Tag Archives: pain

Remembering…but wishing we didn’t keep adding to those needing remembering…

It’s Remembrance Day and I am filled with muddled emotions. I feel for all who served and died, all their families, all those who were harmed by war, on both sides. I don’t want to take anything away from their sacrifices. But I detest the glorification of war.

Maybe it’s cos I just came from Skyfall, where M asks the inquiry panel, “How safe do you feel?” just before the entire room is exploded by gunfire. The reality is I don’t feel very safe, given all the wars rumbling all over the world, the continual cruelty to each other. I’m listening to a song that talks about how much courage it takes to fight a war. I can’t help but think it takes more courage NOT to fight a war. To hold people accountable without violence, to peace keep, in all its forms. To be willing to share with the less fortunate, the old “Bread not bombs” theory.

I’m not taking away from the terrible suffering so many went through in the “great” wars. POWs and those maimed, those suffering from mental disabilities, or those, like my dad, who were radiated and died of cancer years later. He may not have suffered right at the time of the war, but he sure did later.

It’s just that as the frenzy around Remembrance Day grows, year after year, I worry about the effect this has on those who would wage war. Those who feel violence is the way to deal with disagreements or those pesky world leaders who espouse nationalization of industries that we want.  The people who send people into war are never on the front line, and their motives are rarely pure. The beating of the war drums works as they commit us to more and more situations where the goal is protected wealth. Killing for profits is ugly, but if we think it’s for a good cause, we’ll bite. In the US during the last few wars, it was deemed positively anti-American to question the war. It’s becoming like that here.

My dad enlisted when he was under 18. How many others did? Most of my extended family. Lots and lots and lots, because this was THE way to prove your manliness, to prove you had pride in yourself and your country. It’s twisted when you look at it a bit. Why wouldn’t the ability to not fight be considered more strength? You need only look at the faces of the soldiers doing peacekeeping during the OKA crisis, or those on the lines in Afghanistan before mission creep, or the soldiers stuck in Rwanda during the terrible carnage there. The strength needed to not fight was incredible. It broke some of them. As did killing.

I don’t have my dad’s full service story. He died before I took the opportunity to learn it from him. I wish I knew more. He never spoke of it except to mention he came back with TB and that the nurses cried when they saw the X-ray. He spent time on his return in the TB H-huts in Kingston, and taught himself to paint. He lived. And he’d tell one other story, which I think tells about his nature as well:

He was fixing a radar tower in the Bahamas where he was serving with the Navy (Oh for one photo of him in his whites!), and he dropped a wrench when he was way up in the tower. It fell from side to side, hitting various components, breaking them and sending out showers of sparks and minor explosions as it crashed back and forth, back and forth and he watched in horror. When it finally stopped, he shouted “DARN IT!” The Sergeant who was at the bottom of the tower checking on the noise gave him hell for not using the proper swear word. As for Dad, he felt completely emasculated. He told me it was the worst because here he’d had a perfectly good excuse to let loose a string of blue profanities and all he could muster at the time was a darn.

Such a gentleman. Makes me laugh every time I think of it.

Thinking of all those who were lost in all the wars great, small and in-between, and those who continue to lose their lives in state-sanctioned violence. Unlike many, I wish we could forget war. Unfortunately we have fresh reminders every day. Even if we do wear the poppies.

How about we work on ending the need to wear them?

(PS: the poppies here are fundraisers for the veterans – one of the good things we could do is look after vets properly, hey? So they don’t have to go begging for coins.)


Rock and Roll

Ah yes. Spring comes and with it the endless piles of gravel along the sides of the road.  It gets everywhere, it’s grotty, it’s ugly.

And for me, my own personal grit. A couple of weeks ago, an Xray showed that the charmingly HUGE kidney stone in my right kidney had decide to take a trip.  It had moved about an inch down my ureter, enroute to my bladder and escape.  Perhaps it wanted to join its fellows on the streets of Ottawa.  Who knows. Anyway, my teenage urologist (a charming young man who, I’m sure, has graduated grade 12) drew me a diagram, pointed out the little rock, now comet shaped, in my inappropriate body part, told me I needed to have it smashed, post-haste.

I’m a nurse by trade.  Consequently, I hate hospitals.  I know what really goes on there. It’s like taking a chef to a restaurant – he or she will always be peering at the kitchen, looking for cleanliness, entrails, sloppy work. I KNOW most nurses and hospital staff work so hard it is unbelievable, but I also know that errors can occur.  So I really really do not like darkening their doors any more than needed.

