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Monday, February 3, 2014

Good Pain

I got a massage yesterday, at my local looks-like-a-brothel massage parlor. There were elbows involved, and climbing on the table to get leverage. It hurt like a motherfucker. But you know, in a good way.

It's so weird. As I was lying there, taking a beating from the small, middle aged therapist, I was thinking, "if I felt a pain like this just randomly, or if someone hit me with something I would probably yell out and run away. But because she's doing it, I don't know, it feels good." It feels virtuous maybe? Or is it my knowledge that it has to be done, or my trust in her expertise, that makes me accept it? Or is it that, like all of us I think, I'm just a little bit of a masochist?

But it's not all nice, obviously. Most pain isn't the hurts-so-good variety. To make up for that, people say things like what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and other platitudes meant to make suffering meaningful. Sometimes pain does mean something. Sometimes it instructs. When you burn your hand on a hot stove, you learn not to touch the hot stove, and etc., but that doesn't magically extend to everything.

I think I have learned that most pain is meaningless. And the times in my life when I have been in the worst pain, like after radiation, or while waking up from my most recent surgery, all I am left with, all I can express, is why? As I lay in O.R. recovery in August, hot pain dotted my chest. Tears rolled slowly down my cheeks. I sobbed silently, saying only to Matt why does this hurt so much why why... And scaring him so bad, and him calling the doctor, and an angelic nurse pushing more and more  fentanyl until we switched to dilaudid, and it all just dissolved away, quicker than he could inject the full dose. And after it was over, I thought that maybe I was just being dramatic.

That's an odd thing about pain. How we don't remember it. I remember the intellectual experience of it; remember my tears and my fear, but the visceral thing is not something I can call up, the way I can with a tickle or hunger.

I think there's something about control. The hurt-in-a-good-way thing is predicated on my being able to stop it whenever I want. A few times, as the massage therapist dug into my knotty shoulder with her elbow, I almost told her to stop. But I didn't.


  1. Thank you for this! I've been so into myself and my own experience with pain that it never occurred to me to think about pain as an entity unto itself. I'm gonna pack this post away & think on it later.

    You rock; thank you for being brave enough to internet your experiences.

    1. Pain is such a I write this, I wonder exactly what kind of beast. Furry? Scaly? Might be a good exercise to give it flesh! (Is my new-age showing?) xo

  2. Ditto bigscarygiraffe. You rock.

  3. RTONJ, I must commend you for becoming a spokesperson for young people who contracted breast cancer. You are doing a wonderful job in demystifying this dreaded disease. Approximately 10 years ago, I was severely ill and in excruciating pain. I was misdiagnosed with everything from pancreatic cancer to renal failure. It turned out I had Graves' disease (a hyperactive thyroid), Lyme disease, kidney stones and pyelonephritis (acute kidney infection). The pain was excruciating, and I kept telling myself that adversity makes us stronger. You are so right that we never remember what the pain felt like, but somewhere in the depth of our soul (or perhaps subconsciously) we do recall that we were teetering between life and death and we kept asking our significant others "Why me"? In addition, an ignorant physician put me on a medication which was highly habit-forming and I had to "detox" off it .... a benzodiazepine no less called Ativan. If you were to look up the side effects of Ativan withdrawal, you might feel virtual pain just reading about them. As a result of my ordeal, I became an advocate for people who unwittingly were put on Ativan for insomnia caused by pain. Any doctor who is worth having a medical license should utilize Valium instead because it is possible to taper off this benzodiazepine without excruciating side effects. I hope you will enjoy your next massage, and I admire your courage in coming forward. I also love your style of writing. And, BTW, I went to an acupuncturist who thought all "drugs" were the same, and she gave me treatment for HEROIN addicts and I had a seizure right in her office. I still am being treated for my thyroid but I'm doing much better thanks to competent doctors. I'm now a senior citizen, so I'm living proof there IS life after pain and suffering... You are amazing!

    1. Oh my, you've been through such an ordeal! I hope that everything is sorted out now and you're feeling good. Thanks so much for reading!