Pulse-Voices from the Heart of Medicine – Pain – June 2016 by Ronna Edelstein
When my friend Madeline turned seventy, she celebrated in a big way: She walked a half-marathon; she hosted a cabaret for family and friends at which she sang and told stories; she traveled to China.
Now, six years later, this dynamic woman has become a virtual prisoner in her apartment.
She has undergone back surgery, suffered a nearly fatal intestinal infection and, after a fall, had bolts and screws placed in her hip. Her voice, which once broadcast her energy and joie de vivre, has dwindled to a whisper
The thread that links all of these bodily assaults is pain. Chronic, intense pain has drained away my friend’s energy and quality of life.
No doctor has definitively diagnosed the source of her pain–or been able to find an antidote.
I feel a special sympathy for Madeline because, like her, I live a life in which pain plays a constant role
My pain began ten years ago, in my left jaw.
By 2008, pain was a full-time companion
In the spring of 2015, a CT scan showed that bone was overgrowing the device. That summer, I had a fourth operation.
“This will do the trick,” the surgeon assured me.
Now, almost a year later, the excess bone is growing back, and the pain is more constant and intense than ever:
- the pain mocks me, interfering with my ability to focus on the teacher’s words;
- when I teach writing to my college English students, the pain saps my energy.
- At the symphony, the pain adds a sour undertone to the melodious notes of the orchestra;
- at the theater, the pain unravels the threads of the performers’ dialogue, leaving me lost in a maze of meaningless verbiage.
- Pain prevents my afternoon naps and wakes me up at night when I’ve inadvertently turned onto my left side.
- Pain deepens the lines and wrinkles on my sixty-eight-year-old face.
Nothing has helped--not acupuncture, not physical therapy, not Rolfing (a holistic approach that manipulates the soft tissue in my face), Botox injections, wet heat or ice, prayers or meditation.
Getting through the day is a challenge; I turn to humor for comfort, but more often than not I end up crying and calling my two adult children for sympathy.
My surgeon says that I need a fifth surgery to temporarily remove the prosthesis, cut deeper into the bone and then replace the device, but so far I’ve refused it.
After all, each operation has only heightened the pain.
He blames my pain on the weather, saying that cold temperatures and humidity can exacerbate it. But I doubt that this is the cause; the pain is always there, rain or shine
In January of this year, Risa, my sister-in-law and good friend, died from complications of Crohn’s disease, having spent fifty of her seventy years grappling with pain caused by the disease.
My first reaction to the news of her death was one of relief: At least she was finally free of her suffering.
Then I became angry–for Risa, for my friend Madeline, for myself, for everyone who suffers from chronic pain. Do only the dead deserve to be free of pain?
About the author:
Ronna Edelstein is a part-time English Department faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh, where she is a Writing Center consultant and teaches a section of freshman programs.
Her fiction and nonfiction works have appeared in Quality Women’s Fiction (QWF); SLAB–Sound and Literary Art Book; The Roaring Muse; The First Line; the Scribes Valley Publishing anthologies; Seasons of Caring: Meditations for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers;Tales of Our Lives; and in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ronna dedicates this story to her children, Ilana and Jonathan, and, in memory, to Mom and Dad.
This medical literary magazine, Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine, has many excellent stories of people dealing with our medical system.