Growing up, I never really had to deal with extreme physical pain. Plenty of existential and emotional pain, but not too much on the physical side other than a sprained finger when I was about 12, and a broken arm when I was a toddler. I have no memory of the latter incident. That being the case, I was totally unprepared for what lie in wait for me in June 2006.

On June 6 of that month, a tyre on my car decided to explode whilst I was on the interstate on my way into work that evening. Like all good American consumers, the only thing I had that qualified as a spare tyre was one of those "donut" things that comes with every new car. So I pulled onto the shoulder, hunched over, and started to jack the car's chassis up a few inches and then, once it was sufficiently above-ground, I started to remove the lugnuts holding the rim to the axle. On my first downward push on the 20cm-or-so-long crowbar that also came with my car when it was new, a rather alarming jolt shot up my abdomen. It felt like a pulled muscle. I'd had stomach aches before in my life (who hasn't?), but this was something totally different. I actually curled up into a foetal position there on the shoulder for a few minutes. It hurt so bad I could barely move. After an indeterminate amount of time passed, I unfolded myself and finished removing the flat and putting the donut on the axle. My abdomen hurt for the rest of the night, but after sleeping the following day, the pain gradually subsided.

Then, three weeks later, it surprisingly came back to a degree I'd never experienced before. It was so bad I could barely walk. I decided to go to an emergency room. After about two hours of waiting, I finally got to see a doctor, who scheduled me for an immediate CT scan and injected me with 30cc of tramadol. The tramadol didn't help at all, not even a little, so I spent the next half an hour or so before the CT scan back in the foetal position. By the time the CT nurse got to me I couldn't walk without nearly blacking out from the electric pain that was pulsating out from the approximate position of my kidneys/lower spinal cord/liver area. She hastily retrieved a wheelchair for my pain-induced paraplegic ass. In the CT room, I was able to stand under my own power, but two nurses had to help me onto the table.

The CT scan itself was no problem, really. Two held breaths, two exhales, and it was done. The doctor ordered a scan based on the symptoms I was exhibiting, which were apparently classic kidney stone symptoms. After the scan, I was wheeled back to the ER, where I waited for another hour or so while the scan results were processed. Much to my surprise, given the amount of soda and tea I consume, it wasn't a kidney stone. Instead, it was the culmination of that abdominal strain I'd had while changing a tyre three weeks earlier, which had gone untreated. If I'd gone to the ER the night it happened, I probably could've prevented the crippling pain that came later. What the whole mess turned out to be was a lumbar strain. A lumbar is one of the muscles in the back, and muscles, as they are all connected, tend to radiate pain to their immediate neighbours when one of them is strained, pulled, or otherwise extended beyond the reach of its normal function. That explained why it seemed like all my lower abdominal organs were in pain. Funny how that works, eh?

Since the prognosis didn't involve any organ distress, I was quickly issued prescriptions for Clinoral (an anti-inflammatory), Norflex (a muscle relaxant), and Percocet (a painkiller), and told to get dressed and check out as soon as I was able. Yeah, wooo, watch me go. Vroooom.

I spent the next three days still in mortal agony (or at least, more mortal than any prior agony I've been through) as the strain righted itself and my brain and liver became accustomed to the new drugs. Finally, on the day before the Fourth of July, the pain started lessening a bit. It no longer hurt to walk, and I was able to sit down in a normal position again, which I previously couldn't hack because it put too much strain on whichever lumbar muscle I'd strained. Now, a week after the pain first reappeared, I'm mostly back to normal, and although the pain is still there, its strength is waning with each passing day. It no longer feels like I'm John Hurt giving birth to a face-sucker's baby in the 1979 film Alien. The pain is almost completely gone, although flare-ups still happen once in a great while.

Coming out of this, I have a new respect for people suffering from chronic pain. I mean, I have carpal tunnel syndrome and temporomandibular joint disorder, but I wouldn't call the pain that they cause "sharp" or "severe." I have some empathic tendencies, so I expect that I'll be able to relate to people dealing with terrible pain a bit better than before, which is a decidedly good thing. The better I understand people, the easier my life will become.

I turn thirty years old next month; that I was able to dodge extreme pain for the first thirty years of my life is pretty remarkable, but I realise that as the older I grow, the more pain I'm likely to encounter. The best I can hope for is that my body doesn't rebel and attempt to make up for time lost in the past with time yet unspent in the future. This past week I've spent hunched over with stars in my eyes has been more than enough for the next thirty years. I can only hope my luck in avoiding it holds.

A longer version of this was reposted as the Editor Log: July 2006.

User News

This morning, at amnesiac's request, his e2 account was locked. This is apparently an act of expiation for events of July 4th in which amnesiac apparently upset one or more users. Thus we fulfill the "Lord Brawl locked my account" storyline. I did promise to report such actions in a timely manner, thus this note.

Admin News

In other news, several content editors have rotated out of the team. Jurph, wordnerd, yclept, Ouroboros, and Teiresias have each stepped down from the CE team, while witchiepoo and Lometa have moved to the e2gods usergroup. I was will consider recommendations for additions to the CE usergroup over the remainder of July.

'Outside' Room Topics

Early in July I was changing the room topic to "today in history" items that allowed me to hard link interesting, well-written e2 nodes on a related subject. Many folks said that they found this worthwhile.

Extensive experimentation conducted over the course of many years has led me to believe that cats' foreheads smell pleasant to humans. I invite you to attempt to replicate my findings, by following these easy steps:

Take a reasonably clean cat which likes you enough not to maul your face if you try to smell its head. Put your nose on its forehead, where the top whiskers are. Inhale deeply. Doesn't that smell nice?

