I have just come past the most fearsome experience of pain I have ever known, and one that counts among the most profound agonies a human being can experience. I endured this agony for three weeks, until finally I got my surgery. The pain is still there, but it is tolerable and manageable, and will fade over time.
What happened was that the lumbar disk on the right side of my body between vertebrae L2 and L3 ruptured, jamming itself directly into the most sensitive part of the nerve that lies beside it. At first, I waited it out. No good. Then I tried an epidural of cortisone–after making sure that the surgery center I went to did not have any injectables from the compounding pharmacy that distributed tainted material. No relief at all. I have used chiropractors for years with success, but this hideous fire that would not be quenched was beyond chiropractic. I could not in any way endure a manipulation.
I was prescribed pain medicine, and I took it but it was not only useless, it, along with the continuous agony, caused me to fail to eat and drink enough, and I ended up on Monday in the emergency room with dangerously low sodium. I was admitted and rehydrated overnight, then released on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, I saw an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Neel Anand, who is a brilliant and very skilled man. For him, my surgery was relatively minor in scope, but he knew how much pain the injury was causing me and cleared the decks for me early Friday morning.
Now it is Sunday, and the nerve pain in my leg has dropped to the level of a severe headache. This morning, it was at the level of a migraine. Tomorrow, I will start acupuncture. Right now I am on one of the few anti-inflammatories that I can tolerate.
I have not been in a hospital in 40 years, not since I had a burst appendix in 1972. I have not had a cold or the flu or more than a minor backache in years. When I have an annual physical, I come out of it with flying colors. My last cardiac stress test showed that I had the heart of a 30 year old.
So I certainly was not expecting this. After I wrote my last journal, I found myself living through some very, very dark nights. The pain was literally beyond belief. I decided that I could not keep pushing it away. I had to do something else. I made an appointment with an acupuncturist but could not keep it because I could not get to his office. So what I did instead was to open myself to my pain, and admit it into my being and accept it for itself.
This was very difficult, because it felt like I was making it in some way a permanent part of my body. As I said in my last journal entry, I was leaving my body a lot. I was literally trying to escape via out-of-body travel. Two of the journeys were completely incredible, but I will get to them in my next entry.
Lying there flat on my back, staring at the ceiling, almost completely beyond thought, literally blanked by the pain, I took my attention to my body, and I embraced myself and my pain, and gave thanks to my body for this life I have been given. The pain did not get less. Instead, I came into touch with the deepest, most profound joy I have ever known. It lives in me in my depths, far deeper than any pain can go. I brought the joy up from the well of my being and let it mingle with my pain. What had been simple agony became a form of beauty–an opportunity that I could either embrace or reject.
I chose to embrace it, and I am glad now for the chance I had to taste of hell and find myself beyond its worst depths, calm, confident and so deeply happy. It was in this way that I rode the night horse of my torment, sensing signals of love even in the depths of great agony.
As I sit here now, I find myself feeling gratitude for all of you, just as I did when Anne was in such peril in 2004.
I am soon to leave this experience behind, but the depths it opened in me I will never leave behind. So the pain has given me a great gift: contact with a level of being that I did not even know existed, but which I think flows in all of us, a deep river of creative joy that has no beginning and no end, that is each of us and all of us, the river of being.