Friday, October 4, 2013

Pain Revisited: Why Does It Hurt So Bad?

"The mind is a very powerful thing."

That's what I was told years ago (a little over seven, to be exact) by someone who was given to such trite pronouncements. His point: The panic attack that I was in the throes of at the time was basically my psyche playing wicked tricks on me. My cold, clammy palms, my heartbeat accelerating, my shortness of breath, the feeling that I was floating on air and could, at any given moment, ascend heavenward to my new home -- all of it was just my imagination running away with me.

Oh, how I wish I could blame my recent bouts of physical pain on a cruel, overactive brain. I suppose that I can pinpoint it as the cause of my recent mental anguish, if nothing else. Here's the thing about us hypochondriacs: Regardless of the height of our threshold for pain (and mine has always been slightly taller than the average man's), every little physical sensation can easily become a matter of life and death, sending us scurrying online to medical websites to predict the source of our gloom and impending doom.

Earlier this year when, for an entire week, I suffered from the worst ear infection ever, not only did I spend possibly a cumulative 24 hours trying to figure out what greater dreaded and potentially fatal disease could be the cause, but I also wondered if my right ear would never be the same again. That's exactly what I was thinking that Saturday when Devarni and I took the train from Melbourne to the Mornington Peninsula to visit her friend Dave: Would my ear and my life ever return to normal? Would there ever again be an absence of pain there?

Needless to say, it wasn't the end of my world. By the following morning, the worst had passed. The pain in my ear began to subside. A week later, the ear was as good as new. As I pulled it and tugged at it to make sure I wasn't dreaming, I wondered if I'd imagined the entire earache. Had I actually experienced those days and nights of excruciating pain, or was it just something that my powerful mind cooked up.

Lately, my brain is at it again. My nearly two weeks in Tel Aviv have been marked my one anatomical ailment after another, sending my mind into overdrive overtime. I arrived just as I was beginning to heal from my worst-ever breakout of eczema, one that for a week and a half had left the skin on both of my arms looking like pieces of leather that had been left out in the sun to die.

I don't think I ever actually thought I would die from whatever was going on with my arms, having battled the physical hardships of a dry, scaly epidermis before, but there were times that I looked at my upper limbs and wondered if  they would ever feel or look the same. Would I ever again walk down the street not wondering if every passerby was wondering what the hell is going on with my arms? Now that the skin there is back to its usual smooth state, I'm wondering how I ever could have been so silly.

But there I was, just a few days into my Tel Aviv experience, letting my mind take control once again. This time, it started with pelvic pain whose sudden onset occurred while I was exploring Tel Aviv on foot on my second full day in town. I was able to conduct my life as usual over the next week or so, going on with my regularly scheduled life in Tel Aviv, jogging along the Mediterranean in the morning, walking aimlessly around town, occasionally going out and experiencing the nightlife.

Of course, I initially imagined the worst, and when I Googled "lower abdominal pain" and "pelvic pain," for once, I was certain I'd avoided it. Whatever was ailing me probably wouldn't kill me, but according to one medical website, chronic pelvic pain can be caused by a number of mysterious things, none of them necessarily fatal or even serious, and many of them undetectable. It could possibly be something that I might just have to learn to live with, remedying the discomfort without getting to the root of it, because the cause often eludes the most skilled physicians.

"Oh, great!" I said to myself as I closed my laptop and went for another uncomfortable stroll around the block.

Just when I was starting to get used to the idea of walking and running through life with a sharp, jabbing pain in my pelvic area, it suddenly went away. And almost simultaneously, as if on cue on Tuesday morning, I felt another sudden, burst of discomfort, this time in my middle back, to the right. As the pain intensified over the next 24 hours, I blamed it on a lot of things -- from spending months sleeping on beds that are too close to the ground, to leaning forward on hard, uncomfortable chairs while working on my computer because it's the only way that I can see the screen, to a collapsed lung (something which I'd already experienced second hand twice via the guy who once told me what a powerful thing my mind is), to general organ failure, which I know is totally irrational, but then, so is extreme hypochondria.

Around 8pm on Wednesday when, after a Nurofen, a cup of tea and a short walk down Ben Yehuda, the pain began to subside, I wondered if a) I was actually getting better, 2) it was the round, white pill I'd taken, or 3) I was just getting used to it. Considering the up-and-down nature of the pain in my back in the day and a half since, I'm going with a combination of 2 and 3.

The worst part of my aching back isn't just that it's interfered with my already-restless sleep, but it's delaying my full enjoyment of Israel. I've been wanting to take a day trip up north all week, but I can barely make it a few blocks from my apartment on foot without wincing. I've booked a one-day Biblical tour tomorrow (Saturday, AKA Shabbat) to the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth and various other holy spots. There's no way I'm going to let my aching back stop me from getting on that bus between 7.20am and 7.40am.

After having heard from several Facebook friends about their own chronic back pain -- the last time I've hurt this bad there was two years ago in Bangkok, when it was centered in the middle of my lower back area -- I'm wondering if this is my new normal, too. Just in case it is, I'll be going to the holy land tomorrow on more than just a sightseeing excursion. I'll look out at the Sea of Galilee, perhaps in the very spot where Jesus once walked on water, hoping, praying for a modern-day miracle to befall me.

In lieu or that, though, I'd settle for a mind that would stop flexing its muscles and leave my poor, aching body the hell (sorry, God) alone.
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