When the pain doesn’t go away

If the opioid crisis has taught us anything as humans — and there is no guarantee that it has — it’s that we need to manage pain rather than try to eliminate it.

I have osteoarthritis in both my knees. I tore the meniscus in my left knee more than a year ago.

I’ve not walked a step without pain since.

Things were going poorly before the tear.

Two years of isolation during the pandemic led to atrophy in my legs.

That combined with my morbid obesity left me weak-legged.

The torn cartilage and subsequent surgery to remove exacerbated a chronic problem.

I use the tools available to me to manage the symptoms.

I pull on compression socks. I use knee braces on bad days.

I gave up on canes.

I use a walker.

I hated the walker.

I was so ashamed.

I’m 47 years old. I shouldn’t need a walker.

But I do.

I move faster and safer with it.

The same comes from this social notion that obesity is caused only by good fork-to-mouth coordination.

It isn’t.

Obesity certain involves overeating.

But it’s as complex as any medical condition with factors ranging from genetics to adverse childhood experiences.

Alas, people like to see things as flat as a postcard.

Either look at the picture side or the side with writing. There are no other sides.

Almost nothing in life is that simple, but humans don’t like to think too hard about things.

Judgment is easier. Find someone who is different. Cast them out.

I’m not above any of this. I am human and carry with me all the inherent flaws, including the judgment of things I don’t understand.

I do understand obesity, and more specifically pain, both psychological and physiological.

I went to the doctor for a check-up last week.

I have a great doctor.

She’s always up on the latest research. She encourages rather than scolds.

And — this is especially important with a patient like me — won’t let me charm my way out of talking about things that are really bothering me.

The truth is my legs hurt so bad that I often wonder how I can live like this.

The doctor visit included a trip to the eye doctor and a trip for labs.

It involved a lot of walking.

By the end of the day, my legs hurt so bad, that I was covered in sweat and struggling to breathe.

The next day, all I could do was drink some water and sleep.

The day after that, I could walk to the kitchen to get some iced tea and then go back to bed.

I started to feel less like a corpse on the third day.

I am profoundly embarrassed and ashamed of my state of myself.

Those feelings accomplish nothing except feed the negative thoughts I have about the person I am and the life I’ve lived.

There are days when I think the walker is just an external expression of all my failures.

This is nonsense, of course, but psychological problems are complicated.

In the end, most human problems fester in the space between intellectual understanding and emotional reaction.

My emotional reaction to the pain in my knees and the use of a walker overwhelms my intellectual understanding that I’m doing well.

I lost my job in the pandemic. It broke my heart, but it was expected.

I taught myself how to podcast. I went to graduate school and learned to be a teacher.

I earned a master’s degree.

I got a job as a teacher that starts next month.

And despite getting the boot by that big newspaper in the city, I’m still making a little money stacking paragraphs on my blog and for the good people of Marion County.

Those are facts. I know them to be true. They’re documented.

But even then, I feel the shame. I don’t want to see myself in the mirror. I see a broken-down old man fading away.

But then I wash my face and shave.

I pull on the compression socks.

I tighten the knee braces.

I unfold the walker, open the door, and take a step one ginger, painful step into the new day.

There’s only one way through life: Forward.

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Express.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.

1 Comment

  1. Karen says:

    Yep, forward, one step at a time. Sometimes not easy for us complicated human beings, but really the only choice. I’ve got old-age osteoarthritis in my knees – one knee for 10 years and the other for 6 weeks. Not fun, but others are so much worse off. I try to be grateful for what I can do. (Being naturally stubborn helps.) I think that your resilience and fortitude are amazing. You will be a great teacher.


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