(If it doesn't, you may actually be smelling your cat's awful catfood breath. Move your nose further away from the cat's mouth, and try again.)

It's a well-documented fact that cats secrete happy-cat pheromones from glands on their faces, and that these pheromones are found pleasant and reassuring by other cats. I am very disappointed that nobody has devoted serious research to the effects of this chemical on humans.

Now I know what drives well-adjusted people from good homes to kitten huffing.

North Korea just topped a couple weeks of bluster by launching a series of missiles over the ocean. The launches were mostly Scuds, a refinement of the German V-2 of World War II fame, but they did launch one Taepodong-2 missile whose 43 second misfire and funky name ought to inspire Jon Stewart for weeks to come. The U.S. took matters to the U.N. where no one is happy but China and Russia don't want to do anything of substance. A cynic might argue they're trying to score some points at our expense, but the Bush Administration has already bent a few U.N. Resolutions into pretzels in order to invade Iraq. Still, the world was uniformly appalled, and international condemnation was met with yet another round of bluster and dire thereats of more launches.

What to do about Korea?

The truth is nobody really knows. North Korea has raised xenophobia to high art. North Korean children grow up singing songs like "Lets Kill any American Soldiers We Meet Today". Not exactly Mr. Rogers. Every single house has a radio, it can't be turned off, and it can only be tuned to one station. That's the Propaganda Network, and North Korean propaganda sounds like something from The Onion. One story ran "The largest shrimp ever caught threw itself into the nets of North Korean fishermen in honor of the birthday of our Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il."

They say that if you tell a person they're ugly long enough they'll believe it. Imagine hearing crap like that every waking moment for life. The average North Korean can't have a clue what's going on the real world. Sure they may know that a lot of it is crap, but how to know what is BS? Propaganda that bizarre and pervasive has to skew the worldview of an entire population. Even the 'Dear Leader", Kim Jong-il, cannot have escaped entirely. Who does he surround himself with? Who does he read? Somehow I don't think it's E.J. Dionne and David Brooks. A steady diet of 'suck-up' is not conducive to clear thinking.

So yesterday I was listening ot the radio where John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org said we should take out the launch sites. When asked if that might provoke war Pike blithely replied, "No, that would be stupid."

Pike is right, a military response from North Korea would be stupid. They can launch a nuclear weapon at South Korea and Japan, but that would probably lead to their own annihilation. They could invade South Korea but things have changed a bit since 1950. South Korea really isn't a Third World nation any more, its knocking on the first world door, and South Korea's soldiers enjoy a good reputation for professionalsm and ferocity. Most think that if North Korea picked a fight the South Koreans would win without American paricipation. Which they would get.

Pike figures that North Korea's missile-rattling is military equivalent of child's tantrum, North Korea wants attention and most everyone agrees on that point. He figures that if you flatten a few launch sites the North Koreans will suddenly realize how dangerous the game they're playing is. He's figuring an attack will be a wake-up call for them and they'll be shocked into some sense and negotiate seriously.

Pike may be right. Certainly the rational thing for North Korea to do would be to follow that course. They have shown a certain pragmatism when confronted with presistent pressure.

But I'm not so sure that 'rational' in the North Korean context means the same thing it does elsewhere. We got through the Cold War with the Soviet Union at least in part because the Russians were sane. They were as terrified of nuclear war as we were, and they played the game like realists. They worked with real information. Sure we academics used to joke that "There's no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia" the truth is the Soviet media was the BBC or NPR in comparison to the North Korea. They didn't have a family dynasty running things, they had a political party and the cult of personality in Russia died with Stalin.

In other words, they were people we disagreed with, but you could talk to them and they understood what an agreement was. Does that sound like North Korea to you?

If the North Koreans really were rational they wouldn't keep two thirds of their military age males in uniform. They might bluster, but they would concentrate on clear and readily achievable goals, like lots of aid. They'd reform in private. And when they got what they wanted they'd shut up. What they did do was ensure that they'll get less aid than before.

North Korea is coming apart. Hunger is growing and without foreign aid many of their citizens would starve. They let some South Koreans in for visits to bring in foreign exchange and suddenly a bunch of long lost relatives showed up driving a brand new Hyundai and wearing a Seiko. That radio can talk all it wants about the achievements of North Korean industry, but nice clothes, a casual manner with money and a shiny new Sonata speak volumes. There is lots of discontent in North Korea and all it needs is the right spark.

I think North Korea is rattling missiles because it's desperate. Sooner or later, all will come apart, and like the fall of Ceausescu the end might come in a really big hurry. The only thing North Korea has going for it a very large military, whose soldiers also enjoy respect. Nobody is more dangerous than a country with a big stick and nothing to lose.

Pike might be right. Maybe hitting the missiles will act like a cold glass of water to the face. Maybe, and I've heard smug assurance about what the other guy do in the recent past. But I'm worried they'll panic and lash out like they dying animal they are.

Aside:

Most Americans regard the Korean War as a draw. It started badly, but turned around thanks the Inchon landing. Thanks to MacArthur's blithe disbelief in the idea that China might intervene it turned into a long and bloody stalemate. But if we hadn't fought that war South Korea would be part of North Korea. Maybe a victorious North Korea might have enough confidence to open up, but I'm doubt it.

The way I see it is this: North Korea is a shithole. South Korea is an emerging prosperous democracy, and if things there aren't perfect the difference between it and its Northern half are starker than night and day. If we hadn't fought that war, South Korea wouldn't exist.

I think it's time to put that war in the 'win' column and pray we don't fight another one, a war that would bring North Korea to an end.

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