Lemon Line: The problem with pain
Vail CO, Colorado
The world renowned specialist surgeon told my daughter on Saturday that a surgery in the base of her brain could numb the chronic, debilitating pain she has been suffering for the last seven years. A car accident tore her brachial plexus nerves from her neck paralyzing her right arm when she was 12. Her pain wracks her body, periodically convulsing her until her mind wills itself back into control. She masks it well.
But the surgeon could see the pain in her eyes and face. The surgeon was amazed she could function at all with the pain and the medication, let alone carry a heavy scholastic load at a demanding university. But my daughter is a strong young woman, determined not to let the pain or the injury slow her down or restrict her in any way.
As a mother I cry every time I see my child suffer. We have tried electrical implants, physical therapy, different formulations on medication. But in my daughter’s case, she is one of a small percentile that has the chronic phantom pain from trauma, and nothing has taken the pain away. Maybe recently we have been more focused on her arm ” functionality, prosthetics, and the impact on the rest of her body. When the surgeon zeroed in on the pain, it shocked my daughter and frustrated her. She wanted answers on future prognosis, and he was talking about something she in her own mind had already dealt with, deals with daily . . . and perhaps, accepts.
But the procedure has risk ” greater paralysis, more pain, and possibly death. She has had so many procedures that failed. Now he was suggesting a surgery (not performed by him, so there is zero economic/mercenary issues here) that carried a greater risk, and not only might not work, but could reduce her functionality, lessen her ability to cope, and set her back further.
Since the accident I have been much more aware of pain in our lives and in our community. We have the pain of separation and fear as our loved ones serve our country in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in other parts of the world. I know the uncertainty and the fear, and the pain of loss. Men and women sacrifice their lives and limbs in defense of our freedoms leaving loved ones or returning less than whole and learning to cope with life in the real world again. I could see the relief and hear the joy in their voices as dear friends received the phone call this Saturday from their son-in-law that he was in Germany, in route home after 14 months in Iraq in time for Thanksgiving.
We daily are faced with the pain of financial stress as we struggle to make ends meet in the valley, and as we confront the economic crisis looming. How will the recession or the economic downturn impact our community, so dependent on the tourists that may choose to give up the vacation this year? Families work two jobs just to survive and wonder how to pay the medical bills.
But all too often we only treat the symptom of the pain and not deal with the pain itself. It is easier for us to medicate, mask the pain through drugs or alcohol rather than working towards solutions, because that involves risk ” we could fail and then we would be worse off than we were before.
President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday, a time for a nation to heal after the most devastating war still in our nation’s history. President Lincoln called for national unity, a reconstruction, a plan for action.
Politicians today have lost the art of debate, of constructive discussion, of working toward a common goal, the building a future for our children. somehow we are losing the ability to deal with pain, create solutions and work for our own reconstruction. We expect others to solve our problems, and we cope.
I do not know what my daughter will decide about her surgery. We will meet as a family this Thanksgiving, love each other, and talk through the possibilities. I am thankful that she has options, that there are choices, and that something can be done.
Heather Lemon of Eagle-Vail writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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