A Vulnerable Moment

by jimowensjr

It’s been an interesting week or two for me. And I’m debating just how much of it to share. But I’ve always said writing is how I make sense of the world, so in the hopes of encouraging you, I’ll be a little more vulnerable than I might be otherwise. 

While some people seem comfortable with sharing every bit of pain they experience, I’m generally not one of them. But pain, if we let it, can be a wise teacher. If we look carefully for the source of our pain, be it physical or emotional, we can learn a lot about ourselves and maybe even others too. This past Sunday,  

my latest lesson with pain began at the end of a lawn mower starter cord. 

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at starting this shiny red contraption by turning the ignition key, I resorted to the old-fashioned way of cranking the ornery beast. On the third pull of the rope it roared to life. And simultaneously, I felt the unmistakable pain of a disc exploding in my lower back. It was unmistakable because I’ve ruptured two discs in the past and had two very successful surgical repairs as a result of my misadventures. Now, I’ve had three surgeries. And as I write these words I’m hopeful the skill of my surgeon will result in a claim of a third successful surgery. 

After starting the mower, I somehow pressed through the pain and got the yard cut. Albeit, it wasn’t my best work. When I was finished, patches of grass I’d missed dotted the landscape like tiny oases of Mother Nature’s refusal to be tamed. I’m sure my neighbors thought the work had been completed by some near-sighted nine-year-old who just wished he was playing a video game. 

Over the following Monday and Tuesday a series of MRIs, X-Rays and CT scans confirmed my own diagnosis and my doctor promised to see me again Thursday. Only when he had reviewed all of my deductible-based evidence he had amassed would he then offer his thoughts about surgery. In the meantime, he put me on a mixture of medications intended to make me “comfortable.” But no amount of narcotics was sufficient to make me comfortable prior to that Thursday appointment. And Wednesday morning I awoke in such perfectly exquisite pain that I couldn’t get out of the bed.  

Since I live alone and am reticent to let people see me in pain, I pondered the most dignified way I could get to the ER. After an hour or so of debating with myself, I called the fine people at Huntsville Emergency Medical Services Incorporated. The kind dispatcher wondered if she should stay on the line with me while help was on its way, but I told her I was going to need to crawl to the front door to unlock it. Which I did with the stealth of Gollum muttering “my precious.” It wasn’t a pretty sight I’m sure. And you’d be surprised at all the things you see when you crawl through your home. But that’s another tale for another day. 

When Joe and Charlie arrived, the EMTs, they helped me navigate from the bed to the gurney. This was not pleasant. And I’ll confess there was no dignity in it. In truth, I was six feet seven and 250 pounds of helplessness, alternately cursing (not at them) and crying out in discomfort. As a writer, I’m rather proud of how well I  managed to string together bits of profanity in a creative symphony of pleading. Nouns became verbs; verbs became adjectives; and adjectives became pronouns in my litany of prayer for both the saved and the damned. 

In a moment of unexpected but profound comfort, Joe smiled and noted I was hanging off both ends of the gurney, suggesting that I  might not fit in the freight elevator. We laughed at that in a kind of macabre amusement. But after a bit of work, and my awkwardly pulling my feet into the gurney, the door finally closed and we were on our way. Mercifully, the only other witness to my awkward exit from the building that morning were the kind eyes of Kathy, the property manager at my apartment. Passing by her, I tried to remember if I’d paid my rent. (I had.) 

So what of my pain? To see me was to know something was wrong, but there was no blood. There were no broken or wrapped bones. There was no visible evidence that I was injured beyond the contortions of my face. All I had was the claim of my own distress.  

On the ride to the ER I worried I would face a skeptical medical staff weary of those poor souls whose addiction drives them again and again to the ER in hopes of a prescription for narcotics. God knows I was hoping for more than that. I wanted the good stuff. The really good stuff that makes the world seem like an effortless place to be. Hopes of Dilauded and Valium danced in my brain like joyful children playing in a spring shower. 

But what if they didn’t believe me? What if they left me to writhe in pain for hours while some secret society decided if I was worthy of their magical potions. Thankfully, I knew I had insurance, so I reassured myself that maybe I’d be okay. I tried to look at the nurse I met as if didn’t care if I got the meds or not, hoping my feigned indifference would convince them I wasn’t a pill shopper. 

Fortunately, I got the medicine I needed. But as the discomfort subsided, I realized how afraid I had been to let anyone see my pain. I hadn’t wanted a friend to drive me to the ER. I didn’t want to be a bother. I hadn’t wanted to seem helpless. I didn’t want people who respect–or at least like me–to see me near tears or hear me cursing like a demon being exorcised from a beleaguered soul. While I would gladly have come to the aid of any one of my friends or family who needed such assistance, I just didn’t want to be seen as vulnerable.  

But now, since my surgery, I’ve had to rely on people who love me to bring me food, take me to the doctor and even clean up my apartment. When you have back pain whatever you drop in the floor stays on the floor for a while. But strangely, all their kindness hasn’t been awkward. It’s been redemptive. By allowing others to help me, I’ve learned some things about myself and about them too. It has continued to reinforce the knowledge of just how rich my really life is—even with spine I’d trade for a couple of chickens, a goat and a nice cheeseball. 

The phone calls and texts and messages I’ve received during the monotony of my recovery have been overwhelming. And the friends who have come with a cup of coffee and sat with me, if only for just a few minutes, have made a profound difference in my recovery.  

Pain, no matter what kind it might be, is a nefarious thing. It shrouds our mind with lies and unearths our deepest fears. It makes us wonder if we will ever return to the fragile thing we call “good health.” But I’m learning it is also a teacher. I’m learning not to run from it. I’m learning not to try to hide it behind a facade of perfection. No, I don’t wander through life asking people to indulge me while I tell them about all my trials and pain. But I’ve widened my circle just a bit more. I’ve let a few more people see what’s really going on inside me. It’s made a big difference in my life. I know it’s scary. Maybe you should try it too.

And if your looking for someone to talk to, message me. We can get a cup of coffee when I’m back on my feet. Until then, we can chat by phone or swap a few texts.