enough research to determine whether women handle pain better across the board or if they only handle some kinds of pain better. I do know that there is a strong cultural component, and that fair-skinned people seem to handle pain less well than darker people. Whether this translates into a racial component, I have no idea.

Ha, Joe, I don't much mind the dentist. Sometimes, I have to remind myself to breathe deeply and relax my body, but this pain was a thousand times greater than anything a dentist ever made me feel.

Yes, Carmon, you do understand. Yes!

Matawheeze, I think I'm doing pretty darn good too. Thank you.

julie mitchell said...

Snow...Your posts are so good, even when the topic is so horrid...What can I say?..'so sorry' certainly doesn't feel like enough. I'm with the others, I send love & light and the real hope that this pain will soon end for you.

Pain is personal and subjective…it is a private world and the nights can be so long…an abscessed tooth, cracked ribs, and labor pains are the extent of what I’ve experienced…not so bad…In my life it has been personal heartache, pain that has brought me to my knees….I think you are right when you say, “It’s like war in that you have to go there to have a clue.” It seems for most of us ‘going’ there is what helps us along the path to empathy and compassion, and wisdom. Gain through pain I guess.
You write about torture, “I thought of the months of torture that people were subjected to at Guantanamo Bay Prison, and I wondered what kind of lame-ass torturers needed months, rather than minutes, to break a man.”…..I wonder too.
I forget the exact number of times one prisoner was water boarded over a 30 day period....183 times sticks in my memory and they still didn’t get any more information then before the torture started. Yet the powers who set this policy in motion still claim torture works…If it works why 183 times?
I’ve been watching the Tudors…King Henry dished out torture…this was back in the time of, secret tribunals, religious wars, and wars for personal and political gain….We haven’t come very far…..

As always your posts provoke and send me on inner journeys...Thank you for sharing.
So hope your painful days end.

Snowbrush said...

Julie, I also saw part of a PBS show about the secret agreement between Germany and Russia to divide Poland at the outset of WWII. The part I saw was about the Polish people whom the Russians imprisoned, tortured, and/or murdered. One old woman (who was a very young woman then) cried as she spoke of being beaten and having all of her hair pulled out.

When I think of men like Hitler and Stalin, I think they must be almost of a different species (at least I hope they are). Seeing as how we all must die within a relatively short life span, I cannot fathom what rewards a person could hope for that would make it worthwhile, even in their own minds, to bring death and misery to millions upon millions of other people, not counting other life-forms. I honesty wish I understood this.

Lola said...

I came here to thank you for visiting my blog, then I stopped by and read this post. I got sucked in and kept scrolling to older posts. Mind if I stay a while?

I hope your pain eases and you can find comfort soon. Keep fighting, you are not on hold, progress is being made every second.


NitWit1 said...

Having retired from the profession of pharmacy, I can relate to patients in pain. However, I must candidly admit, I did not truly empathize until I had the intense pain of a cancerous kidney rupturing, or the surgical implanting of prosthetic knees.

However, I came to believe that severe chronic pain is the hardest to relieve. I graded cancer specialist by the way they treated pain, not by their cures.

I tend to use similar grades for orthopedics.

SO now I hope you receive relief very soon. After I read about your "friends" I realize how fortunate I am to have several best friends who have never failed me, and I hope I have never failed them.

Lisa said...

Oh Snowbrush, I am sending you love and light and healing. Thank you for folowing my blog and telling me my piece is pretty. You don't know how much that means to me, no one really reacts to my artwork, I don't know why, so when I read your post it really made me happy. Still does.

I know also that pain is a private world. You and I share a lot in common, more than you might know. Yea, you should be proud of yourself for getting through the pain and still being hopeful. You know the saying:


and you will get through all of this. Love, Lisa

Lisa said...

Snowbrush, I just posted a long ass post and I don't see it anywhere! OMG! I will post again. THANK YOU for following my blog, I appreciate it. Also, you and I share a lot in common, in terms of both physical AND emotional.psychological pain. I know the MRI machine is no party, too. I was in one in March for an upper arm scan and they had me in some crazy ass position for 45 minutes and I thought I was going to die, I was hurting so badly. My muscles were literally quivering under my skin from pain. I am sending you love and light and healing and please just know I am reading your words and feel them. Also, thank you for saying my newest piece is pretty, not many people respond to any artwork I post, so when I read your post about it, it made my day and meant more to me that you probably realize. Much love, Lisa.

Lille Diane said...

My heart goes out to you, Snow. If I could lie there in the MRI for you--I would in a heartbeat. I can believe with you that in a year from now you will be pain free. In fact I will believe that it will happen sooner.

(((((((Snow))))))) These are virtual arms sending you a great big hug.

Strayer said...

I hate pain. I it sucks. I hope you can get rid of a lot of it after awhile, but when you're in pain you can't see the future without it. I'm with you in this: pain sucks. Nothing nice about it. Here's one thing: I even addicted to Aleve, so much so I thought I was in far worse pain than I might have been. I was taking three a day, and that was a stretch for me, because it hurt my stomach so bad. I felt I would die if at least I didn't have that, from the pain of the spinal cord issues I have, and a back disc hardened across my leg nerve. That finally cut off some nerve stimulation to my knee. But the pain, all the way down burning across my calf and ankle, was searing, screaming, awful, for weeks on end. No relief in sight. But, when my stomach got bad enough, from popping Aleve, I had to quit it. Low and behold, in about three days, my pain levels dropped. It was the expectation of Aleve, or something. Weird. Maybe you should stop the pain meds, as an experiment. I know that sounds like suicide and maybe it wouldn't help, but I never expected the results I had with Aleve.

Mim said...

