As of this morning, my back is starting to feel better. Or really, they finally found an anti-inflammatory drug that worked so while the pain is technically still there, I can get by on just taking the anti-inflammatory drug during the day. I don’t totally feel like I did yesterday when I wrote this and slept on it. But I decided to post it anyway. Tread lightly.
I am not a good nurse. I mean, yes, I will bring someone tea exactly the way the person wants it. I will watch a friend’s kids or run errands or make a meal. I am good at performing the tasks that make up taking care of another person, but I am a terrible nurse. It’s almost as if I have an empathy bank, with life-threatening illnesses accounting for the vast majority of my caring withdrawals. When illnesses such as colds or headaches apply for a caring loan on top of their meal, my empathy bank usually stamps rejected across their application. Come back to me if you can’t keep down food for three days, or if the pain becomes chronic.
It’s not as if I am any more empathetic towards myself. Even on Day 8 of intense back pain, I was whispering to myself that my own caring loan application had been rejected and I may want to seek sympathy someplace other than my own mind. I really hated my inability to get better, to suck it up, to ignore the shooting pain that was traveling from the upper right quadrant of my back, up my neck, down my arm, numbing my fingers.
Either the painkillers made me depressed or being in continuous pain for 8 days made me depressed. But by Day 8, I was thoroughly depressed; not wanting to talk or see anyone. I just wanted to sit by myself, with my pain, focusing all my energy on hating both it and myself. I hated being out of my routine. I hated not being able to play Candy Crush because even sweeping my numb finger across a screen made me gasp. I hated sleeping so much and missing out on my life. I hated everyone who could move easily. Hated myself for hating everyone who could move easily. And hated myself even more when I thought about all the times I didn’t give enough of an empathy loan for someone in continuous pain. Sure, I made them a meal. I watched their kids. But I didn’t feel enough sympathy for what that person must have been going through, emotionally.
I’ve been lucky because it’s been nine years since I’ve been sidelined by pain. It’s not to say that I haven’t felt pain in the last nine years, but my little Puritan heart has been good at berating myself to suck it up and keep going. This is the first time in nine years where my pain has been more powerful than my rational, no-nonsense, practical ego.
It scares me to age; to think about how things like pain will be more common as I move deeper into middle age. It scares me to think about how poorly I’ll cope with a lack of mobility, or even having my body ask to take a one day break from my normal routine.
Being in pain has made me think about myself as a nurse and myself as a patient. That perhaps I need to restructure my empathy bank so it’s a little less stingy with granting loans. Maybe it will lend out a little unnecessary sympathy and get screwed in the process, but more likely than not, those applicants asking for sympathy deserve whatever I can give.
That includes granting myself my own sympathy loan. To asking for help, even though it kills my little Puritan heart to ever ask for help. To allowing myself the right to sleep and heal without guilt. To acknowledging that when you’re in intense pain, life is going to change. It’s not going to look like your daily life.
This is an apology for all the times I haven’t been patient enough. For all the times I asked the stupid question or gave you unhelpful advice or made a suggestion that made you want to punch me in the face. For all the times when I haven’t given enough care; because nursing is about more than just making tea or taking someone’s kids for an afternoon. It’s about the mindfulness behind that act, and I got a lot of that these last two weeks that I don’t think I necessarily deserved based on my own stinginess in the past.
This is also a thank you to all the people who checked in and helped out; even though I was a complete dick about it. I’ll use the excuse that it was the pain itself that made me ungracious and short-tempered.
And a special note to my body: I’m sorry I berated you. I’m sorry I don’t appreciate you enough when you’re working well. I promise I won’t skip weeks of yoga in order to make a work deadline. I won’t treat you as if you’re expendable. You have a way of popping up and demanding attention to remind me how necessary you are.
It’s a funny word; calling someone in need of care a patient. It is hard to define myself as a patient, harder still to accept a situation with patience. I want this pain over with so I can get on with the rest of my life. I miss the daily grind. I miss helping with homework and washing the kitchen floor and changing the guinea pig’s cage. All those things that used to get in the way of the other things I wanted to do; I miss them now that I’m in a place where I can’t do the mundane.
I’m sorry; this is a whiny post. Prior to two weeks ago, if it came across my desk at the empathy bank, I would have stamped rejected across it. But now, I’m more prone to spend a little time reviewing the file, wondering what it really costs to grant the loan. Not much.
And in all of this, I’m scared as I get well that I’ll forget to be patient with others and myself. It’s easy to remember these lessons when you’re still sidelined by pain. It’s harder to remember them when you feel well enough to return to normal life.