On The Instructional Qualities Of Pain
What does it teach?
What does it reveal?
My body has become the victim of a misunderstanding by my immune system which, until recently (the first 40 years or so), has done an adequate job of mending hurts, fending off invading bacteria and keeping other unwanted intruders at bay. This system now believes that the natural action of joint movement in fingers, hands, feet, knees, hips, shoulders and neck vertebrae are in fact unnatural, perhaps even injuries, and need to be immobilized by layers of inflamed cartilage.
Welcome to rheumatoid arthritis.
Pain has taught me a degree of humility and a fresh insight into the different degrees and quality of pain. “Damn!!! I just hammered my thumb instead of that nail!!!” is substantially different from “Damn! I can’t get the lid off that pill container!” Aside from noting the number of exclamation points that differentiate the two, I know that the former, while intense, will soon go away. The latter is likely to stay with me forever, an unwelcome companion, perhaps gaining more exclamation points as the years pass. The sharp bright pain of the slam, cut or bang impacts the quality of the moment. The low deep-seated thrum of arthritic pain colours the quality of life. Having tasted both and given a choice, I would say, “Where’s the hammer?”
Pain humbles. Getting pummeled by a bully is a humbling experience. It hurts your pride and perhaps your face. But a pain that invades every moment, that reminds you constantly of its presence every time you turn, reach or bend, or even clouds the very decision to turn, reach or bend, is a reminder that you’re not quite up to that sort of thing anymore. It isn’t something so mundane as not being as young as you once were because even the young are susceptible to RA, but you’re being denied something you once took for granted. You’re getting blindsided by genetics and while it happens all the time, it’s still not fair. It brings you down. Even worse is the puzzled expression of those around you who misinterpret the hesitation for other less noble, less justifiable reasons. What used to be easy now requires some forethought and a careful weighing of costs and benefits.
Pain can reveal strength to endure or weakness to succumb. If Old Nick should present me with a contract that offered relief, I might seriously start thinking about terms and conditions, then start looking for a modern-day Daniel Webster.