Eighteen hours had passed since my total shoulder replacement. It was 2:00 AM and I was looking out over Sacramento neighborhoods toward the Sierra Nevada foothills from my 14th floor window at the UC Davis Medical Center. It was quiet and quite dark. The crescent moon had not yet risen. I was watching for shooting stars.
I was also thinking about pain.
At eighteen hours post-op, I was still fairly uncomfortable. The local given to me during surgery had long worn off and the nerve block inserted to help alleviate pain afterward wasn’t particularly effective. Pain medication, including Tylenol, cause me to go into cardiac arrest, so I’m pretty much left up to my own resources. Although I’ve honed my pain practice, I still cannot sleep when I’m this uncomfortable.
What do you do when you cannot sleep? I think.
I began thinking about pain. What is pain? How do we define pain? What kinds of pain are there? What is the purpose of pain? And I started exploring the purpose of pain and all the reasons we usually think of for pain.
And then I saw a shooting star! It was way off in the distance, but I watched it as it arced from the heavens to earth. It was a little gift, just for me as I lay awake in the middle of the night in a hospital room. It was wondrous.
Then it hit me. There is a wonder aspect to pain too. The pain I was experiencing at that moment was the result of the wonders of medical technology. The wonder that new metal parts would relieve me of the pain of bone grinding on bone. The wonder that this pain during recovery would gradually fade away. That the permanent pain I’ve been experiencing for the past several years will be virtually gone. That this pain I have post-op and that I will have during the recovery process is temporary. This temporary pain is the path away from permanent pain.
There is a lot we can learn from pain, especially about ourselves. It’s just nice to have a more positive context, for a change, in which to contemplate a subject which most people go to great lengths to avoid. I, for one, would rather step into the world of wonder.
Photo credit: Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have assembled a comprehensive picture of the evolving universe – among the most colorful deep space images ever captured by the 24-year-old telescope.