I told my physical therapist the other day that this angry flare-up makes me want to drown myself. She asked, “With vodka?” I replied, “No, in the tub.” That is still apparently serious voodoo in the medical field.
I was only half-joking, but she told me to call them if I ever feel that way again. I told her that I’m not going to do anything–I’ve had chronic pain for six years and I always pretty much feel that way.
I’ve dealt with these thoughts since I was five or six. They are only magnified now that I cannot escape this cloak of agony. Let me be clear–I am not going to harm myself. Still, the endless loop in my mind isn’t puppies and rainbows.
I push those thoughts out almost daily. I don’t dwell on them. They invade my mind. And the images are graphic. Anyone who has dealt with terrible pain has struggled to hang on just five more minutes. Then another five minutes. You wake up one day and realize that five minutes turned into a year. Then two. Now six. I told my wife last Saturday that I don’t know if I can do this another thirty years. I’m only forty and every day is a marathon, yet I still have hope.
It’s days like this that really make it hard to live. Even before I was stricken with ankylosing spondylitis, I found it exceedingly difficult persevere at times, but now it’s unbearable. What happens when the pain gets worse? Is life more unbearable? You would think that once you reach the point where you cannot possibly bear any more pain, it increases. It multiplies. It goes beyond unbearable. It shatters all notions of normalcy and grinds you to dust.
I’ve been dealing with a minor flare up for a couple of months, but the past week or two, the pain has been increasing exponentially where I’m continually thinking that I’ve hit my plateau. As I unwrap a new day, I find that I was horribly mistaken and the previous day could easily be compared the greatest landmarks of my life–my wedding, the birth of my children, or the first time I tried hot chicken.
It’s times like these where I cannot hide from…myself. I still have dreams and aspirations. Granted, these have been muted as I have come to realize that my life has been forever changed. Oftentimes, these dreams and aspirations have been reduced from the realistic (I mean who doesn’t want to be an astronaut), to the impossible–like twenty minutes of normalcy.
It’s funny that I have a disease that traps me inside a shell of myself. It’s amusing that I’m cocooned in a broken body in which there is no escape. It’s comical only because I am what I have always feared–a cripple.
Of the many things I have feared, two are notable: fear of pain and fear of being trapped from within.
I remember a small cut or insignificant burn could ruin my day. It sounds ridiculous now that there is no such thing as life without pain, but if I stubbed my toe or skinned my knee, it was time to close up shop because my day was wrecked. Life was on hiatus.
When life wasn’t interrupted by bruises and scrapes I was occasionally overcome by the dread of living in a body that didn’t work. More specifically, I was afraid of being paralyzed. I still am because I know how quickly it can happen.
One Minnesota winter night when I was nineteen, I was outside in the snow with a bunch of friends. I was teasing my buddy Shawn and the angrier he got, the more delighted I became. Apparently, I went too far because he punched me right as I turned to walk off. No warning. I just remember the jolt of electricity that shot through my body as he punched me in the back of the neck.
I instantly dropped to the ground as my body folded under itself like a marionette. My body was numb and I couldn’t move. I went from surprise, to terror, to anger in about three seconds. I was laying in the snow on my back with my limbs askew when I began cursing Shawn for paralyzing me. I thought my neck was broken.
Between my shouts for an ambulance and my colorful insults, everybody thought I was playing around. I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t call the police as this went on for ten minutes. By then, I was getting my feeling back. I was able to clumsily flail my arms like a drunken infant. I was staggering, then walking in short order, but the experience made me even more fearful of physical disability.
So here I am today passing the time on the couch waiting for bedtime. Tomorrow morning will arrive too quickly for another day of work followed by an afternoon of couch surfing. I’m not going to assume that today will be my worst day, but I’m not going to hold my breath for a better one either.
I was reading “Judges: Such A Great Salvation” when I came across an interesting sentence regarding God’s judgment. Davis stated, “We need to beware of thinking that God avenges only when he makes a racket.” (p. 125) It caught my attention because when we consider God’s judgment, we usually think of natural disasters or some other cataclysmic event. We forget that God’s wrath may be poured out slowly over time.
Such is the case in America today. We might surmise that God is exercising a judgment of abandonment with the rise of immorality. We are a culture of death where we kill the unborn and the infirm. We even sanction doctor-assisted suicide as a sort of pre-emptive strike.
We also see all manner of sexual sin from adultery and pornography, to widespread acceptance of homosexuality. The apostle Paul writes, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:24-25 ESV) This is the world we live in.
