Saturday, September 4, 2010


A couple of days ago on the 6:30pm world news, Brian Williams brought a segment on pain and how we process it in the brain. I watched and listened with great interest because if there’s anything I know, it's pain. You see, pain and I have been intimately acquainted for more years than I care to remember, say 25 or so. I feel like an authority on the subject. In fact, the word appears over 100 times in my manuscript (soon to be a book).

In the segment, it was mentioned that by distracting a person in pain, in this case by placing him or her in a virtual environment that is both calming and pleasing, pain disappears.

As I watched this, I thought "duh...been doing that for years...of course you can think pain away. How else do you get rid of it?"

Then I caught myself: not everyone lives with pain. There are plenty of people who know nothing about it, or who felt it at some point in time, but then forgot about it. That’s the beauty of pain; when it leaves, you don’t remember what it felt like. Just ask any woman who has gone through natural childbirth.

Back to the segment. Distract the person with a virtual surrounding and voila! No pain. What about those of us who don't have a million-dollar machine that covers our eyes and creates a soothing environment and pumps music into our ears for us to enjoy while pain does its thing? Sure, we can, and do resort to pills. But what about those of us who can't take pain pills? (me!)

It takes practice to battle pain and render it "impotent". I’ve had lots of it, with both acute and chronic pain. Acute pain, the sharp, sudden bolt of lightening pain isn't what we make it out to be. Pain is there, but shock is what intensifies it. Being caught off guard makes pain peek. We shout, "Ouch!" or "Damn!" An outburst, in response to a burst of pain. Just before you bump your shin or slam your finger in the car door, your body’s at the lowest point of expectancy; it’s at rest. In the nano second the blow strikes, every nerve in you body is jolted awake. The contrast between your body in a slumber and the blow is where pain lies.

In the chronic pain department, that is pain, which takes a long time to go away, there are two categories: constant and fluctuating pain.
Constant pain has the advantage of being what it is: a steady, continuous pain neither heightening in intensity, nor diminishing. I say “advantage” because it is easier to manage than its counterpart, fluctuating pain. I think of the many women who endure 12-inch stiletto heels for hours on end. They're willing and able to suffer a whole evening because they’re focused on the party, on the cute guy, on the conversation, and more importantly, on how sexy they look in those pumps.

My constant pain emanated from my spleen. I felt a dull, tightening sensation that did not let up. It ached for more than a year (during my dying phase, before transplant #2). I learned to think it away much like those women in stilettos.
Fluctuating pain means that acute and chronic occur at the same time.
For months or even years I felt some sort of pain: a knife twisting in my side, a twinge close to my heart, a stake pounding me below the chest. I was always in pain. I had my ways of handling it. My cells were conditioned to mobilize the motherfucker. They rallied around sharp pain and kicked its ass.

Meanwhile, my spleen ached non-stop. The million-dollar machine would have come in handy. Short of having that, the mind is a powerful tool. Through meditation, visualization and resolve you can create your own virtual world, your own safe haven from constant pain. How is this done? Practice. Not anything I hope you acquire.

The pain principle is the power of the mind. In order to keep pain in check, you turn your thoughts inward, engaging your senses to take you somewhere wonderful, deep in your soul. Eventually, a pattern will emerge and you’ll tame pain. If that doesn’t work, get out of bed, get dressed and go see a movie, go see your friends, go to the gym. I guarantee two hours of relief.

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