Learning From Pain
Although it’s been a year now since I suffered from an impinged shoulder, I still remember what it felt like. I can recall how, try as I might, I could not raise my left arm straight over my head. And I couldn’t bend my arm behind my back without pain. It took 3 months of hard physical therapy to finally get back to normal. All the while, I kept wondering whether things would ever be the same again, whether I would regain the easy mobility I had enjoyed before the injury.
I call it an injury, but really, I’m not exactly sure how my shoulder got to be that way. Everyone, including my physician, asked me what I had done to it. Even today I am fairly clueless. Could have been related to lugging a suitcase on wheels over several paved city blocks on a trip to San Francisco late in the year, nearly five months hence. Or hoisting said suitcase into the overhead compartment on the plane. I just don’t know. Anyway, I do know that I ignored the pain and stiffness for a while, thinking that maybe it would go away on its own. It didn’t. Finally, I saw my physician, and he recommended physical therapy. I had done just that a few years earlier for a rotator cuff injury on the other shoulder, an injury which I might say only took 6 weeks to heal. But then again, I was much younger. I’ve noticed that the older I get, the longer it takes to heal.
Anyway, in my mind, physical therapists are both sadistic and saintly. They put the injured party through some painful exercises, all the while apologizing for the discomfort. However, my threshold for pain is not what it used to be. In fact, might I say that I liken the squirm factor to childbirth – or is that being too dramatic? Whatever the case, physical therapy works. That’s where the saintly part comes in, because my physical therapist was nothing short of a miracle-worker in the end. But that’s another story for another day.
All the weeks of stretching, strengthening, and such gave me plenty of time to develop my mental state as well as my physical abilities. As I was whining to myself (and sometimes to others) about how much it hurt to move my shoulder and how having this injury limited my mobility to the point of preventing me from going through my normal active day – I began to imagine what it must be like to have chronic pain. I’ve been fortunate in the health department, I must admit. But some people, even a few close to me, suffer daily from conditions that prevent them from functioning without great pain. I’m not talking about something that can be treated and eliminated in a few weeks or months. I’m referring to constant, day in and day out trauma. I can’t even fathom what that must be like.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That seems to apply here both literally and figuratively. I did become physically stronger over time. I learned a lot about movements to avoid as my body ages, in order to prevent future problems. But I also gained an appreciation for those who experience no light at the end of the tunnel, folks who must go through the remainder of their days only reducing the pain at best, but actually learning how to live with it. For them, the only solution is to find a new normal and make peace with that somehow. Once I contemplated that, I became a bit embarrassed about my whining. I gained a new respect for those in chronic pain, but also a new awareness of how blessed I am to have a body which responded to healing therapy in such a finite time. I now take the time to treat my physical self with more lovingkindness. Hopefully, my new insight will pay off in better overall health for me, as well as increased compassion for those who suffer daily.