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  • Writer's picturejamesbriankerr

Peaceable Man Files Issue #10: The Other Side of Pain

Random musings on my gypsy existence at my cabin in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania and wherever else life takes me.

It’s Day 6 following last week’s left hip replacement and, day by day, I’m returning to the land of the living and the mobile.

In the past twenty-four hours, I’ve graduated from my old-man walker to the cane. My nightly ascension up the dreaded stairs to bed has become less of an ordeal. I’m even beginning to employ both legs in the climbing, rather than having to lead with the good leg going up and the bad leg going down.

Every day, I diligently do the extensive set of exercises given to me by the physical therapist. Every day, I find the exercises hurt a little less and extend my flexibility a little more.

I’m starting to do things on my own, rather than relying on other people to fetch and do things for me. Independence is a wonderful thing, one that we take for granted until we don’t have it.

My sphere of travels is slowly starting to expand. Yesterday, for the first time since surgery, I left the house and went out for a car ride with Rachael. I felt like the inmates from the mental institution in One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest, being taken out on the bus with Jack Nicholson. I wanted to open the door and run out, a new man, into that bright, shiny new world. But it’s much too early for that, of course. Besides, my running days are over. From now on, a speedy walk will be enough for me.

Yes, I must be patient—not an easy thing for someone like me. I went into the procedure with high expectations and perhaps also somewhat unrealistic ones. Everyone I spoke to beforehand told me what an amazing procedure a modern hip replacement is, how much easier it is than a knee replacement, how much faster the recovery is since the surgery’s done via minimally invasive techniques, no muscles touched or cut. You’ll be walking the same day! they said.

Most everything they said was true. I was up on my feet the same day as surgery, though I’d refer to it more as hobbling than walking. Already, I have more range of motion with my new hip than I’ve had in years. What’s more, unlike with the old total hip replacements of ten or twenty years ago, I have no restrictions—zero—as to things I should avoid or can’t do, such as crossing my legs or bending beyond a certain point.

But I must remember that, minimally invasive or not, it was still major surgery involving trauma to the body. My left leg is swollen and bruised as if I’ve been taken a backside hit from Khalil Mack. And if the sight of my black-and-blue thigh isn’t enough to remind me what I’ve gone through, the pain will hold up that reminder flag for me. It’s a different sort of pain than what I’d been dealing with. That arthritic pain was deep and pervasive like a rotting tooth; what began as twinges of pain associated with certain movements had spread in recent months to the simplest, most routine activities, like going for a walk or bending down to tie my shoe.

This pain that I’m feeling now is just as intense, but more localized. It comes when I try to do too much, too fast, something that I’m prone to, being the Type A overachiever that I am. The worst part, quite frankly, is trying to sleep at night after a day of exercises and moving about. I won’t take narcotic pain medicine because it makes my head spin, so for pain relief, I must settle for Extra Strength Tylenol, which cuts through the throbbing about as well as a flashlight in fog. And so I toss and turn, vainly trying to find a position where I’m free enough of pain for my mind to rest. Usually, that doesn’t happen until one or two o’clock in the morning. I walk through my days with a headful of mud.

Not a lot of fun, for sure. But I keep reminding myself that it’s temporary. Where I exist right now, in this circumscribed, painful, sleepless post-surgical place, is but a waystation on the way to something better. The old arthritis pain wasn’t going to get better, and in fact was only going to continue to get worse, and so I’ve taken a step—a big step—toward what I hope to be a better future. On the other side, I hope and trust, is a less painful, less limited, happier life, one where I can do again many of those things that give me enjoyment.

Isn’t this the nature of faith—to believe there is something better than the adversity we’re going through and to take a step toward that better place, even if the way is dark and involves short-term pain? It’s something I write about a lot in The Long Walk Home. In fact, I devote a whole chapter, “The Other Side of Faith,” to the lessons imparted over the years by my dear mother as she took on various life adversities with the steely faith of prayer and novenas said on her trusty rosary.

We need faith as human beings to get through the tough stuff of life. Faith gives us the strength to take action, which is the antidote of depression and despair. Sometimes, we take those steps with a great deal of certainty that we’ll get to the other side. Sometimes, there’s no certainty at all. The less certainty, the greater the faith needed.

So, it’s onto week 2 of my recuperation! Every day, I’m getting better and better. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

Best wishes to all of you for a peaceful, blessed week.

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