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PrimeTime: Experiencing pain brings perspectives on age

I'm a wimp about pain. I have a deep aversion to having any part of my body send out a sharp or even dull message that can be rated on the Wong-Baker pain scale.

You know Wong-Baker. It's that chart in the doctor's office with faces showing how bad you feel. It was created for kids to point to a picture to explain their pain. We adults, of course, respond to, "Can you describe your pain, with 10 being the worst, and zero being no pain at all."

Donna Wong, a pediatric nurse and co-creator of the picture scale, sadly died at age 60. She left behind not only those familiar faces, but textbooks that are the authoritative works on pediatric nursing.

But I digress.

I am pain-adverse in every way. I'd like to have Novocain just to walk into the dentist's office. Our second and third daughters were lucky that I didn't give up childbirth after the first baby, even thought all three labors were comparatively short. Now I tell the girls, all grown women, that if I'm in pain as I come to my end, please buy silk sheets, put on Mozart, and don't hold back on the morphine. Not that any of us have any choices as to our ultimate demise, but you get the idea.

When I was a kid, I thought I would follow my mother Teckla's footsteps and become a nurse. I even started college with that idea in mind. But fortunately, I got a discouragingly low grade in a science class, and it was just about the same time I was seriously falling in love with the works and ways of the English language. I would have made a bad nurse. Having experienced only minor pains, I would have figured that a patient who claimed the need for pain relief should just buck up. Or I'd have been so wiped out by the suffering of others that I'd end up in jail for over-medicating. Either way, it was good I didn't pursue nursing.

My mother was a great nurse of the old school. When we were sick as kids, we got meals on trays, and bed baths, and no going back to school until your temperature was normal for a full day. Back in college - I was an English major by then - I recall standing on a corner one dark winter afternoon, waiting for the bus to take me home to St. Paul from the University of Minnesota. With finals facing me, I thought, "Oh, I wish I could get some mild disease, but one bad enough so that I could just crawl into bed and have mother take care of me."

But I was talking about pain. See - that's the way it is. You either have it or you don't. I won't go into details on my recent bout with pain, which has largely gone away, thanks to excellent care. But when I was suffering from that hip thing (Oh there, I told you), I would look at other people in stores, in church, and at the post office and wonder, "Do you hurt anyplace? Are you being a magnificent actor or is your body just humming along as nicely as it seems to be?" Many people live with one pain and another day in and day out, and rarely complain. I admire them so much.

And there's the e-mail I got today that includes, "After 60, if you don't wake up aching in every joint, you are probably dead." Sure, that first walk from the bed to the bathroom isn't always easy. But the aches go away, and on my morning walk through the woods, I thank God that my body still works so well.

If you, dear reader, are in pain at this moment, I hope you will find the answers that will take it away. For my recent ailment, I swear by chiropractic, acupuncture, and myofascial techniques, and bless the people who came into my life to administer each.

And of course you can ask me about the hip thing. Talking about our ailments is the old person's curse, and I can do it with the best of them.