Years ago, my friend Theresa and I hosted a singles party at her condo. A guest cornered the two of us on Theresa's balcony and told us this long, grotesque story of her toe surgery. If we had known her, we would have refused to hear the entire bloody mess, but since she was new to this group we listened politely to her detailed and descriptive agony.
Her story made me squeamish; I worried I would faint before she finished recounting the bit about the infections that turned her pinky toe purple. Finally her thirst saved us as she left to search for more wine.
Wine to the rescue.
After she walked away, Theresa offered her this advice in a quiet whisper that only I could hear, "Never tell that story again."
It's ironic that I am the one telling that story now, but there is a point. The tables have turned; I'm in pain now. Every day. All day. When I'm alone I make myself repeat the mantra: "I will not talk to others about my pain," but the moment there is a lull in a conversation, my pain story leaks out, as if there was an inept two-year-old child guarding my door to decorum.
"I have this thing called pleurisy that's like having pneumonia, but it's on the outside of my lung. There is no medicine to cure it, it's a virus that should have cured itself in 8 weeks."
Me? I was diagnosed with pleurisy nine and a half weeks ago, which means that I have been in pain for 67 days. (It took me 24 hours to decide once and for all that doctors might have the tools necessary to diagnose my pain and get me to stop guessing. I know, good thing it wasn't a heart attack.)
The doctor in the ER told me the pleurisy would "Hurt like f***." Her choice of words stunned me from asking more questions.
I'd never heard of this condition before but I know it's a real disorder because my word processing program includes it in the spell check. I hope there isn't a cosmic law that states I will not heal until I know how to spell pleurisy.
Imagine that you had a really bad case of indigestion. Now double that pain. Double it again. Once more. There, now you're feeling what I'm feeling every time I breathe. I'm sorry, but it's good for you to understand where I'm coming from. Please don't faint.
Sometimes I stand back and watch my newest medical from afar. Why should it hurt more at 3:00 PM than at 2:00 PM when my activity level hasn't changed? How come I can go to sleep with little pain and then be startled awake with intense pain? The research says you must get plenty of sleep and that you might find relief from lying on the side that hurts. Many nights I try this tip and quietly curse the thugs who recommended it.
Breathing shallowly is one way to ease the pain, but I'm pretty sure that denying my body of oxygen does not rate highly on a scale from one to healthy. A few weeks ago I had some people over for dinner. My cousin Althea said, "Are you feeling OK?"
We were sitting in the Livingroom, relaxing after dinner. "Yes. I feel good." I said to my cousin, my sister, and a good friend.
"You sure you're feeling--good?" my friend asked.
"I'm glad you're here." I said. "I'm tired of lying in bed."
My guests stared at me without speaking. Had I talked too much about my pain? No, I swear... I hadn't.
Althea said, slowly, "You're a strange color right now. Like---blue?"
"Oh." I said, "That's why it's good to have people over." I took a few deep breaths. "So I can tell if I need to breathe more." I've read about this in the research, that if you don't breathe deeply several times per hour, you can turn blue.
My guests watched without blinking. Were they all holding their breath? What if we all turned blue, like a blue party of Smurfs?
"That's better." my sister said and then served dessert.
In case you're wondering, turning blue is a memorable party trick.
In my research I've found lists of foods that reduce inflammation and have been eating as many of these foods as I can. Come join me for lunch: a ginger drink that tastes like turpentine, a homemade soup with white mushrooms and a large glass of homemade, organic bone broth. If you come I promise not to talk about the pain and we can have a treat: apple slices for dessert.
My doctor recommends I live on pain pills.
No, thank you. I told her that I have a history of interesting reactions to medicines that include everything from rashes to hospital visits.
She told me not to worry, that there are other medicines I haven't tried yet: maybe they'll work.
Tonight I stopped by the library to pick up some books on nutrition and Bob the librarian mentioned that I had an entire shelf of books waiting to be checked out.
I let him know that I wasn't feeling well, so I was checking out more books than usual.
A nosey stranger stood watching Bob scan the books into their system. I thought she was going to offer to help me carry my load to the car, since she heard me say I wasn't feeling well. But rather than helping, she stood there commenting on my poor choice of books.
I've always been taught to be polite to my elders, so I listened for a while before I wished her a good evening, balanced the books in my arms and turned to leave
She handed me her card as if she were doing me a favor.
I took a deep breath, partly out of annoyance and partly to get more oxygen into my body, put my books down and read her card.
Researcher. That's what her card said.
The woman told me that she had no medical background, but that she comes to the library for several hours each day to research medical cures. She said that people pay her money to help them heal.
Oh, wow. She hangs out at the library searching for unwell people she can charge money for wellness tips she collects from the internet? I held my breath, hoping I'd turn blue and scare her away; it didn't work, so I wished her well and walked out into the rain with my pile of books, high-fiving my inner two-year-old for keeping manners in check.
My illness is not for sale. And neither is my time.
Whatever this is, I'll beat it, just as I've beaten a list of oddball medicals in the past.
But for now, I don't have time to stand around and talk to strangers about pleurisy; I need to hurry well so I can get back to taking my health for granted.