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.