Alas, no alternative to smashing that sounded better, and the thought of jiggling the stone as I drove through those endless New Brunswick forests was enough to send me running in for lithotripsy, a jolly little word that basically means shooting intense shock waves through your body until the stone gives up and cries for mercy. It sounds like a skip through the forest. “Oh, Edna, DO let’s go lithotripsing today, shall we?” “Smashing, simply smashing! Let’s!”

Well, it all wasn’t so bad. The drugs are very very good. The doc who saw me, not my teenage guy, but another young sprout, had a cheerful mien and a sense of hipness that gave me confidence (why is it every urologist I meet is cheerful? They practically sing their way through work. Not common among specialties. The anesthesiologist, on the other hand, was glum and Eeyore-ish. One wonders.) The nurses were sweet and very informative.

The pounding was vaguely uncomfortable. But , as I said, the drugs were very, very, very good. I could have slept forever, drifting happily through a gentle pillowed land, filled with tiny blue birds and spring flowers and the occasional mosquito bite on my back. I was Xrayed far too much for my mental comfort, and immediately thought back to how my dad told my brother that if he sat too close to the TV he would start to glow in the dark from radiation. I resisted cupping my hand over my arm to see if I was glowing. I tried not to think of my family’s cancer history and the carcinogenic effects of xrays. I didn’t succeed.

Dr. Hipguy said my stone blew up quite satisfactorily.  Must be a bit like a video game, I guess, zapping the alien until it vanishes. Maybe that’s why they are so happy.  Playing games all day.

They slid me into my bed, sent me back to my cubicle, and in no time arrived with cheese and apple juice and told me to get dressed and outta there. My wonderfully supportive friend Tim came and drove me home, tucked me in, walked my dog.  I slept on. And on. And drank water and water and water, and took Tylenol.

I felt awesomely strong and brave. Not only had I started to pass the stone quite a ways without a whimper, but I was doing so well post-op!

I am woman, I said to myself.  I can handle anything. I rule. No stone’s gointa get the best of ME.

Hubris. I should have known. Whenever I used to go roller skating, I would just get to the point of saying to myself thoughts of grace and charm when I’d immediately slip and fall, usually sliding right into the legs of some gorgeous boy, who would be flung airwards and land, swearing at me and glaring every time he passed me on the rounds.

So last night, after bragging about my strength and waxing poetic about the benefits of having MS and thus numbness and thereby being able to handle pain easily, with nothing but an eye flicker, I was given a lesson.

A sharp, shardlike lesson.

So, back to the drinking gallons of fluid and chewing Tylenol and repositioning myself so that my side feels comfortable. Sigh. I shall never brag again. Never. Well, at least until this stone passes.

well, drat that dorsal anterior cingulate, anyway!

An article in the Globe and Mail this week pointed out research on the brain that indicated that if your heart was broken, metaphorically speaking, you showed  the same response in your brain as when you have physical pain.  They suggested Tylenol for the pain of heartache following a tragic romance. Interestingly, the research also showed that your response to having something hot held against your hand could predict your reaction to a social snub.

Well, as someone who passed a kidney stone in the middle of the night with naught but a few confused writhings (I know, TMI), does this mean I am destined to be an unfeeling slob in matters of the heart? Perhaps that old cingulate is just numb from stem to stern.

Maybe this explains why I can be so completely inappropriate in social situations and not notice the scornful looks of my peers, or care about them except as something to capture for my next description of same?  Does this explain my ability to take my dog out for walks while unwashed, dressed in mismatching mittens and a hat from the Salvation Army (not a one-size-fits-all baseball cap, thankfully – things haven’t slid THAT far)?

And does this explain my lack of compassionate responses to my kids, who, when they complained about a sore hand, were offered surgery to cut the offending part off? Could you guess I was a nurse? Able to hide my compassion while I get the task done? (Or maybe more like Nurse Ratchet, secretly enjoying the pain of others?)

And perhaps it explains the absolute effectiveness of a glass of red wine to deal with sadness and all that. A little mental anesthesia and the thoughts of loneliness or sadness vanish.  Although it works much better with some good chocolate as well…

In the article, it was reported that researchers found that an acetaminophen tablet helped reduce the feeling of social hurt.

“Compared to individuals given a placebo, those given daily acetaminophen reported fewer hurt feelings over a period of three weeks. The researchers also examined brain scans of individuals experiencing social rejection and found that those taking acetaminophen showed reduced activity in the regions of the brain associated with pain’s unpleasant aspects.”

