ABout six year ago, I developed a pain in my left ankle. First I thought it was a sprain, but this was more like having a hand drill burrowing into my anklebone causing electrically-shocking nerve pain. There wasn’t a moment in the day that it wasn’t there. For three whole years, I went to orthopedists, podiatrists, neurologist, acupuncturists, physical therapy, had numerous cortisone shots into the bottom of my foot (wouch!), MRIs, EEGs, you name it. A pain management doctor recommended a life on methadone, even though it probably wouldn’t have helped very much. It’s not hyperbolical to say I was horrible desperate and not sure I could live that way. I called my pain, “my invisible twin” because no one could see it but it was always with me. I seriously considered amputation but was told that the pain would, most likely, still be there. The quality of my life was quickly diminishing. I specifically remember one really bad night writhing on the floor, where I made a pact with my highest self and higher power: “Take away this pain and I promise to never take a pain-free day for granted.” Desperate to find some solution, I spent dozens of hours online, finally coming to my own conclusion that it was something called tarsal tunnel syndrome (TTS), a rare condition whose diagnoses is almost impossible to confirm and even harder to find a doctor who believes it can be fixed. My research led me to a doctor in Baltimore who had come up with a new surgery specifically for TTS, and had trained a handful of doctors across the country. Unbelievably, one doc was in Naugatuck, CT – about an hour away. His name was Dr. DeJesus. Considering I had spent hours and hours praying for help, this did not come as a surprise. Although my last consult was with the head of neuro-surgery at Columbia Presby, who unequivocally disagreed with my having the surgery, as did the head of orthopedics at Hospital for Special Surgery, I had it done in February of 2012. It took almost a year before I could say that the operation was a success, but thank God, and DeJesus, eventually the pain stopped. Now it’s three years later, and the reason I bring it up at all, is to continue to express my gratitude to all the powers (medical and mystical) that helped me get my life back. And in as much as I am totally freaked about going through cancer treatment, I have to say, its nothing compared to chronic pain. In some ways, it prepared me for my cancer diagnoses, and has made this god-awful regimen bearable; since I know that at some point, it will be behind me. My heart goes out to anybody who suffers with back pain, or hip or knee pain, arthritis, frozen shoulders, trigeminal neuralgia, and migraines. My heart breaks for people with MS or regional pain syndromes, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia and doubly breaks for people with end stage cancer that deal with both cancer and pain. And I dare not leave out the folks that suffer from debilitating mental illness.
This being human ain’t easy. It reminds me of one of my favorite poems by Rumi, The Guest House:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice. meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes. because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Easier said then done! I hope that someday they’ll find a way to cure chronic pain. And cancer and all the diseases in between. Until them, be grateful for every day without it, and share your love and support to anyone you know who suffers. I think I can handle a little nausea, bone pain and Mr. Dark Water.