• John R

A True and Actual Pain in the Ass

Relief is a state of mind. Isn't it?


I am writing this while in extreme pain. Sciatica. It’s a condition often caused by a bulging disk that pokes out of your spine and puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, a length of bio-wiring that runs from mid-back through the buttocks and into the thigh. Remember those tubes of ready-mix Pillsbury dinner rolls that you’d twist and a splorch of dough would pop out? Yup, like that.


My search buddy DuckDuckGo says sciatica is a fairly common ailment, and it can last for weeks. At its worse, the pain can be excruciating, hand raised on that one. And there’s no quick cure, no whiz-bang operation where a surgeon goes in and uses a wooden spoon to pook your dough back into proper alignment. Relief comes mostly from a pharmaceutical grab bag of anti-inflammatories and pain meds, plus ongoing physical therapy. And time.


Which brings us to this moment.


Currently I’m doubled over, nose inches from the keyboard, pain coursing along my spine, past my buttocks, and into my upper left thigh. I’m not looking for sympathy (although I am looking for the letter W—it’s hard to focus being this close. Ah, there it is!)


Why write while in distress? And what’s all this gibber-jabber about back pain have to do with gardening?


I’m currently taking a mélange of substances that include Vicodin (prescribed) a Lidocain patch (also Rx), gobs of prednisone (prescribed and begrudgingly taken), half a THC gummy (strawberry), two modest glasses of a very acceptable bourbon, and a beer chaser. The concoction hasn’t done a thing to alleviate the pain, but there is a sort-of wayward side section of my brain that is agreeably giddy with all this biochemical tomfoolery. Let’s write about this pain thing in real time! enthuses Side Section. It’ll be so, um, real!


Describing pain with the written word is challenging, pain being such a completely subjective experience. Deb has suggested that I have a very low pain threshold, meaning she would like me to cease whimpering and stop pointing at my coffee mug, wordlessly pantomiming that I need a refill. She reminds me that her pain threshold is extremely high, and as proof she plays her trump card, which is to clarify which of the two of us was the one that endured childbirth. Make that childbirths, plural. No argument here. Let’s just say that my pain feels as if someone is flossing the spaces between my vertebrae with barbed wire.


Which brings us, finally, to gardening. Or specifically, the routine yard maintenance that is not happening, a situation made more pathetic for the fact that the weather has turned absolutely gorgeous, with clean air and bright skies. Plants are happy, peppers are pendulous, birds are doing their bird things. I have fence-mending to finish, and irises to move, and poblanos to pick. At the moment, all that pleasantry seems so far away.


But with an admirable display of pluck, I hobble painfully outside. (Again, sympathy is not being courted here. Welcomed, sure. But, when you think about it, not overtly solicited.) I sit in a lawn chair and take off my shirt so that the midday sun falls directly on my bare back. That feels good. I toss a few peanuts to Calamity and Chatter, our two greedy, insatiable California scrub jays whose fondness for dried legumes knows no bounds. The Raywood ash casts filigreed shadows that hop and quiver on the patio. There is a single-engine plane flying far overhead, the sound like falling into a dream. The pain begins to ease. I close my eyes and listen to the early autumnal winds reminding the trees of what is to come.


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