Hopalong and me

Now that Peggy’s gone. I get up between 10:00 and 11:00, eat oats or Grape Nuts for breakfast, work all day while I listen to Western audiobooks, watch a Western movie at night as I eat sardines and tidy-up, down 8mgs of Dilaudid, take a hit of bud (despite what my pain specialist says, pot and Dilaudid makes for one hell of a delightful combination), and read a Western novel until the words start floating off into space—this doesn’t take long. Then I lie in a warm glow until sleep overtakes me within anywhere from two minutes to two hours depending upon whether the drugs keep me so entertained that I can’t sleep. It’s a good life, this working everyday and getting loaded every night, although I do hate being repeatedly awakened by the pain.

Taking on what is to me a hard physical project makes me feel like a man again. Only people who have been there can understand the extent to which pain and disability can take away a person’s pride, especially if his entire adult life was devoted to physical hobbies and occupations. I’m happier than I’ve been in years because I know that if I can survive this job, I can survive other jobs too. It’s just a matter of keeping a good supply of drugs. I had rather die than to go back to being unable to work.

I wrote most of the following paragraphs in the comment section, but am going to add them as an appendum.

It’s not that I have suddenly decided to take on hard projects despite the pain, but that I have improved enough that, with narcotics, I can now bear what pain there is when I take on what is for me a hard project--this project being my test of that. There was a time when movement hurt so much that I had to grasp my shoulders with my hands in order to walk, and I couldn’t even dust furniture for the pain. For an entire year, not a night went by that I didn't sleep in a recliner while taking narcotics every few hours and using ice packs continually, and I would still hurt too bad to sleep for more than brief periods. If I were in such pain now, I would be screaming in agony were I been silly enough to attempt my current project. It would be like fire to my body.

I don’t know what to attribute this recent improvement to. I went back to physical therapy with yet another new therapist a month ago, and he is the first therapist who has been able to devise exercises that I can bear. I’m also taking Sam-E and Cymbalta, so maybe all three of these things or none of these things are responsible for my improvement.

Although I long since stopped trusting that good times will last, these last few weeks have been the best period I’ve had since the pain got really bad four years ago, so it is tempting to be hopeful. However, both the pain specialist I saw last week and my physical therapist have told me that I will always be in pain (the longer a person is in pain, the less chance there is that he will recover). In fact, the therapist asked me whether I'm more interested in building strength or in reducing pain, and I told him unhesitatingly that I value strength above reduced pain. Being strong helps me to want to live. Some people seem able to slide into invalidism with little angst, but I can’t imagine ever reconciling myself to such a life.

I take great comfort in knowing that, whatever is causing my pain, at least it can’t be as bad as syringomyelia or chronic regional pain disorder, two of the diagnoses I’ve had that turned out to be wrong.

The painting is by Frank Earle Schooner (1877-1972), and is entitled “Hopalong Takes Command.” It's owned by the Delaware Art Museum