I posted this today on the Huffington Post, but I understand it’s hard for some of you to comment there, so I’m reposting in it’s entirety here. If HuffPost is your thing, please wander over there and give it a like. Thanks.
Sometimes I wonder if the pain is all in my head. If it really hurts or I just think it does. This is especially true whenever I find myself at a doctor talking about my “situation.”
You know the question, “on a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being no pain at all and 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever experienced in your life, what is your pain level?”
It’s a well-meaning question. I think probably useful for most people. It’s even useful for me for anything not related to my “situation.” But when it is related, as it has been recently, I am at a total loss for words. Why?
Because my scale is skewed. The worst pain I ever had was when I was crushed between a car hell-bent on making a left turn (in spite of me) and my motorcycle. I endured indescribable pain at that moment. I endured indescribable pain as I flew 75 feet through the air. The pain was indescribable as the fireman flipped me over, though I had turned myself over shortly after landing on my stomach. You see, both of my legs were so badly broken that it turns out I had only turned my torso over, not my legs. I still remember screaming in pain as they loaded me onto the gurney. Hearing the firefighters and paramedics debate whether they should wait for the life flight helicopter or drive me to the university hospital – which was only minutes away. They were afraid the speed bumps would be torture for me and cause more blood loss. I’d already lost 2/3 of my blood at the scene.
They were right. It was torture. I wish I’d passed out. It’s only fair that I should have. If life was fair, I would have. Actually, if life was fair, I wouldn’t have gotten hit to begin with. But it’s not fair. So I didn’t pass out and I did get hit. I asked for pain medication. They wouldn’t give me any – because I needed to make decisions. What?
I spit out my parents phone number repeatedly – desperate for them. Once they arrived, I finally got the elusive pain medication I was so very much in need of – not that it took away the pain. I remember my mom’s face as she told me it would be alright. I wanted so very much to believe her.
It was alright. I kept my legs. I died 3 times, but I’m here and I kept my legs. I could not be more grateful.
But, 11 leg surgeries later (12?), I have lots of pain. A lot. I’ve got arthritis and joint pain from the old injuries. Hell, over 15 years ago I was told I needed a knee replacement. How long will it last, I asked (still a young woman). I think the doctor said 15-20 years, but whatever the exact number, it meant I’d need another one in my late 40s. No thanks, I thought. I’d lived with pain that long, and I could live with it longer. It’s the same reason I have huge scars on my legs.
“We can fix those for you,” the plastic surgeon who came to consult with me said.
“Fix them?” I asked.
“Well, minimize them.”
“And how do you do that?”
“By taking skin from your backside,” he answered.
“But won’t that leave a scar on my ass?” He nodded. “Why would I want another scar on my ass just to ‘minimize’ these scars?”
Suffice it to say, I was unconvinced. I still have horrible scars on my legs. My ass however, is perfect (so to speak).
You can’t see them most of the time. Just like my pain.
I hide it really well. Indeed, this post is a challenge for me. I like for people to think me fit. Able. Capable. I spend a lot of time working to find myself Able. Capable. But there are the inescapable realities that I am a little less able than most. A little less capable.
So, when it comes time to answer the question about my legs – my hip, either knee, or my foot – I am at a loss. Today, I am not at a 10. I am not feeling the worst pain I ever felt. But I am indeed in pain, and the level of pain I am experiencing very likely justifies the doctor paying attention. It probably justifies whatever procedure or medication she is considering.
It’s my problem, of course. I need to advocate for my needs. They can’t read my mind. But it’s just so hard. How do I quantify this pain today? How do I put a number on a level of pain that I deal with daily? That I’ve actively tried to get my brain to ignore? To minimize?
Honestly, I have no idea. I’m just sitting here with pain at a higher level than usual in my foot and I started to wonder, is it all in my head? If I just decide I am not in pain, will the hurt go away? Can I fix my occasional limp?
Wishful thinking to be sure. But writing is better than feeling sorry for myself. I think.
I’m not feeling very butch right now, so I can’t come up with a clever butchism to close. It’s butch to admit you are in pain? It doesn’t feel very butch, but so be it. Be Butch.