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Chronic Pain - Friend or Foe?

Grandpa was an amputee. He lost his leg while working on the railroad as a young man. When "coupling" two railroad cars together, he fell and his leg was crushed between the couplers. He was hauled into the railroad station. A doctor sawed off his leg right there and then (according to what my dad said) after giving him copious amounts of alcohol.

I never knew my grandpa until I was a young adult. I went to live with him and other family members 3,000 miles from home as a young air force wife. I was pregnant at the time, and afraid of the pain of childbirth. I knew grandpa still had pain from his amputation, even in his 80s. I asked him how he could tolerate it so I might have an idea of how to prepare myself for labor. He told me he "made friends with" his pain. He said, he learned to accept his pain better when he decided to stop hating it. I thought that to be very odd. I knew amputees had something called phantom pain that could be quite intense. I admired him for his strength and fortitude.

A couple years after grandpa died I was facing major surgery for bone cancer. (Chondrosarcoma) The doctor told me he would have to amputate half my pelvis, plus my leg. This is called a hemipelvectomy. Quickly, I decided I wasn't going to let this amputation destroy me. I told myself, "If grandpa could do it, so can I!!!" Otherwise I would have been devastated.

As it turned out, I only had a portion of my pelvis amputated (internal hemipelvectomy). I didn't lose my leg after all. Nevertheless, I still have pain now almost fifty years since diagnosis. Like grandpa, I've made friends with my pain. I pay attention to the need to rest. I respect the messages I have gotten over the years that there are certain things my body cannot do, no matter how hard I push. I accept those limitations regardless of what others think. After all, I appear to have a normal body to them. I pay attention to the degree of pain I experience and when I need to medicate myself to help it be relieved, I take something for the pain. Though I prefer to not take opiates.

The pain never goes away entirely. It's always there to some degree. My friend. My shadow. My pain. Lately the pain has been intensified these last few months. It wakes me up in the middle of the night. It suddenly cripples me in the midst of walking. I can barely tolerate it. I calm myself, take a breath, unclench my teeth and I remind myself that hating it will do me no good.

Right now, I have to hang on two more weeks. I have an appointment for an epidural infusion into my spine so that my pain will (hopefully) go away. I have had this procedure many times before over the years. I have always had relief. It helps me stay off the opiates. But now, the epidurals are almost an annual occurrence. You can only have so many epidurals within a certain period of time. Waiting out the time for the treatment has been very distracting. But soon, my friend and I will part ways. I wont miss her at all. Thank you grandpa for teaching me to deal with pain in your unique way.

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