Chronic Pain: A Pain the Care Receiver
and the Caregiver
This weekend I got a tiny glimpse into what it’s like to be living with chronic pain. Friday morning as I planted my feet and leaned back in an attempt to pull a standard-sized fitted sheet over the corner of our oversized mattress, I felt a sudden, searing pain in my lower back.
I’ve had lots of experience caring with someone who suffers with debilitating back pain, but this was the first time I’ve ever experienced pain that made it difficult for me to stand up, sit down, cross my legs or put on my shoes. My discomfort made me want to weep for my husband who suffered with severe chronic pain for seven years.
Throughout Alex’s physical therapy treatments, pain injections, and surgeries, I always tried to be loving, compassionate and kind. But I have to admit there were some moments when I wondered if he was taking advantage of my good nature. I even thought a couple of times that he was getting dangerously close to becoming lazy, cheap and curmudgeonly. He never got mean. He never abused alcohol or prescription medication, but the light in his eyes became dull and he lost his sense of adventure. We reached a point where he didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, and the spontaneity and playfulness that had always been at the center of our relationship was lost.
Last August we got a reprieve. Alex’s second back operation was successful. The doctor said it would take six months for him to heal, and he hit it right on the nail. A few weeks ago I noticed things were starting to change. We were joking and laughing with each other again. Alex was pitching in with household chores. We went out to a movie and dinner with friends last week, and he was thoroughly engaged and cheerful throughout the entire evening.
My back is better today, and I will certainly be more cautious about how I lift and pull, but I’m not sorry that I hurt it, because it provided me with some insight into what Alex went through. Comparing my experience with pain to Alex’s experience would be like comparing a cup of salt water to the Pacific Ocean. But it made me realize how extraordinarily lucky we were to find a surgeon who was able to fix Alex’s back. That doctor gave me back the happy, interesting, engaging man I love so very deeply.
This incident also reminded me that things don’t always work out the way we expect them to. Because of our age difference, I have assumed that I would always be the caregiver – never the care receiver. All it takes is one misstep off of a curb, an inattentive driver, or something odd appearing on an X-Ray to change every plan we’ve made in an instant.
Should I end up being the one in need of care, I hope Alex will remember how loving, patient and supportive I always tried to be while caring for him. I also hope that I would be as courageous and as kind as Alex has been through his long, and painful ordeal.
In the meantime, we’re going to be grateful for what we have today and we’re making plans to have a little fun. How I wish the same for all of you!