The Comfort of Pain

Be forewarned: what follows is written from a very personal and biased perspective, and is not at all intended as normative discourse or prescriptive therapy for others. It may even come off as self-absorbed, blindered, and off the rails. So be it.

Four weeks ago I fell off a step-stool and dislocated my right shoulder, literally pulverizing a good chunk of the glenoid process of the scapula for good measure. (CT scans don’t lie.)

Never mind that I was using the step-stool for exercise–ordinarily a good thing.

Never mind that one of the legs on the step-stool broke, so it wasn’t a matter of clumsiness… just stupidity, as a kitchen step-stool is hardly rated for 280 pounds of exercising middle-aged man.

Never mind that I could just as easily have crushed my skull on the fireplace hearth, which was a mere inch away from where I fell. Never mind that each and every one of my days is filled with a thousand and one responsibilities, each one of which demands that I be healthy.

And never mind that I am right-handed.

Yes, never mind all that. Extraneous details. Whatever.

Focus on this: pain. Excruciating pain.

Pain I had to endure on the way to the emergency room. Pain I had to endure while I waited the six hours before they could anesthetize me. (And again never mind the I.V.-administered dilaudid, which produced profound nausea and an effect like a padded vise clamped down over my ears… but hey! at least I didn’t care about the pain as much, even though it didn’t go away.)

The pain of trying to get my dislocated shoulder to roll outward so they could get the right angle on the x-ray… and the pain of standing alone in the radiology room while the techs tried to figure out what they were going to do because the damned shoulder would not roll outward. (What did they expect? It was dislocated!)

The pain of having to sleep on my back all night, every night, scarcely being able to move, even though I never sleep on my back, even can’t sleep on my back.

Oh, the pain when I sneezed!

And that’s the physical pain.

Then there’s the emotional pain of feeling helpless, of feeling useless.

Watching as your wife pulls your underwear up around your ankles for you. Watching as your wife washes you, and dries you off. Watching as your wife does all the chores you normally do. Standing by as the tables are turned, and the caregiver becomes the patient… made worse, even, because the Original Patient now has to care for herself, too.

And then the pain of watching the Original Patient come down with some additional Mystery Illness in the midst of being your caregiver, and marveling at the vast injustifiable inconvenience of it all.

The pain of having to ask for help, having meals delivered by friends and family three times a week–and stretching each of them for two or more meals, because the servings are so generous. The pain of not being able to drive. Of waiting for a ride when you’d normally just jump in the car, of having to bum an hour-and-a-half lift in rush-hour traffic to make a business meeting, all the while knowing your buddy would really rather be working an extra job or sacked out with a day off.

And then the pain of sitting in that business meeting and hearing a mournful CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK emanating from your laptop’s hard drive… and knowing you are now officially screwed, for lack of a better or more seemly word. Cuz your last tenuous link to life as you knew it just died inside that black chunk of Toshiba plastic casing.

What more could possibly go wrong?

Well, anyone who’s ever opened their eyes for a moment or two knows that the answer is, “A good deal more. A lot, in fact.”

But I’ll tell you, seeing your ability to earn your living go up in digital flames is decidely painful.

Wasn’t it enough that I was limping through iLife with a point-and-click right hand and three-fingered typing with my left? Did I really need to have my computer completely die, too? Really?

Can you say “pig pile”?

Jenn, of course, knows the feeling–and has for over ten years now.

The shoes have been on the other feet, as they say. I have been learning what it feels like to be Jenn, just a little bit, and Jenn has been learning what it feels like to be Greg, just a dram.

And here’s one of the things I’ve learned.

The problem with pain is not that it hurts.

The problem with pain is that it’s the opposite of comfort.

I’m in my comfort zone as a technology consultant. My virtual workspace is cozy with WordPress and Filezilla and AVS4You and Cloudberry and Adobe and AWS. I have passwords to paradise; my workaday routine (as abbreviated as it is, which I also rather enjoy) is nicely and predictably scheduled between meals and snuggles.

I live the dream as a work-at-home self-employed semi-retiree, wife and cats at my side, greenbelt and pea patch just outside the door.

I’m even quite comfy in my identity as Optimus Caregiver. It’s a role I was born for. I take pride in serving up doses of medication, of being the first face Jenn sees every morning and the last one she sees before sleeping. I’m beyond professional with my weekly portacath dressing changes… so danged good, in fact, I almost do them better one-handed… with my left!

I am not so comfy, however, with my gimpy shoulder.

But here is what this pain has done for us.

It has slowed us down.

Yes, if you know us, you know our lives are already lived at a tenth of the pace that they ran a decade ago. Could we possibly slow down more?

The answer is yes.

And it is good.

As Americans we tend to live life chewing up whatever bandwidth is available. Gotta do more! Gotta be more! Dump the DSL, and go for Firewire. 3G? 4G? Get the latest… and exhaust it within months.

Think what Virus Scan software does to the computing power of your technology. The laptop that was perfectly good a year ago becomes crippled by the bandwidth-taxing need to keep you safe from the baddies.

This is the way of the world. Our lives keep pace with whatever soccermom/businessexec vista opens before us. And the options keep expanding exponentially.

But I’ll tell you, slower is better. Spare bandwidth means you’ve got room in your life for the unexpected.

And guess what? That’s the only place you’re going to find God.

When pain comes, remember that means growth. Remember that complacency means stagnance. Remember that comfort is a deceptive illusion designed to put you to sleep. Remember that maxing your bandwidth puts you at the mercy of somebody else’s agenda.

Take comfort in your pain. Accept limitations. Open your ears to God.

About Greg Wright

I have worn many hats as a writer and editor over the years. Unlike my scholarly and journalistic work from the "old days" at Hollywood Jesus, Past the Popcorn, or SeaTac Blog, the writing here is of a more overtly personal and spiritual nature. I hope it provokes you as much as it provokes me.
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