It is apparent that morality is on a downward trajectory and it seems that God is judging America, not with a loud bang (at least not yet), but slowly and methodically where we are ensnared and are not even aware of it.
Or I may be mistaken and the normalization of sin might actually be evidence of an intrepid and virtuous society. A society where somebody’s “choice” trumps the sanctity of life. A society that advocates the wholesale slaughter of unborn babies for reasons that can be as hollow as being inconvenient to being as depravedprincipled and idealistic as being favorable to the unborn baby because we subjectively decide that being born would infelicitously affect his quality of life. See, eugenics is propitious not only for society at large, but for the aborted child as well.
We have fallen so far that we believe (at least in limited cases at this time) that murder is advantageous to the murderee. Or to use an actual word, a favor had been done for the victimbeneficiary.
I must live on another planet because I thought a favor was something good like cutting a little old lady’s lawn without compensation. I suffer from chronic pain and am unable to work, and I anticipate this particular brand of goodwill will expand from terminal patients to other patients with a questionable quality of life. Forgive me if I seem ungracious, but I would like to decline this favor in advance. I wonder if benefits such as these will ever become mandatory.
Today marks five years since my metamorphosis. In my Kafkaesque world, I haven’t developed into something beautiful or desirable like a butterfly, but my devolution can be more appropriately imagined as one who transformed into a cockroach. A stroll from order to disorder. A life of good health that descended into an existence of chronic pain.
Five years ago I underwent a simple elective procedure that changed my life in ways that I had never bargained. I had a vasectomy because I’m not Dick Van Patten and three is enough. After the pain didn’t subside after a few days, I sought the advice from a new urologist. It’s as if I won the lottery as he said my condition is exceedingly rare.
I told him if I had been advised of the possibility of crippling pain I may have avoided a vasectomy altogether. This doctor who performed an epididymectomy in a failed attempt to release me from the pain, made an analogy that made my apparent informed consent conundrum make sense. He humorously told me that there is a small chance I may fall off the operating table in the middle of a procedure, but the odds are so ridiculously small that he doesn’t inform his patients of the risk. I actually thought his response was hilarious.
Notice how I said his attempt to relieve me of my pain was a failure. If we fast forward to the end of the rainbow, I had some experimental procedures and eventually had an orchiectomy. And I still have pain.
Four years ago tomorrow marks the day I was hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer. For weeks prior I periodically woke up in the middle of the night with heartburn and a rotten taste in my mouth. This was the mother of all bad tastes and no amount of mouthwash could make it go away. I didn’t realize I had an ulcer until the morning I started my day with a sinkful of putrified blood. I still went to work because my wife thought I was being a wuss. I was hospitalized that afternoon and enjoyed a nice relaxing four days watching cooking shows while my diet consisted of nothing but broth and apple juice. (I like food so much that I enjoy it even when it is off limits).
I was also recently diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. It is an autoimmune disorder that is unrelated to my original pain, but it is all too evident on days I’m only able to lurch about in my daily activities.
I completely forgot what today signified until I read Matt Walsh’s latest contribution. I don’t follow the news very closely, but I’m now aware of a woman named Brittany Murphy who has terminal cancer. She is going to commit suicide on November 1. I’ll admit that I have no idea what it would be like to have a bleak future of pain that I cannot even imagine, but I have to agree with Matt Walsh that there is nothing noble in suicide. I have lived with pain everyday for five years. Some days are so excruciating that all I can think about is putting a gun in my mouth. I get it. Pain is horrible and sometimes I don’t know how I will survive another day. Yet, my condition isn’t killing me. I’m 39 and it’s entirely possible that I may live for decades with pain every day.
Walsh made an interesting point regarding euthanasia. The assertion is that this woman is being brave by ending her life to escape the pain and indignity of cancer. If that is true, are people who choose to endure the horrors of cancer until they are removed from this life any less courageous? Or are they cowardly since their choice is the antithesis of Brittany’s brave choice? I only consider this because I live everyday with pain. Am I a coward to endure suffering? As a Christian, I know that suicide is not a viable choice, but if there is a growing consensus for euthanasia, could there be a day when the choice is not mine to make? Mind you, I’m unable to work, so I’m not a productive member of society. Should productivity be a determining factor? Will a day come when “useless” people are exterminated en masse for the benefit of society?
These are big questions that I have no answers for. I was just reminded that today is my anniversary.