Pain is a healthy thing, it is said. It's the best method possible to inform you that something is wrong with your body. Such an unpleasant sensation is helpful because it's hard to ignore. Imagine your body informing you of a problem by, say, making everything smell like cabbage, or making your voice sound like Nathan Lane. You could ignore it for a time. Or, more soberly, imagine not having the ability to sense pain at all. You could literally fall apart and not be aware of it until it was too late to get help.
As much as we hate it, pain is a good thing. However, sometimes our body sends us pain messages, and there's not a damned thing we can do to fix or even diagnose the problem. Ever dealt with a constant "low on fuel" light in your car, but several miles from the nearest gas station, or faced with more immediate problems? Those feelings of frustration and helplessness in being unable to fix a simple problem are multiplied a thousandfold when coping with unending pain.
My pain problem actually began nearly three years ago, when I couldn't shake a constant abdominal pain. After explaining my symptoms to a doctor, she had a cab drive me to the emergency room with what seemed to be a mild case of pancreatitis. Pancreatitis in itself can be pretty scary; some folks have to be hospitalized for weeks, living on liquids and strong painkillers because the inflammation is so painful. I was tested and scanned and given morphine and the doctors ultimately diagnosed gastritis, which can also be pretty painful but sounds like something easily fixed by adding Beano to everything you eat. I was out the door by the end of the day, laden with pain pills.
Everything was hunky-dory for the next couple of years. I went about my daily life; I suffered only the mildest of intermittent abdominal aches, nothing that couldn't be solved with a couple of Advils. By October of last year, however, the pains returned and became constant. No painkillers seemed to shake it. Back to the ER I went. This time I was hospitalized for four days, and for most of that time I was not allowed to eat or drink anything, not even water. Again, the doctors initially presumed pancreatitis, and this time they were able to confirm it.
There was a problem, however. Most folks with pancreatitis are either alcoholics or suffer from gallstones. I fit in neither category. In the meantime, my abdominal pain, unlike years before, never really went away. More gastrointestinal specialists were welcomed into my pancreas and, after a second MRI and an endoscopy, they were able to nail the problem: a congenital defect of the main pancreatic duct.
While you sit there scratching your collective heads, let me remind you what a pancreas does: a lot of different stuff. One of its most critical functions, however, is delivering enzymes to your digestive system that convert carbohydrates (say, pasta or beer) into something your body can use as energy. The pancreatic duct is the delivery system and mine is screwed up. I was apparently able to get away with this (most with this defect suffer no problems whatsoever) for a few decades, but as my body had been pain-free for a while, it apparently got bored and decided to surprise me with a gut punch. Literally.
Next Tuesday I see my GI specialist. I already know what he will recommend: surgery. There's no other way of fixing the problem. (Trust me: I checked the Interwebs.) And as I've never needed surgery in my life (I still have my tonsils, wisdom teeth, and appendix), I'm 100 percent freaked out about it. In the meantime, I still have this pain, and it never really goes away.
The worst thing about it is I can't even complain about it very much. On the pain scale, it's about a one, sometimes a two or three. It's far more aggravating than crippling. That's not the same pain my mother can describe; her back pain has reached a level where her sister is occasionally woken up at night by my mother's screams. Had this pain occurred a couple years ago, off she'd go to a specialist, but she was laid off from her job (ironically enough, at a medical clinic) over a year ago and, like most unemployed folks in their fifties, can't get her resume looked at by anybody. So she's driving through her days, the low-on-fuel light constantly blinking, and she can't ignore it, the light so glaring it even wakes up her sister with its blinding luminescence. She's seeing a doctor about it anyway, and hopefully her pain can be fixed as mine will hopefully be.
It's useful, pain is. Given my druthers, I'd like the Nathan Lane option every once in a while. And I'm sure my mother wouldn't mind it either.