Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Suffering-Part 1-The Way Down

There are some things about life in present day America that really bother me more and more as I grow older. Of course I am now well into middle age, so everything pisses me off. But to so many of my countrymen all that matters is more matter. Materialism has squeezed out so much from American life. Americans worry more about the amassing of more and more possessions and less and less about relationships. Even people in relationships don’t want to face the fact that sometimes being in a relationship means coming face to face with really unpleasant things. Lots of people would rather buy new sneakers or see if Macy’s having a sale than be on the same block as someone who is suffering. If you look hard at some of the evil things that proliferate in modern America, divorce, abortion, euthanasia to name a few, it is obvious that they arise from a deep aspiration to shun suffering.

Suffering comes in a few forms. There is physical suffering, we all know pain, but there is also emotional and spiritual suffering. It can happen in the most serious cases that physical pain, when it becomes chronic will have emotional and spiritual suffering heaped on top of it. This trebling of suffering can turn life into something that is truly ghastly.

A person with chronic pain, especially when the source of the pain has not been determined, is in a very vulnerable situation. Each and everyday the person wakes up and thinks, ‘today may be the day’. The day some improvement is noticed. But the thought is quickly quashed with the first shock of pain following a movement to rise up out of bed. Day after day this never changes. It does not take very long for hope to begin slipping away. When this happens a vulnerable situation will turn into a dangerous one.

I have had a broken nose, damaged ribs, fractured heel, kidney stones 3 times, sliced flesh off my thumb, sprained ankles, hyper-extended knees, 4 concussions and splinters the size of cigars. I am not saying this because I’m looking for any Purple Hearts. No, it is because I’ve had these injuries that I know what the healing stages of severe pain feel like. When you know you are on the way back, on the way out of suffering, the physical pain though still intense is much easier to overcome. The spirit is the first thing to be revived because of having hope restored.

Beginning in the fall of 2004, I learned about triple suffering. One morning in early November, getting out of bed I felt a excruciating tearing sensation run from my right buttock into my groin as I tried to stand straight. It would be four costly years before the source of my pain and cause of the problem was discovered. An emergency room exam revealed nothing broken, the doctor suggested a damaged groin muscle and sent me away with a few muscle relaxers and pain killers. His prognosis was for a recover time of up to three months. But after the three months I knew that whatever this was, it felt as bad then as it did on the first morning. This was the point that emotional suffering began to grow as I became frightened that an examination had discovered nothing yet I was still in pain, so what was still wrong with me?

Support groups, family and friends specifically, are a great help in warding off this fear and emotional stress. In the beginning I had this kind of support. But the desire to avoid suffering, whether as sufferer or just witness, that is manifested in Materialism will erode, and did erode nearly all the support I had outside of my own skin. As the weeks, then months went by each new visit to a specialist buoyed my hope. Instead of finally getting a diagnosis from which treatment and recovery could move forward, it was “the test were negative” after every visit. Orthopaedists ordered MRI’s, X-ray, CAT scans, bone scans and prescribed physical therapy. Neurologists went through their smorgasboard of tests and ghoulishly painful nerve block injections. Every one with no result. And it was this repetition of never finding a problem, and never seeing improvement that eroded the support of the people around me.

Within five months of the original injury, I could no longer hold a job. After 10 months I was flat on my back. My now ex-wife had to return to work, and by the end of the first year we were no longer sleeping in the same room, and she grew angrier with each passing day. Each day, I’d prepare dinner and eat with her and our daughters. After dinner I’d need to lie flat again, and would retire to the guest room. At first she’d come in, ask if there was any change. The negative response would draw a frown from her and she’d leave. Then the visit only consisted of her entering the room, and throwing any mail I had right at me onto the bed. The visits eventually stopped altogether. The encroaching sense of abandonment became an emotional pain I’d never felt before. It made the physical pain more intense, because it built upon the pressure I was already feeling to discover what was wrong. It was the slippery slope come to life.

My desperation expanded as her resentment and anger festered and her withdrawal from the situation became solidified. The only thing I could do for myself, and my marriage was to persevere in seeking help. Chiropractors, massage therapists, more physical therapy, along with visits to other orthopaedists and pain management doctors were absolutely futile. And my effort made no difference to my ex-wife. There was no support to be had. She had come to believe that I was a malingerer. That my pain was psychosomatic, and I was never going to get better (and return to work) because I was not really injured. To all of my in-laws (except her brother) I became sort of a non-person. I was a burden to them because I was a burden to her. My family and friends lived 700 miles away in New York. During the first three years or so it was good to call them. Any emotional support and buttressing I got, I got from them. But I couldn’t see them. Couldn’t touch them. They were my only relief, and even that was going to change.

The silence of God is the most stressful situation any person of faith can be in. I have always tried to have a good prayer life. Prayer had become for me a habit that I seldom even noticed I was doing. I believed my faith to be un-shakable. I was well acquainted with having to have my patience grown by God by waiting for his answers to my prayers. When agonizing pain is present daily, it quickly becomes foremost in your life. And it is a reminder everyday that all your efforts to get it to stop are not working. This includes prayer to God. In my heart I knew there was some purpose to this torture. I wanted- needed - to discover this purpose. But nothing was going to hasten God's intervention.

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