When you injure yourself, you learn a new language. The syntax of this language is number representations of ideas; pain is gauged on a subjective scale of 1-10, progress is measured in proprietary, illogical measurements of negative degrees, and exercises are doled out in 30 second increments.
Twice a week I am asked “where I am” and I respond obediently with “3” or “5” depending on the day. I quickly added this new linguistic subset into my own verbal lexicon, growing to understand how and why it functions the way it does. I’ve tried to explain pain and can say that it is nearly impossible to describe to someone who hasn’t felt it, so an abstract scale somehow works.
Pain can be tolerated and mitigated. I am nearing the 6 month anniversary of my injury (hooray for arbitrary celebrations for unremarkable lengths of time!) and am happy to announce that my pain is dramatically lower than it was when my bone was in many, many fragments. I still have days where I feel like the metal in my arm is being assimilated into the Borg Collective, but fortunately those days are becoming a rarity. With meditation, breathing exercises, visual distractions, mental distractions, coffee, beer, happy pills (and many other things I can’t think of because of the happy pills) pain can be nearly negated.
Unlike pain, there is something that comes with being badly injured that few mention, probably because it is masked by or confused with pain. While you can manage and reduce pain, there is no way to improve your level of comfort. If you are uncomfortable, you are uncomfortable; no medication or distraction can bring you any solace.
Normally, when you are uncomfortable, you can make a slight alteration to your environment or placement in said environment and be comfortable again in short order. When you are cold, you can put on a long-sleeve shirt, if your butt is numb, you can move to a more comfortable chair. But when the discomfort is inside your skeletal system, you can do nothing. Your most comfortable outfit doesn’t help, resting in a certain position is impossible for any length of time, and what was once mundane becomes awkward and clumsy as discomfort quickly sets in.
It seems trivial and shallow to complain about something as minor as being uncomfortable. Discomfort is almost always short lived which makes it seem like nothing; try being uncomfortable in the same capacity for 6 months. It becomes a big deal at about the 2 month mark. Persisting numbness in fingers is annoying, painful, and limiting. The inability to sleep without waking up every hour or so to reposition is maddening for a single night; on the 180th night your sanity has long since unraveled. Frustration mounts and eventually overflows until you sort of rewire your brain to accept that you can’t be comfortable the same way you used to be.
It is vexing and humbling, but most importantly, it gives you perspective. I took for granted getting cozy next to a fire with a book and being able to play with my cats as if I were a cat myself. I can now appreciate what even more disabled people have to suffer through; especially those who suffered their injuries years into their lives.
The next time you have a paper cut that stings for a few days, or a bruise that aches for a week, imagine that feeling lasting indefinitely. Appreciate the times when you are pain free and can be comfortable if you so choose. Wear clothes that fit well and flail your joints about with reckless abandon. You never know when you might not be able to anymore.