Friday, August 14, 2009

Good Pain, Bad Pain

That first night in the hospital, nurses offered up an array of painkillers: morphine, percoset, oxywhatever. Good stuff, but I asked for Ibuprofen instead. If whiskey had been on the menu, that would have been my first choice.

I was hurting, sure, but I have a pathological aversion to drugs, especially prescription drugs with a short history. Percoset, for instance, has always been known to be addictive, but is just now coming under suspicion for liver damage; it's credited with 400 deaths per year in this country. I'd rather manage pain than a bum liver. Not to mention, it muddies up your thought process, and thinking is what I do for a living.

As a cyclist, I was already able to manage bouts of intense discomfort. When they asked me during the admissions interview what level of pain I could deal with, on a scale from 1 to 10, I said maybe 3, maybe 4. The nurse was surprised. "Everybody always says zero", she said.

Well, I guess they're not cyclists, because when you're bridging up or getting dropped, the pain level is very high: maybe 8, maybe 9. You push it as far as you can, but 10 is reserved for torture, e.g., the Imperial Chinese 'death by a thousand cuts'. You know the scene in Kill Bill 2 where Uma Thurmond's character plucks out Daryl Hannah's character's remaining eyeball and squishes it on the glass-strewn floor of her trailer, then abandons her there, screaming, with the black mamba still lurking inside? Yeah, so that's approaching a 10. Do you get anywhere near that on a bike? Probably not. But the scale is logarithmic, I think, so that doesn't mean you can't hit a 9.

Again, I'm not saying I would have turned away a bedside bottle of Highland Park or Talisker or whatever. It would have been cheaper than the more recent pharmaceutical inventions on offer and nearly as effective, not to mention, manlier.

Whiskey is what you nurse when you're on the lam, falsely accused, when you're gathering evidence of your innocence, hunting down the real killers, when, through utter happenstance, you come into the company of a beautiful and strong-willed young woman who, in her remote woodland cabin, bears witness while you treat your own gunshot wounds and dog bites with pliers, needle and thread. In such a predicament, you don't fight the childproof cap on a bottle of oxy; you drain a fifth of Jack or Maker's Mark or Southern Comfort -- I guess my earlier choices were too highbrow, betraying my effete academic background -- and when you wake up, it'll be days later and she'll have bathed you and changed your clothes and God only knows what else in the interim. You'll have just enough time for a quick heart-to-heart with the lass before law enforcement closes in and the next chase scene ensues.

Where was I? Ah, yes... pain, pain. So, as a cyclist, I was accustomed to discomfort. But what I've been dealing with for the past couple of weeks is different. It's not the good kind of pain.
  • Good pain is temporary. It lasts between a few minutes and a few hours.
  • Bad pain is chronic. It lasts days, months, or years.
  • Good pain is for a purpose. Not killing you? Then it's making you stronger.
  • Bad pain is for nothing. It makes you weaker and weaker, until you finally snap.
  • Good pain is under your control. You create it, and you can stop it at any time.
  • Bad pain controls you. You can only wait for it to begin and wait for it to end.
  • Good pain fires you up, keeps you alert and alive, by focusing you on the dangers in your environment.
  • Bad pain exhausts you, keeps you focused on the pain itself and too distracted to see actual dangers.
Abstraction and long chains of reasoning are my bread and butter, but I can't stay focused lately. Worse yet, I'm kind of an ass now. I should clarify. I was already 'kind of' an ass. Now I am world-class curmudgeonly.

The asshat thing is, by far, the worst effect of the injury. I can't see through this veil of pain to the outside world, to realize there are other people out there with desires and preferences that I need to take into consideration. All I can keep in mind are the shooting pains down my arm, the spasms in my neck, and the twinges in my shoulder.

My instincts here are to withdraw entirely from society, which just takes too much energy to engage. (Maybe this is a vestige of evolution. When injured, escape from the tribe, hide one's weakness from rivals, and re-emerge once healed and strong again.)

I bitch to my brother about my bureaucratic hassles and snap at my benefactress (hot asian version of the fantasy 'lass' described above). When up in NY visiting with family, I was constantly on edge. My nephews' high-pitched voices had me thinking about emergency tracheotomies. And I love these kids!

When I was in the hospital, I heard a constant stream of "Nurse! Nurse!" moans from the other rooms. Old guys whining for meds. Sad. But I get it, actually. Maybe they'd rather be whiners than assholes. And, whereas I can see an end to this thing -- hopefully soon -- most of them were kind of in a downward spiral. Liver damage was the least of their concerns. Go ahead and shoot up, boys...

As for me, well, I'm not going to be able to ride a bike outside anytime soon, but I have been able to use the trainer a bit. The plan is as follows:


I think it's going to work. I've lost a lot of fitness, but I bet I'm going to be a stronger cyclist on the other side. And maybe a nice guy again.


Calvini said...

Glad you've taken the effort to write something.

Don't push it too hard on the trainer, now. I know you will.

You'll get better, man. Just keep reminding yourself that.

Drake said...

Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

just remember that, though humbling, there is a magic in the tragic, you can curse the driver but call yourself a survivor, use your power and when you are up to it again, keep on rolling thunder, brother


Sigberto said...

Did you watch the movie Shooter last night or something?

qualia said...

calvini and drake: thanks, guys. i *will* get my groove back.

anon: i know who you are! how's lyme's treating you? you back in shape yet?

bert: my fugitive fantasy was based on way too much 'shooter'-type media consumption over a lifetime, but i don't recall that one in particular. poorly-reviewed male-oriented wish fulfillment? sounds perfect for air travel.

Tony A. said...

Gonna raise a glass of fine whiskey in your honor tonight.

As long as we're talking about cheesy movies, here's a line I must have learned from one: you've been knocked down, but not out. We'll see you on the roads soon and glad for it.