Recently, I’ve had an opportunity to devote some intense thought to the saying in the title of my post, i.e., “The greatest pleasure is relief from pain.” And while I know that there are many great pleasures in life, some so fine and worth pursuing and enjoying that it’s hard to imagine what could be greater, yet when one is in deep pain from emotional causes or from physical injury, the devout prayers one sends up to whatever being or force one happens to believe in, or the simple secular longing for equilibrium and away from the extremes of pain are so strong that I begin to agree with the anonymous author of my quote.
Now, first of all I must say that no one else is responsible for my quandary vis-à-vis pain. About a month ago, I over-stretched a muscle or tendon in my left hip, and instead of putting ice and then heat on it in the recommended fashion, decided (or rather simply neglected decision-making altogether) in favor of waiting it out. It was only a minor mishap, and it would heal, as all my previous mishaps had before. Only then one night in an equally stupid fit of hubris, I leaned out sideways and down from my new high bed to pick up something I had dropped, and raised myself back up by the inflamed muscle without other support. My hip had never given me any trouble much before, or when it had–and I had to admit to myself that occasionally I’d felt a twinge when sitting too long in my easy chair–the twinge had always disappeared again.
Loyal to me and my purposes, the hip only fussed a little at me in the next two weeks, but I just ignored it and assumed that it would stop after a while, if only I stayed active. But then came the real test: I went on vacation and exerted myself and slept with a heating pad on my back in intervals all night long–and contrary to what I had supposed, and what seemed at first to be working, I should’ve been using ice–until one fine night, after gradually getting worse and worse, the hip and my lower back and waist all combined to overthrow my dominion over pain: I was actually crying aloud with pain from every movement, however gentle, and could not get up out of bed without it taking me at least ten minutes to do so. I kid you not. I sat up for hours at night on the most comfortable couch it’s been my good fortune to meet, with the heating pad still on my back, and yet I had aggravated my anatomy to such an extent that every movement still brought pain. When my host (my brother) arose the next morning, he asked me “Are you ready for those pain-killers yet?” He had offered me a strong dose of over-the-counter meds the night before, but I had been too afraid of taking so many pills: but by the next morning, my whole body was crying out, “F— that, I want those pills!”
It was time to come back home anyway, so I dosed myself up with as much pain medication as was available and I was able to travel for the requisite 3 hours in the car to get to an emergency room near home. Not that it was pain free: every jolt and bump and sudden stop on the road was another agony, but luckily I was doped up enough with the pain meds that I didn’t scream out with pain and distract the driver or cause an accident. Then came the next part of the ordeal: the examination to make sure that it wasn’t actually my liver or my spleen or my kidneys or my gall bladder or etc.–I knew what it was, but doctors like to hedge their bets (and mine), so I put up with it. They ended by giving me some stronger prescription muscle relaxant and pain meds, and discharged me.
This story has several morals, the most significant one of which is that as we get older we can no longer assume that our anatomies are going to keep tolerating various abuses as they did when we were younger. Another is that when you’re in pain, ignore the “stiff upper lip” routine and admit you’re not a superheroine and do something about it. Finally, when someone offers you relief from pain, unless they are a known felon and pusher (which my brother with his pain pills was not), seriously consider taking the pills the first time they’re offered. And remember: every time your vacation to Jamaica is cancelled, or you have to pass up the champagne with dinner because you have a headache, or you don’t get to go to the amusement park as you’d planned, there’s always one pleasure greater than all those things rolled into one that you may someday experience, though at some cost–“The greatest pleasure is relief from pain.” You can quote me on that!