Hard Lessons

To paraphrase a Bruce Springsteen song, life has been giving me some hard lessons lately, about pain, loss, disability and hope. Years of chronic pain, my mother's death, my hearing impairment and other serious medical problems have sorely tested me. When I finally found a doctor who took my pain seriously, he asked me why I had checked "suicidal thoughts" on my new patient questionnaire. I told him, "I have 30 years ahead of me if I live as long as my mother did. I refuse to live in pain for another 30 years."

In all that I've learned and written since then, the most surprising discovery has been my ability to remain optimistic about my life and my future. If you hear despair, anger, frustration and fear in what I post here, please don't turn away. All is not dark, and eventually a glimmer of hope will light the path ahead.

Monday, February 18, 2013


When I was growing up and suffering from any kind of pain, be it from a skinned knee, a failed math test, or unrequited love, Mom used to say to me, "I wish I could do the hurting for you", but she often tempered the tender words with some tough ones, "I never told you life would be easy." Well, as much as I love ease and comfort, I don't expect to glide effortlessly through life. Nothing is quite as satisfying as the prize you win through sustained effort. Neither do I expect my life to be 90 years of unbroken misery. Buddhists believe that suffering is unavoidable, an intrinsic part of our existence, but they also believe that we must make every effort to relieve it. On the other hand, Americans, obsessed with the so-called War on Drugs, deny adequate pain relief even to dying cancer patients. Physical dependence on a drug (which can happen with many kinds of drugs, not just narcotics) is equated with addiction, even by medical professionals.

Why do doctors not work harder to relieve the suffering of their patients? Surely most of them start out with at least a few shreds of compassion. Do those shreds burn up into black smoke and disappear during grueling medical training? Is it so impossible for a doctor to act out of love for his fellow humans rather than his love of science or financial gain or his fear of the DEA? I've seen veterinarians act with greater compassion and love for their patients (who can't even express their pain in human language) than most of the doctors who have treated me. 

 The Jefferson Airplane song, "Somebody to Love," comes to mind: 

When the truth is found to be lies
And all the joy within you dies
Don't you want somebody to love? 

I feel as if pain has proven everything I once believed to be true - about my body, my health, my abilities, my healthcare providers, my religion - to be lies. And the joy within me is dying because pain is usurping my time and energy. It is eroding my ability to do even basic tasks (button a shirt, lift a saucepan, pick a pen up off the floor), never mind the ones I love (read, write, sew, cook, travel). It is destroying my ability to trust other people, especially my healthcare providers. In this place of pain, I long for somebody to love - somebody to believe me, help me, feel with me, suffer with me.

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