Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pain Story

When we see a wheelchair using person it's natural to respond to the obvious; here's someone who cannot walk, - and if you think a bit more about it, bless yourself for having avoided a similar fate. It can happen to anyone, out of nowhere, in an instant.

A spinal-cord injury affects each in many ways well beyond the simple fact of paralysis and in unique fashion from person to person depending on a variety of factors like age, extent of damage, level of injury in the spine,  etc. Mine was a crushed T-12 vertebra, just at the bottom of the rib cage.  Almost a year ago, I did a post here entitled, "I lied!', about my emotional state after injury and wrote of my early "denial" and eventual acceptance of the situation. Drawings done then illustrated my mental state.  I was a real mess, but with time, rehab exercises and good counseling I made substantial gains.  With these small tempera paintings, derived from quick, almost automatic sketches, I  want to describe that personal journey and a few of its unique problems. As Sgt. Joe Friday always said,   "... just the facts, M'am".

Paraplegia impinges on major functions like those of bladder, bowel and mobility. (Sex is another story) While those are major issues, - obvious badges of "the club" so to speak, - it is the unseen, unexpected aspects of paraplegia that mark daily life minute to minute. My subject is "pain" and the wide variety of sensations present on a daily basis.

It was absolute numbness at first, a soft "nothing" from the waist down, - a total loss of function and control. This also implies loss of sensation but that's not necessarily so.  True, you can stick pins (or Nails!) into me without a twinge, but that's not the whole story.  Some seem to be natural pain, like "gas" or back pain from sitting in just one position but others are quite strange. My first time sitting up felt as if I were balanced on a soft, under-inflated beach ball, - an unsteady "non-contact".  Sitting here now, I'm "aware" of that contact, the weight on the cushion but it's "learned" rather than felt.  There's quite a catalog.

Now, my feet are burning!   The soles often burn and tingle!  When I have a full bladder, "Someone" twists my toes and pushes wooden wedges between them. Bubbles percolate up and down through leg muscles.  Everyone knows what a "wedgie" is, - how about a virtual "sandy-pants wedgie"? The crunch of new dry snow under foot is pleasant but vibrating through my ankles sans snow is not happy.  If I scratch a certain spot on my chest I feel it on my left shin just below the knee.  It's all just a bit disconcerting!

One very real curse is a hyper-sensitive four inch band around my waist. When first home from the hospital in an awfully hot August,  I could hardly move and needed help in many ways.  I remember my wife trying to wash me and asking for an electric fan to counter the terrible heat. It was impossible! The breeze passing over that part of my body produced excruciating pain.  I couldn't stand it!  You can rub a hand over that area or press down on the skin with no problem but dragging a light feather over it produces wild pain!  Mmm, Fun!

Within weeks of first injury a tiny pin-point of bare pain appeared deep in my lower abdomen.  Over time it has grown to dominate my days. Drugs have no affect. Even narcotics injected directly into the spinal column didn't touch this deep pain. It's not "horrible" pain (Been There!) but a constant burning pressure, hardly varying from day to day or hour to hour.  Only twice in twenty years has that fiery knot disappeared.  It was as if a plug had been pulled and the pain just drained away!  It was wonderful for a space of perhaps twenty seconds,  then slowly "re-filled" to its former intensity.

This part of the story is not all negative. A wonderful therapist helped me learn to handle that particular pain with a simple visualization technique.  With intense concentration on the pain and assigning specific characteristics of color, shape and texture, you can "see" it as an actual object. (In my case, a "Fuzzy Orange Ball")  The pain, then, is not pain but seems "something else"!    I love it!

Andre Breton said, "The man who cannot visualize a horse galloping on a tomato is an idiot."

Hey, maybe it's a good thing I'm an artist!

"We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey"  Kenji Miyazawa 


  1. Thanks for this entry. It is eye opening. And I love the drawings . Marie

  2. Maureen (the other genealogist)March 24, 2012 at 9:22 PM

    Thank you for sharing. Love reading your blog posts. You are an inspiration to me.