Pain wouldn’t be so bad, if it didn’t hurt so much. My Godfather said these words of comical wisdom (he had many) at the end of a particularly grueling physical therapy session after my initial diagnosis of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).
He made me laugh when the best I could do was a grimace. Once I started laughing I could not stop until my body doubled over my walker and I had tears in my eyes. I am sure people around me thought I was losing it! But I think that the irony of laughing amidst all that pain just set something off in my head.
I am very competitive and since I was lousy at sports (yup, I was the one always picked last for gym class—but I’m not bitter…maybe a little), I focused on academics. That competitive part of me kept climbing higher on the corporate ladder and just when I was about to reach the top, RSD cut the rungs out beneath me.
I am a type-A person, and a planner(shocking, I know). Despite those qualities, I still had no idea that the blood clot and RSD were headed my way. RSD reminded me that I, alone can not control what happens in my life. But being the control freak that I am, RSD wreaked havoc in my head. I feared RSD because I had nothing in my arsenal to fight it.
But I did have people in my life that could help me, (in addition to my husband and daughter, of course). My Godfather was one of those people. He had his first heart attack resulting in a quadruple bypass at 40 years old. He had two more heart attacks, a bypass, and a defibrillator implanted before he turned 60. However, he would find a way to make a joke and to make others smile, even while lying in a hospital bed with oxygen and a myriad of tubes sticking out of his body. It made him happy to make us laugh. He knew pain and he hated seeing others in pain.
Whenever I asked how he felt, his standard reply was, “Well, I woke up this morning and I am still cute-so pretty good.” (Makes a pretty good first item to check off on a to-do list don’t ya think?)
I planned to continue smiling even on bad pain days. I learned some jokes. And, much to my family’s chagrin, I am a terrible joke teller. I end up either forgetting the middle or saying the punchline wrong (and I found that even my 4-year-old could only put up with so many knock-knock jokes at one time).
I discovered that a smile could mask my difficulty with accepting RSD as part of my life. I did not want to talk about it initially. I worried that people would think I lacked faith because I could not deal with this 180 degree turn in my life. I thought up alternate stories to tell people when they asked what happened, like I was skiing in the Alps and hit a tree on a black diamond slope. There were so many things wrong with that story – least of all that the closest I’ve been to Switzerland is drinking a brand of cocoa! No one I knew would believe that I went skiing-but strangers might.
When I shared this with my Godfather, he chuckled at first. But then his demeanor turned serious and he told me not to hide what I had. “Ignoring this part of you would be like saying you didn’t really exist anymore because of RSD. You can’t let RSD become you; instead it should be a part of you.” He told me that after his first heart attack, he pictured himself as a ticking time bomb. One day it dawned on him that he was not living his life. He decided to enjoy whatever time he would be blessed with.
It is 13 years after that conversation. I do try to smile through the pain because it is always there, just in varying degrees. I truly feel like smiling when I am with my friends and family, and a side bonus is that I can forget my pain for a little while. I still can’t tell a joke for beans and now just slightly over 40–remembering the punchline is even more difficult.
I love writing. It takes me to a different place and my characters can do things I cannot physically do. I become caught up in the story or caught up in how the characters are evolving. Even when I am trying to work through holes in my plot and it seems like it will never come together, I am still focusing on something other than my pain.
Please know that some days, like today, the pain flare ups still get to me. I still have my pity parties (you know-they are like a tea party but with tissues, instead of teacups and rice crispy marshmallow treats, instead of cucumber sandwiches). But my Godfather’s advice has helped to minimize the length of my partying.-
As for what I tell people when they ask about my cane-I still struggle with discussing it(everybody has to have some hang up, right?), so I try to refocus their eyes by wearing cute shoes. It usually does the trick.
The man who helped me through all this with his sage advice and comical wisdom passed away in January leaving a large hole in my heart.
And yes, Roger, pain wouldn’t be so bad if my heart didn’t hurt so much.
Please share who gave you sage advice or comical wisdom?
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