The thing about being in pain every day is that people expect you to get used to it.
You never get used to it.
It’s been exactly one year since I woke up with a pain on my right side. It was Super Bowl Sunday, 2013. I thought it was strange, but I went about my day. The following morning, instead of going to work, I made a U-turn and headed to the closest emergency room.
As a card-carrying member of Blue Cross Blue Shield, I was given the $20,000 overnight stay, complete with a quick camera down my throat procedure, and a cat scan with intravenous dye that made me vomit. They took some pictures, charged me and Blue Cross thousands of dollars, and then told me nothing was wrong.
Nothing at all.
The camera in my throat did show a small ulcer in my intestines. That was probably it, they said. That was probably what was causing the horrific pain. I was sent on my way with prescription strength antacid and strict instructions not to eat tomatoes for three months.
A few weeks went by and I still felt like I was dying every day, so I went back to see the doctor. She told me to just “calm down” and suggested I was just “stressing myself out.”
Two days later, I fell off the cliff into the valley of suicidal thoughts, where I would swim around like it was a hot tub for about eight months. I hoped that I could still get back on solid ground, so I went to see another doctor.
He was too scared to give me anything to actually help the situation because: druggies.
So he sent me to a pain specialist, who I couldn’t see for three days. By the time I met the guy I was already thinking about slitting my wrists to escape the pain that had started to consume my life.
He told me I probably had a magical form of shingles — the kind of shingles that come without any other signs or any sort of rash. He gave me drugs that didn’t help, and sent me on my way.
I cried myself to sleep. Every day. I started missing one day of work a week. Then two. Then three.
Then I went to immediate care.
The doctor handed me a steroid pack without even telling me it was a steroid pack. She also gave me some hydrocodone. Weak hydrocodone. Weak enough that it would take me another two months to figure out that I needed about four of those pills to get any sort of relief. But at least she was trying.
I cut out everything in my life that wasn’t absolutely necessary.
Showers became an every other day, or every third day thing. If my boyfriend wanted to see me, he had to hang out in my living room. My part-time job as a youth leader went from a 40-hour-a-week love affair to four hours a week and playing games during every youth group meeting.
When I had to do things, I took all the hydrocodone I could get my hands on to get through it. Sometimes that meant driving when I shouldn’t have been driving. Many times that meant working when I shouldn’t have been working.
When I did get myself to the office, I would spend half the time laying on the floor in sheer agony. I would cry. I would wonder how I was going to get through the next five minutes, much less the next five hours.
On the way home, I would fantasize about driving my car into a semi-truck the way most people fantasize about going to Hawaii.
I begged my mom to come visit every weekend. I couldn’t do my laundry, I couldn’t do my dishes. I thought about killing myself every night. I laid on the floor in my dining room, staring at a bottle of Drano in the bathroom and thought about drinking it.
I lost hope a little more each day. I started seeing a psychiatrist.
I told the church I’d take the youth group on a mission trip to Alabama. I joked about how much hydrocodone I’d need to get through the mission trip, hoping that maybe someone would understand how difficult being alive was for me. Some people laughed, most looked at me in horror, and then went about their day.
I made a work-from-home agreement with my boss at my full-time job so that I could go live with my mom — two hours away in a town that only recently got a McDonald’s.
The night before the move, I went to the ER. The pain was horrible. They gave me a really great drug, which was super, until it wore off. Then the pain came back even worse.
A few months later, the pain was just as gut wrenching, so I requested the same drug. The second time though, I had some crazy reaction, and instead of a few hours of peace I threw up. All night long, over and over and over again. Until I was throwing up air.
I wondered how the hell God could do this to me. To anyone.
I joined pain groups online. People would write things like, “Well, I’m just happy to be alive.”
They would say, “I’ve been dealing with horrific pain everyday all day for years, but on the bright side it could always be worse!”
Umm, how exactly could it be worse? Your whole family could be dead? Well, yes, that would be worse. But other than that, there’s not much worse than a life spent dealing with chronic pain.
I would think of Jesus, enduring His trip to the cross. Enduring all that pain. And I’m only a little ashamed to admit that I was jealous that his pain ended after just a few hours.
Oh, to have an ending.
But I don’t have one yet. I’m still stuck. In this horrible pain.
I take pill, after pill after pill. The narcotics make it hard for me to remember pronouns. The nerve pain medications make it hard for me to stay awake.
None of them give me my life back.
I shower once a week.
It’s been a year and the pain is just as bad as it was on the first day. Sometimes it’s worse, but it’s always bad.
Have I learned to be more compassionate? Of course. But when I’m in pain, I’m also meaner than I’ve ever been in my life. I yell at my mom, I scream at my sister and my brother. I get angry at God.
Have I learned to be more present in the moment? Yes. But only in the same way that someone who’s drowning and gasping for air has to think about their current state of affairs.
Some of the doctors have given up hope. Some say they haven’t, but I can’t really tell if they’re lying or not.
As for me, I’m still undecided.
In the pain groups, people say there’s a certain amount of peace that comes from accepting it. But I want to keep fighting. I want my life back. I want to be who I was a year ago at this time.
Well, a year and one day ago.
Crystal Lindell is journalist who lives in Byron, Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, watching “Burn Notice” episodes on Netflix and Snicker’s Bites. She has had pain in her right ribs since February 2013. It is currently undiagnosed.
Crystal writes about it on her blog, The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.