5. Chronic Pain

Natural pain

The doctors said that healing from a revision knee replacement surgery would take at least 6 months to a year.  I nodded in agreement before I had the surgery.  Now, I hang my head in frustration, almost despair.

These feelings are not because of the days, weeks, and now months spent hoping to awake to feel nothing.

They are not in the quiet glances or overt stares at me by people on sidewalks, restaurants or public transit here in Bangkok.

It is not in my audacity to demand a seat on the metro or in my carefully slow pace forced on others so that I do not trip, fall or twist on the uneven pavement or as I go down stairs.

And it is not in finding myself sensitive to the irony of  infinitives that now require careful renegotiation:  To Walk, To Move, To Meet, To Hike, To Run, To Shop, To Sightsee, To Sleep.

It is in the pain. Chronic pain.  Four full months after surgery, the physical and acute squeezing of a negative life force through the tendons, up the muscles and between the fascia is the ‘it’ that brings me and my daily life to a halt. Gripping the cane or the crutch ferociously, I strive to find a chair, a bench, or, caught  on the road, the fastest way to get home so I can put the bloody leg up to rest, hoping a phone doesn’t ring or the bathroom does not need me so that I can have some uninterrupted time to rest.

More to the point, I rush home so I can stop.  Stop moving, stop straining, stop feeling the pain.

After months of this kind of pain, I review my life and dismally realize that I feel like I have stopped contributing, stopped being in the stream of lives around me. Stopped exploring, stopped chatting.  Stopped seeking the company of others – stopped being meaningful.

Not too long ago I used to find shelter in my aloneness.  It did not feel lonely, it felt essential to my healing. Now, this pattern of aloneness does not seem to abate:  I feel the confines of my apartment as much as I feel the doubts of success this surgery promised to provide.  For many more than six months since the metal joint first slipped,  I have been wrestling with pain, with mobility – negotiating with it every moment of the days, and sometimes the nights.  It always wins.  My life is in the hands of the worst part of my physical self.  Bodily pain: mobility captured, caged, controlled, limited.  My reaction, left unguarded, allowed to be undisciplined, becomes the worst my mind can generate: depression, despair, loneliness, irrelevance, nothingness as I sit within my walls.

Of those who ask about our lives since we moved to Bangkok,  I try to keep the answer honest but upbeat with alternative news that from time to rare time is a form of truth.  The pool is a sanctuary, a haven; the food, incredible; the sites, unbelievable.  Some might call this flick of truth diplomacy.  In truth I simply crafted  a story lived by the someone else I had hoped to be by now.  Yes, my life has overall been rich, full, lucky. But, my reality is underwritten by an unfortunate outcome of the surgery.  How long inquiring people remain in my life depends on their capacity to believe that I am more than the pain that stifles my life.  And success in my life requires moving beyond the pain and crafting a revised lifestyle that does not allow pain to be its centerpiece.  That feat, however remains a daily, sometimes mountainous task.

Some days are better than others.

Today, I am staying home for a “Knee-First” day (see Blog 3) to rest completely, having cancelled my plans to visit a Thai language school. What ‘staying home’ means is that I am to do nothing, absolutely nothing that requires walking except to complete a few exercises. The pool sits above me, on the 8th floor, waiting.  I drool over it but keep myself locked in this apartment to give this leg, once again, the time it needs to stop aching, to stop speaking in the various dialects of pain: pain when standing, pain when walking, pain when leaning too far forward or too long in a sitting position.  While my Thai language is very limited, I have become quite fluent in the language of pain.

I can assure you that this knee will heal enough to give me the pleasure of a few minutes of painless walking, and just as quickly, the illusion that I have passed into the phase of full repair, now able to thrive, plan, ‘do’. This is when I am at my best.  I make plans. I see the possibilities in front of me with the excitement of a starved person in a grocery store.  But then the tendons freeze, the muscles ache into shooting pain and rise to meet my new metal knee seemingly with a malignant laugh.

Pain like this teaches you to let go of plans, and start over. It teaches you, despite it all,  to never give up on the day that will come when the pain is marginal at least or non-existent, at best.

And so the wrestling match continues. Today, I must live in the pain and allow it to master me. Tomorrow, I will live with the pain and get on with life joining how many others in this world who struggle with the same: pain and less pain.

Author: amartinelbehri

Retired from working for large non-profits. I now write, take care of extended family, tutor English, and manage all aspects of living abroad while my husband works. I am recouperating from my 14th knee surgery and have some thoughts to share on many aspects of managing trauma, healing and starting over.

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