Valentine’s Day is coming.  After my grade 8 experience where I gave my favourite boys valentines only to find them having a little party later stomping on them in the school hallway (ouch), I’m thinking maybe I should go out and get a bottle of extra strength Tylenol. Even if that cingulate is a wee bit numb, there’s no point in taking chances….


Doing Tonglen

I can’t pretend to understand the practice of Buddhism, but I am dipping heavily into a wonderful book When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron.  It’s an excellent reference for those who are dealing with chaos and change in their own lives, as I am in mine. I usually read a chapter and then go away and think about it for a week or so, then dip in again. The thing that had hit me most until now was her statement that we must abandon hope, because that leads to despair. Interesting thought.  Had to chew on that one for a full month.

Today, though, I was in the tub reading, thinking about my poor (ex)mother-in-law, who is dying with a recently diagnosed ALS. She’s a fighter, but I know she is getting weary of having to give up everyday things, to lose her sense of competence, to feel a burden. It’s not her, she who spent all of her life serving others. Of all of the horribleness of this illness, that’s the thing that bothers me the most, perhaps because my loss of identity is still so close as I cope with disability and MS and all the much lesser evils I live with every day.

So I read about Tonglen, breathing in other’s suffering, breathing out relaxation and joy, and wish with all my fervent little heart that it was so simple, that I could breathe in her suffering, and that of everyone else who has to suffer from ALS, to breathe in health suffering in total, bring it on board my frail body, and breathe out, breathe out, that feeling of joy and relaxation. I mean, they even have T-shirts with the theory on it.  Can’t be that tough, can it, if it can be reduced to a T-Shirt…

But there’s this tiny problem. I’m too busy wallowing my own self. I had set up tonight to be a total self-affirming, aggressive self-care evening, one where I could be selfish and feel a bit bleu and I even bought pillowcases to embroider that had forget-me-nots on them in a true flashback to times of old when I used to be a sweet young hopeful creature that did things like embroidery.  I even met another woman in the shop and talked her into doing some, too – we both reminisced about lazy-daisy stitches and French knots (called, hilariously, Colonial knots, in my American kit – must have been from post 9-11 and freedom fries…), outline stitches and the horrible behaviour of most types of green embroidery floss, which WILL tangle if you just look at it a bit sideways. I planned to wallow in the bath and do girly things to my legs and inhale scented oils and listen to soft music and pretend I wasn’t alone on a Saturday night, thinking of how I am expected to survive on a diet of no salt, no fat, no chocolate and no booze, and wondering whether surviving was really all it’s cut out to be.

Then doom.  “Oh”, I thought, “I really should dip into Pema’s book again.  After all, she’s been such a help…”

And now I feel so small and insignificant and as if I should have been instead sucking others pain into myself all night like a vast mountain of Bounty (the quicker picker-upper) instead of just chewing on my own.  I felt awash with guilt for not giving cash to the scary panhandler I passed the other day, for every mean thought (and there have been a few) about a certain person who shall remain nameless but let’s just suppose she is planning to marry my ex, just saying, for every time I was too lazy to offer a smile or a positive thought or whatever to my fellow travellers.

It’s pathetic. Surely I should be due a good wallow now and again (oh all right, for those who know me well, they’ve been a little too frequent these days for even my liking) without that ol’ guilt rearing its ugly head? Can’t I fret about my ingrown hairs on my legs like any normal woman without being cast mentally to the starving hordes in Asia who probably have no hair because of malnutrition or wish they didn’t have ingrown shistosomes in their legs that are busy migrating to their eyes to make them blind (look it up)? Surely I can feel a wee bit desirous of a huge honking chocolate bar  – one of those Dairy Milk ones with 65% fat that stretch when they are melty and fill your mouth with a sensual gloopiness without thinking of people who can’t chew anymore and who can never experience that feeling ever ever again? Maybe I can feel my aches and pains from being too lazy to exercise without thinking about all my fellow MS’ers who can’t exercise anymore because their neurons are in worse shape than mine?

Well, apparently not.  I don’t know whether it is that Roman Catholic upbringing that inserts guilt into your DNA, or whether it’s the persuasive argument of Pema as she tells us to be less petty, and reach to be better, but my “aggressive self-care” evening is ruined. I think I’ll head off and eat some bran or something, or maybe just fix myself a strong drink, and then try to breathe out some joy in the alcohol fumes.