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Monday, February 18, 2013

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10

Ever since my surgery in December, I haven't had proper use of my left arm. Radiation has made this even worse, so in January I started seeing a physical therapist.

At our first session she had me do some exercises, like lifting my arm, reaching forward, and other embarrassingly easy things. She watched me as I struggled through 30 arm raises, biting my lip,  and willing my shaking muscles to steady themselves. When I finished, proud that I had done all of them, she said, "Okay. That isn't how we're going to do this." She told me not to push through the pain. "The time for that will come later. Right now I want you to just do what's comfortable. The goal is for you to wake up in a couple of months with full use of your arm, and feel like you didn't do anything to get there."

It made sense, and I said okay. But then I realized that I don't know how to not push myself until it hurts. If something hurts, that means its working. Like when I was thirteen and would rub astringent on my face until the skin buzzed with pain.

Hurting means you're alive, if nothing else.

Each time I visit the doctor, I'm asked if I'm in any pain, and if so to rank it on a scale of 1 - 10. I hate this.

Pain only exists as relative to other pain. When they ask to rate your pain, what do they mean exactly? Is 10 the worst pain you've ever felt, or the worst you can imagine feeling? I wish someone would assign them something, like 1 is a paper cut, 10 is being eaten alive.

I experienced my own personal 10 last week, though probably it was officially a 7?

It was Valentine's Day. My chest was bright pink in honor of the holiday. My skin was blistered from radiation, and doing what they call "peeling," although it's not really that AT ALL. When they said my skin would peel, I secretly thought "Nice!" because, disgustingly, I've always loved peeling off my dead skin after a sunburn. But this is actually more like melting. Basically this:

Anyway, I was dealing with a moderate amount of discomfort. I took a shower, and something about the hot water must have really pissed off my nerves because holy shit, it felt like I was being gored in the armpit by a flaming rhinoceros horn.

I cried, but found that the heaving of my chest made the pain worse, so I held it in. I had heavy duty painkillers left over from my surgeries, but in my delirium I refused them, afraid of side effects. I tried any number of distractions, including forcing Matt to read aloud The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock while I shuddered under the covers. (???)

But nothing really works like a good opioid. After resisting mightily, I gave in to the call of Vicodin, and was hushed to sleep within about 15 minutes.

I guess maybe I relented because I remembered what the physical therapist said: The time for pushing through the pain will come later.

Don't I know it.


  1. "I took a shower, and something about the hot water must have really pissed off my nerves because holy shit, it felt like I was being gored in the armpit by a flaming rhinoceros horn". By far the best description ever. However, I am not looking forward to this at all (#5 was today).

    1. It probably won't be as bad! I had a worse than average reaction to rads. That said, I do feel like they downplay the possible side effects. You have to be a BC Girl Scout, and Be Prepared! Or else Scar from The Lion King ;) Have the drugs in case you need them, and be sure to take them when you do! Best best best of luck during rads...sending good cool healing energy! xo