to the pain

by Kate

Jesse and Naomi both got sick this past week. There was one day that my brother asked me to feel his forehead, and I worriedly made sure the water pitcher was filled, threw some cough drops at him, and checked in every hour or so until his wife came home. Naomi complained of, among the usual symptoms of a winter cold, body and head aches.

And I resented her for it.

Let me take a step back:

I have a condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which makes it so that my tendons and ligaments don’t do a very good job of supporting my bones. I can throw a shoulder or hip out of joint by doing things that most people don’t think twice about. My muscles are stronger than my bones can handle, I’m exceedingly flexible in many of my joints, but rather than stretching, my collagen tends to tear. While I’m strong enough to do a lot of things, I’ll suffer for overextending myself (literally overextending,) and I sprain easily and don’t heal as well as most humans.

I have had a bad back since I was 20-or-so. Years of sleeping on a collapsed mattress (which had been in nigh-constant use since the early 1960s) had caused my already-lax spine to fall permanently out of line, and it’s hurt consistently ever since.  I can’t hand write very much because the connective tissue in my hands is worn out from years of taking notes in high school. If I try write more than a page or so, my fingers will freeze into a claw.

Aaaaand I was in a car accident 16 months ago that fucked me up pretty good, messing up my back and right shoulder even more. I also suffer from post-concussion syndrome, which was causing daily headaches for awhile– it’s calmed down considerably, but I still have several days a month where I’m nearly incapacitated by pain in the left side of my forehead.

But life doesn’t stop because you’re in pain.

So when my sister in law gets the sniffles and begs off doing the dishes for a few days, I become almost irrationally angry. But only for a second. Because it’s not her fault, and being sick does suck, and after awhile we can adjust to all but the most profound pain. It just becomes normal.

So I’m not mad at Naomi. I just need to put a heating pad on my back and take some deep breaths and some more ibuprofen.

But pain twists us. The cost of “getting used to” daily pain is that one is irritable  distractible, and prone to self-pity. It wears away at one’s patience and good will toward other people. It makes us less compassionate when the people in or lives use their pain as an excuse. It makes us want to yell “LIFE DOES NOT STOP.”

There was a night about a year ago when I tried to take off my boots and couldn’t. I could not raise my right leg, and I couldn’t bend. Something in my hip had gone terribly wrong and I could barely move. I had to call Naomi in to help me take my boots off and help me stand up so I could finish getting ready for bed. I limped along for the rest of the evening and the next day, wondering how I’d managed to dislocate my hip while sitting on my bed. Eventually it felt better. That’s how my body works– pain will start and stop with seemingly no trigger.

Naomi helped me. She didn’t bitch about it or tell me I was being melodramatic. She pulled my boots off and helped me get to the bathroom. She made sure I was okay before she left me.

I think the reason that I have trouble with sick people whining has a lot to do with the “walk it off” attitude of my mother when I injured myself (until the physical symptoms could no longer be denied, at least; it’s not like she wouldn’t take me to the doctor if something was visibly wrong.) And after years and years of chronic pain, it does piss me off when I hear someone bitch about having a headache or a backache or whatever. JOIN THE CLUB, ASSHOLE.

I think what I really want is, every now and then, for someone to say “I’m sorry you’re in pain. That sucks. It stinks to be in pain.” And then they should rub my back. But my pain is not out of the ordinary. It’s not notable. I have, for the most part, gotten used to it.

And life does not stop.

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