Pain | William Thomas Online | William Thomas


Dawn Gull Seabreak -Will Thomas photo


 by William Thomas

Like most tribulations it leaps out of nowhere, without precedent or preamble. One otherwise unremarkable instant, I’m sitting at my desk searching the Rolodex of my long and curious life for a better word (for writers who practice their discipline like a martial art there’s always a better word) — foolishly taking for granted another moment of my precarious physical existence when something glides up behind me and buries a 10-inch knife in my right shoulder.

     “Ouch!” I exclaim. Or words to that effect. 

     “Let’s get acquainted,” hisses my invisible assailant. “Might as well, since I’m not going away anytime soon.”

*     *     *

So here I am at oh-dark-thirty nearly two weeks later, looking for distraction in James Lee Burke’s latest Bitterroot saga after resignedly rising from my lumpy torture rack to swallow some yogurt and pop another pain pill. I’m still hurting. But I can cope. For now.

     Three pages in, I’m so pumped by Burke’s wordsmithing I begin composing paragraphs for the first time since this craziness derailed my life. According to my heavy grey windup Soviet-era naval clock, this current hellride began 864,000 seconds ago. 

     I’ve registered nearly every one.

     My life’s sole objective is to get through another night. For reasons as yet undetermined, my maddening owie slackens off around noon, allowing a quick walk to the post office for presents before it returns to claw at my back as the shadows lengthen. I used to look forward to bedtimes. Not anymore. 

     “Have you suffered any recent trauma?” nurse Maggie enquires. 

     “No,” I reply. This I would remember.

     “Could be your gall bladder,” she opines, scheduling me for an ultrasound. 

     Next week? Can I wait that long?

     “In ninety days,” the front desk clarifies.

     Jesus, I think. A prayer.

     The doctor wants to know more.

     “It feels just like the mono I had in university,” I tell her. “Also, bronchitis in Hong Kong. It’s the same pain in my upper back but on the other side.” Blasting the affected area under a showerhead as hot as I can stand helps hugely. Until I stop. “But only twice a week,” I quickly append. “Water restrictions.” 

     “I know what it is,” doctor Laura says, making a synaptic connection no AI will ever emulate. “I’ve had the same thing. Muscle spasm.”

     From typing?

     “Wait,” I say, remembering. “When I was getting on my bike behind the co-op, my foot hit the crossbar and I fell backwards. On the way down, I had time to think, no biggie, I’ll land on the grass. That’s when the back of my head hit a 4x4 post with the full weight of my falling body.”

     That impact should have snapped my spine like a swizzle stick. 

     “My helmet did its job,” I continue. “I figured I’d gotten away with it. After I rode home, my neck was sore for a few days [ed note: weeks]. Then I felt fine.”

     Good old whiplash. Had to be. But that was last September. Ten months have passed without a twinge. 

     “The body remembers,” she says.

*     *     *

I totally get why so many walking wounded gobble fentanyl. 

     “This pain laughs at Ibuprofin and extra-strength Tylenol. Can you give me some 292s?” I implore. “I’ve got to get some sleep.”

     Doctors with integrity don’t hand out codeine like M&Ms. A compassionate MD provides a half-dozen Emtec. Mindful of slippery slopes, I haven’t taken any yet.  

     Apparently, to continue an extended life above ground carries cost. What did I expect? From childhood migraines to Dengue’s delirium in Papeete, a blown-out eardrum free-diving on a coral-wedged anchor just outside Rabaul, kidney stones in Amsterdam, the bone-cracking smack of pavement the time I totaled my electrified recumbent, eye-watering toothaches and a crushing constriction around my chest while helming Electra off Ford Cove that turned out to be my first heart attack (I’m a collector) — no body can log 74 years of embodiment without becoming intimately acquainted with agony. Each time, like a storm at sea, it passes.

     But what if it doesn’t? 

     Permit me to report directly from pain’s implacable tribunal, where “fair” is farcical and denial no defense. When the gavel drops, anyone found guilty of gross physiological misconduct is sentenced indefinitely to a skintight prison from which its sole captive can only gaze longingly across an unbridgeable gulf at oblivious hominids hermetically insulated from his silent suffering and their own lurking fragility — whether skin-on-skin or mere meters away! 

     Pro Tip: When dealing with daggers wielded by demons, at all costs you must avoid feeling sorry for yourself.

     Good luck with that.

*     *     *

They say that pain is a teacher. I say it’s hard to focus on the lesson when you’re staggering around with cartoon X’s for eyes, almost whimpering from sleep deprivation, abjuring chit-chat, barking at people you love, unable to concentrate or even think at all. I’ve always admired the stoic courage of those who must deal to the end of their days with chronic pain. I marvel still.

     I’m not one of them. Two weeks of continual hurt ratcheting between 4 and 9+ on that 10-step scale of distress is, as Yogi Berra remarked, exhaustipating. As endless days follow even longer nights, unceasing anguish grinds the insulation from my soul. 

     I’m doing what I can. My 30-inch magic crystal heating pad provides partial relief and a new mattress is “on the way”. 

     Meanwhile, my community offers solace: Christiane’s timely delivery of CryoDerm, Michelle’s link to exceptionally soothing vibrations, an acupuncture and physio session. Jasmire’s reminder to visualize a skyhook pulling my hunched posture erect. At Carmen’s urging, I’m constantly tucking in my chin and throwing my shoulders back, as if — YESSIR! — I’m back on that navy drill field. Sleep, this ex-tough guy tries to convince himself as dawn brightens the kitchen windows, is for sissies.

     So please dear Goddess. Make this end and I promise to never — ever — ignore another gifted day without… 


*     *     *

Update, Aug. 6 ’23, end of Week 3:

My jealous lower back wants in on the action. At “odd” moments my waist is cinched in a girdle of remarkable anguish and causing me to bend over and shuffle across the kitchen floor just like the old geezer I swore not to become. 

     Skyhook. Skyhook.

     I still haven’t touched the codeine. When I took a double-shot of Aleve, it made my ears ring. But I got some sleep. This stuff is so heavy-duty, it should be available only by ministerial intercession. Along with the Emptec, it’s now on my “Slippery Slope — Emergencies Only” list. I didn’t take any last night.   

     More acupuncture this week.

     Childhood memories of “Twenty-Mule Team Borax” on black-and-white TV at my grandmother’s big old house in Michigan take on renewed meaning after Lori drops by to remind me to take a teaspoon of distilled boron with every glass of water I guzzle during these hot summer days. She reports that this regime — coupled with regular hits of beef-bone broth — banish the crippling arthritis in her neck. Until she stops. I haven’t touched beef in decades. But that avoidance ends for now.

     The new 10-inch Inofia mattress is installed on the high captain’s bed King constructed a few years back with Michelle’s re-store drawers handily underneath. It’s real nice. Lying prone that high off the floor makes me feel like a worried contestant   about to be sacrificed on an Aztec altar. 

     Now my MD suspects nerve damage.

     More Borax, please.


My favorite helmet (replacement) -Will Thomas photo

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