Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Pain and Life

I wanted to title this blog post “pain and death,” but I was afraid that in this death-denying culture, nobody would read it. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that any discussion about death is really a discussion about life.

For eight days I was surrounded by various stages of illness and pain. I was hospitalized for four days to have knee replacement surgery in both knees. Immediately following my hospitalization I spent four days in rehab. During those days there were audible moans of pain, and I’m sure, from my own experience, many suppressed ones. Being in the presence of so much pain, and feeling one’s own, makes one begin to wonder if pain is the norm. Pain begins to define reality.
First steps with the new knees

I will never forget that first night in the hospital after my surgery. I had little time for sleep and it wasn’t only because of the pain. There were nurses and aides coming in and out of my room constantly. Little did I realize how many things could go wrong after a fairly routine elective surgery like mine. I imagined them thinking, “Get him through the first night, and he will be fine.” My memory, although admittedly probably a bit foggy from all the medication, remembers being interrupted from my sleep nearly every two hours. I know they checked my vitals, and who knows how many other machines were being monitored to see how I was doing. Was I ever hovering between life and death? Pain makes you have such thoughts.

It was not only the fact that I was under anesthesia and then monitored carefully by a full staff of medical efforts that made me reflect on life. There were other instances that caused me to think about my ultimate demise. For example, the estimated lifetime of the artificial joints in my knees are said to be 20-25 years. The doctor tells me that they should last. Last until what? One starts to do the math.

Then in rehab, I was surrounded by people much older than I. They were recovering from strokes, from heart attacks, from broken hips and other age-related illnesses. Some of them were suffering because of specific lifestyle choices, others from accidents, and still others from having been dealt with a unfortunate set of genes. Life seems to be a crapshoot. Being in close proximity to people seemingly closer to death than I made me reflect on my life and my remaining years.  

Can I avoid some of the pain I saw other patients enduring? Is it simply a matter of fate, or are there things I could be doing now to prevent future hospitalizations? I have always been dedicated to exercise, the years of jogging probably the reason for my need for knee replacements. As my knees became increasingly bad, I switched from walking to cycling, either outdoors or indoors on a stationary bike. I have a rejuvenated interest in pursuing aerobic exercise as soon as my knees permit it. It lowers my blood pressure and makes me feel better all over. 

One health-related item about which I haven’t been so careful, is my diet. My pain-riddled journey has made me more concerned about this. I’m not about to embark on some fad diet, I simply want to eat more moderately to try to balance my weight. My weight has crept up over the years in spite of the exercise, and it has mostly been because of a lack of discipline when it comes to the portions I serve myself at meals and the unhealthy snacks I continually consume.

Through experiencing pain and witnessing others with their own aches makes me more grateful for life than ever. Spending time in a hospital and rehab center and seeing what I may be facing in future years makes me rededicate myself to a healthier lifestyle.

Here’s to life!

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