As usual, you say so much that I need to digest and think about - I'll probably be back.
Regarding the pain - I've never felt pain like that - I believe that people have very different sensitivities to pain. I've had surgery and broken a leg badly and while it all hurt...I wasn't totally incapacitated to where a good dose of morphine didn't help. My dad basically didn't feel pain and could have a giant absess in his mouth that wouldn't hurt him. I envied him in a way. But from this knowledge I understand that what is a #3 pain to me - would be a #10 to you. So the only way to go is with your own feeling.
Do you see a pain doctor? If you are so unbelievably miserable I think that the Dr's should be able to help you a bit more. Have you ever tried accupuncture for relief? it really can help.
Good luck Snow and yes, Renee is right. Next year it will all be a memory - keep holding onto that thought.

Snowbrush said...

Lola "Mind if I stay a while?"

I'm not quite sold out, dear Lola.

NitWit1, I've heard that pharmacists often dislike their jobs (I think they might even have the highest dissatisfaction rate among professionals), and I've always wondered why. I imagine them as having to acquire--and be forever adding to--an immense amount of knowledge, yet spending a lot of their time doing mundane tasks like counting out pills and putting labels on bottles. Thoughts?

Lisa "not many people respond to any artwork I post"

Yet, it is probably the thing that you have to give that you most want to be appreciated for, because it comes from the deepest part of you and is loved the most by you; it is also the thing that you do that no one else could do. I know all this because I feel the same about my writing, but no one who I know in person appreciates it as do the people who read my blog.

Sometimes, when I write a long post, I copy it before hitting the publish button, just in case. I'm happy to see that both of yours came through though. What a treat to hear from you twice.

Lille Diane " These are virtual arms sending you a great big hug."

Hugs back, my dear. I value your visits immensely.

Strayer, I know that you have experienced a lot of pain, and I also know--or think I know--that you don't have insurance. I feel for you. You are one of the few people who reads my blog who is close enough geographically that we each might someday be able to help the other. BTW Strayer, every night and day that I can go without narcotics I do. Sometimes, I make it 24 hours, maybe even 36. Then when I think I might have turned a corner, I can't take enough to enable me to sleep.

Mim, Norco isn't as strong as morphine, but I think it likely that the problem I am having with Norco, Vicodin, and Percocet, is that I have taken them long enough that I am building up a tolerance. I also have Demerol on hand, and it is stronger than the others, but I don't tolerate it well. I see Mark Tuesday, and will talk to him then about maybe trying dilaudid.

All Consuming said...

Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea,
Yet never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me. x

Snowbrush said...

All Con, I memorized that one along with two or three other Dickinson poems. I think that she and Whitman are probably rated as the best American poets.

Mystery Robin said...

Wow, you really captured that experience. I felt like I was in the tube with you. I've had an MRI and am mildly claustrophobic - I still don't know how I made it through, except that counting factored in also. And I didn't have any pain.

I'm really sorry you have to go through all this.

PS I found your blog via Travis Erwin.

kj said...

snowbrush, your emotion and your writing is so brutually honest and authentic. that is one comfort you have: you can write. you can emote. it doesn't help your pain but is a gift you have and a gift for others. i thank you for writing this.

i know the clanging misery of having an mri, and to a much lesser degree, i've struggled with pain. it's true that the chances are it will have changed and improved a year from now. but soulbrush, it's depression too that pulls you down. i hope you have or will find a good counselor/psychotherapist to help you in all around life.

don't forget: YOU CAN WRITE!


Pantheist Mom said...

SB - there's nothing I can add that hasn't already been said by you or your commenters. I've never been through pain like that, and hope never to. I'm hoping you start to move out of this dark abyss soon.


Snowbrush said...

Mystery Robin "I've had an MRI and am mildly claustrophobic"

I've worked a good bit in attics and beneath houses, and I usually like tight spaces. MRIs are different somehow. Maybe it's because I literally can't move, or maybe it's because I have nothing to do, but I find myself wanting to scoot out of there.

KJ, thank you for your kind words about my writing. I must say that I'm not big on counselors, having known a great many and been to a few. Writing I'm compelled to do though.

Pan Mom, I hope I start feeling better soon too. I'm over six weeks post surgery, and things are supposed to be looking up a lot now, but here I am in more pain all the time. We'll see what the doc says on Tuesday.

Barry said...

I just discovered I'm due to have an MRI later this week. I assume the posture you were in was similar to that for a CT or PET scan, arms above your torso. I have no shoulder problem but had my left arm cramping up during the 20 minute PET scan. After your description of a 30 minute (!) MRI, I better proactively take some pain killers too. Like you, the last thing I'd want would be to have to repeat the procedure.

Snowbrush said...

Barry, no arms above my torso! I have shoulder problems--they wouldn't go there.

I don't recall CT scans lasting as long or being as uncomfortable, and I do remember the machine being a lot more spacious.

kj said...

snowbrush, i don't mean this the way it sounds, but i wish most people could have a counselor like me.....

Snowbrush said...

KJ, I have no doubt but what there are worthy counselors. I'm also sure there are worthy lawyers and clergymen (two other professions I am cynical about). I would even go so far as to say that I would happily go to a worthy counselor if I thought I needed one, and if I knew one. BUT, I have had a best friend who was a counselor; I have had lovers who were counselors; and I have co-counseled with quite a few people who were also professional counselors. I refer here to master's level certified counselors. I have also been to two professional counselors and two psychiatrists (though this was long ago). It is my sincere opinion that the people who I have been close to who were counselors had far too many serious issues of their own to be good in their professions. I can also say that I have received much identifiable harm but no identifiable benefit from the counselors I have been to. I know people who have benefitted greatly (I'm taking their word for it) from counseling, but I can only speak from my experience, and my experience does not inspire me to trust counselors.