Saturday, December 1, 2012

Suffering and Service

"To go into the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings..." -- Wendell Berry

"You can argue with the way things are. You'll lose, but only 100% of the time." -- Byron Katie

The last three weeks have been immensely challenging for me. I am in the middle of a pain flare, and not my usual pain: this is a new back pain felt deep in my butt that makes it very hard to walk, shift position, or even turn over. The suspected cause is ligament laxity, which has been a constant issue for me. This laxity and the numerous aches and pains it causes is the reason I'm getting prolotherapy, a procedure in which a physician injects dextrose to tighten the ligaments. The principle behind this therapy is that you irritate the tissue initially, and then it responds by tightening up. This is the only non-surgical way to tighten a ligament (I've had surgery to do this in my ankle). My last prolo session was actually done with Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP), in which my wizard doctor added my blood to the prolo mix to increase the inflammation factor and healing potential. Let's just say, it definitely increased the inflammation factor. There's no way to know, but there is a chance that I've had a temporary setback from the procedure. I'm at week 4 after the PRP and you typically don't see any positive effects until week 6. Often, there is a loosening before the tightening, and there is a good chance that this is what is causing my current pain.

The expectation is that this will pass, but in the mean time it is truly miserable and infuriating. I have had countless chiropractic and orthopedic adjustments, trigger point injections, and just yesterday, sacroiliac joint cortisone injections to try to lessen the pain. Drugs of any time are a joke; you may as well be giving me a placebo. So, in the meantime, I have to tough it out and give myself high doses of compassion.

You would think that with all of my issues, I would be no stranger to pain. But as a friend of mine with multiple health issues said to me earlier this week, "Whenever it's a new part of my body, I really freak out." I related to that. I know how to manage my fibromyalgia and Lyme pain, but the back pain is really frustrating. Worse than the discomfort is the impact it has on my life: walking even short distances is painful, as is bending down, like I do 100 times a day to pick up the dog, do laundry, or pick up my shoes.

The interesting lesson of this pain flare is how much service helps my spirit when nothing can soothe my body. I have been throwing myself into it as of late, volunteering many hours with a number of charities that are meaningful to me. On Thursday, I had the privilege of sitting with a very ill child who has been in the intensive care unit at the hospital for several months. I was in excruciating pain, but the truth is, I am hurting wherever I am. If I had stayed home, I definitely would have been stuck in a lot of "poor me" thinking. At the hospital, at least I was providing service for the patient and her family. Getting out of my head really helped me, probably a lot more than I was helping anyone else. One of the biggest lessons for me as a chronic pain patient is that there is a world of difference between pain and suffering. Staying at home, wallowing in my pain leads to suffering. When I am doing volunteer work, I might be in pain, but I am definitely not suffering. This insight is new to me, and is the darkness that "blooms and sings," as is so eloquently stated in the Berry poem excerpted above.

Service work gets me out of my head, and bonds me to the greater community of humanity. It also can be a good way to keep my situation in perspective. I say this not to minimize what I'm experiencing, because it really sucks. However, it is helpful to be able to hold it in the larger awareness of the suffering other people are experiencing.

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