Op/Ed: I have three words to say: “Per-Co-Cet!”
(HOLLYWOOD, CA - April 24, 2008) - I have been laid up the last several weeks with a pinched nerve in my neck. If you have never experienced it, God bless you. It is pain I would not wish on anyone. It is pain that quite literally had me calling for my mother. As my mother has been dead close to 30 years, this was some long distance call.
Like men tend to do, I was determined to gut it out. Give me a hunk of leather to bite on and I would be just fine. The tough man act lasted about a week before my suffering became such that I took my wife’s advice to go to the emergency room, which is where after some poking and prodding and an EKG to make certain the numbness in my hand and the pain shooting down my arm were not symptoms of a heart attack, I met my friend Percocet and his partner in crime, Demerol. I don’t know what either medication is, but I must say they make a rather pleasant combination and it wasn’t long before my pain began to diminish -- my anguish subside.
I do not intend that my few weeks of incapacity is comparable to say the suffering endured by my sister during her all too brief life or that of those suffering the ravages of war, famine or any number of other trials. All the same, I confess that during the time on my back I wondered on more than one occasion what mad purpose God had in mind.
After my shot of relief, paramedics wheeled a woman into an examination room near my own. She appeared to be in considerably more pain than I. Her agony could be heard through the entire emergency room. As she continued to moan, I determined that I would go to her room and sit with her and hold her hand. We sat for perhaps 10 minutes before my doctor entered the room and suggested that I go back to my bed. He was concerned that I might fall and hurt myself walking around under the influence of so much medicine. I was again determined to gut it out, but in truth my head was beginning to spin. Given the amount of pain I had been in, it was a very pleasant spin indeed.
The question of why God allows suffering is older than the Bible itself and I certainly do not imagine I am going to solve this riddle in the space of this column.
It did occur to me however, that pain seems inextricably associated with life. We are birthed into this life with pain, we fall down while learning to walk, and we experience pain as we cut our baby teeth and as our bones grow and as age creeps up on us the aches in our bodies tend to increase. There is also pain of another sort: dreams are crushed as our talents do not match our aspirations, we suffer betrayal as we search for trust and our hearts are broken in a quest for love.
We can, if we choose, accept pain as part of natures law or we can as Sitis, Job’s wife, suggested “curse God and die”…or anesthetize ourselves to life’s agonies. There are opiates of many kinds to numb us to that pain: drugs, alcohol, debauchery and bitterness of every kind. Unfortunately, the price of such relief is that we are forced to disengage from each other. As wonderful as that pill made me feel, if taking it means I must sit in my bed and be disconnected from the rest of humanity, I do not want it. As awful as my pain was, I do not want to nod-out in a corner nor do I want to become filled with such enmity for my fellow man that I choose to withdraw or become consumed with a self-hate that manifests itself in cruelty and anti-social behavior. My pain doesn’t just keep me in contact with others, but the pain of others keeps all of us reaching for our fellow beings. Without pain there would be no compassion, no hand holding, hugs, no need to nurse or to heal, no shoulders to cry on and ultimately no search for justice. Without pain I dare say there would be no life; none worth living at any rate.
Call it an opiate induced mind dance if you will but I do not want to be an observer of life. I want to live it. I do not want to sit on the sidelines while my fellow humans endure life’s tragedies while also enjoying its many pleasures and triumphs.