OT - A Humbling Lesson Learned From Pain ---

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A humbling lesson learned from pain

By Kathleen Parker - Columnist

Published in The Orlando Sentinel on January 12, 2000

I feel like the woman who awoke from a coma after 16 years.

In my case, I've awakened from a monthlong, drug-induced haze occasioned by shoulder surgery. Pain has been my dogged companion the past four weeks, and is still nipping at my elbow, though I'm off the painkillers. Excuse me while I bite the dog.

The surgery followed a year of what I now realize was mere discomfort. I had several deep-tissue tears, severe bursitis, and my shoulder joint was encased in scar tissue. Thanks to my surgeon I'm mostly fixed, but the process has been just shy of agonizing.

I realize everyone has a pain threshold, and some may be able to tolerate more than I. On the other hand, I'm no amateur. I've had other surgeries, including abdominal, and have hurtled 50 feet through the air during a car wreck that broke bones and left my left foot dangling by a sinew. They were cake compared with this surgery.

On the bright side, I've learned a few things through my suffering. Though I missed most of the holiday revelry, I enjoyed a few revelations that don't come along everyday.

My first came during recovery, when a cheerful young woman approached my gurney and said, "Now we're just going to move your arm a little bit." Incredibly, she began lifting my arm, whereupon I embarked on a tearful soliloquy that got me through the moment:

"Well," I said, "if John McCain can be strung up by two broken arms after being bayoneted and beaten by hostile captors in Vietnam, I guess I can manage this." I was humbled by the image and found courage.

My next revelation occurred my first week home. Propped by pillows, packed in ice and taking the maximum painkillers allowable, I passed the time reading books I vaguely recall. Coincidentally, the first book -- James Jones' Whistle, -- was largely about pain.

The story was told through the eyes of several World War II soldiers who returned home in physical and emotional pieces. I agonized with them as they suffered through reconstructive surgeries and was grateful for the superior pain medication available to wimps like me.

And I thought: How do people live with chronic pain? I know that mine eventually will go away. But so many, especially war veterans, suffer a lifetime. I was humbled by the thought and ashamed.

The next revelation came a week ago when -- my pain bearable -- I decided not to take any more pills. By the 13th hour, I was ready to jump off the roof. Heart racing, hyperventilating, nauseated, sweating, eyes playing tricks, I called my doctor, who told me to take a pill immediately and gave me a schedule to wean myself.

Within 30 minutes of getting a "fix," I felt better and thought: How easily -- and innocently -- people get hooked on drugs. Think of the addicts who are years into a habit and have no one to guide them through that particular hell. I was humbled and found compassion.

My final revelation came a few days ago. A professor from graduate school e-mailed me when my column disappeared from his local newspaper. In the ensuing electronic dialogue, during which I complained of my suffering, he told me his wife had died three months earlier of ovarian cancer.

Yet again, I was humbled and ashamed. By comparison, my pain was a sobering gift. Not one I wish to keep, mind you, but a gift all the same. For my month of pain reminded me that others have suffered more, oftentimes so that we might not. We should find courage in that thought, and, always, compassion.

Kathleen Parker's column also appears Sunday in the Sentinel's Insight section. She welcomes your views and suggestions. Mail: The Orlando Sentinel, MP-72, P.O. Box 2833, Orlando, Fla. 32802-2833. E-mail: kparker@orlandosentinel.com

-- snooze button (alarmclock_2000@yahoo.com), January 17, 2000



A very nice reminder that pain often leads to growth. There's probably a lot of people who are very happy that not much growth happened immediately after the roll over.

-- Michael (m@m.m), January 17, 2000.

nice post. i had lousy lousy pregnancies (so bad that when my last surprise came along i honestly just didn't know how i could deal again with the first five months and being sick, sick, sick for 24 hours a day.) that's when i came to my realization on how thankful i am to be healthy and pain free every day.

sort of related. i was a healthcare analyst with DoD for a while. one of my clients came down with this awful sleep disorder. he was a nurse. over a period of months, i watched him go from an outgoing healthy cheerful person to someone who was horribly depressed, lethargic, ill, confused, and pretty close to being suicidal. amazing. god bless anyone who has to suffer as part of their daily life.

-- tt (cuddluppy@aol.com), January 17, 2000.

I don't know who said the quote,but it goes something like this--"anything we encounter that doesn't kill us makes us stronger" Truer words can't be spoken.

-- just a thought (tigerpm@netscape.com), January 17, 2000.

Not much acquainted with severe pain, but -- read Stephen King's "Misery." There's an excellent description of what the hero goes thru while recovering from serious injuries, especially when the nurse decides to withhold his pain medication.

Forget the movie. Read the book.

-- hey nurse (where@my.pill), January 17, 2000.

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