I put myself to sleep last night thinking about the worst pain I’ve ever felt.
This cogitation was triggered by popcorn. Saturday, I was making a batch, fully aware that water droplets were in the pan. You know that bit about oil and water—so true. When I threw in the popcorn, grease shot up like a hellcat coming out of a burlap sack. I jerked back my arm. This is the arm I’ve been in physical therapy with for six weeks, trying to rehab whatever I did to my shoulder. When I yanked my arm out of the way of the spitting grease, it felt like someone had stabbed me in the shoulder with an ice pick.
Then I was rolling on the kitchen floor, interspersing curses with shouts to Tom that I was okay. The last he’d seen of me, I’d been at the hot stove. Now he couldn’t see me because of the kitchen counter. So I’m rolling on the floor, yelling for God and the Devil at the same time and hollering, “I’m okay! I didn’t burn myself!”
The thing was: I had no idea how to make the pain stop. It wasn’t even ebbing, just holding steady and true and hurting like a son-of-a-bitch. Eventually, I thought of the icepack in the freezer. With cold, then hot, application, the pain subsided. The rest of the day I walked around wearing one of Tom’s great big, black, unwieldy gloves, to remind myself not to use that arm. Today, the shoulder retains a penumbra of pain, but it’s pretty much back to what has become normal.
So last night, in the course of wondering what was the worst physical pain I’ve ever experienced, I realized that my worst “pains” have been so because they were mixed with other emotions. Fear (the appendicitis-not-appendicitis episode when I was reliving childhood stories of, “when that fever breaks, she’s gonna leave this world with it”). Or terror (when, in the grip of a night terror, I did a runner off the end of the bed and, like a cartoon character, hit the ground three feet below with no cushioning at all and awoke to an inexplicable situation of pain). Or shame (the pain of the faux kidney stones quickly replaced by the shame of four hours of vomiting in various public places, thanks to the Dilaudid.) Or intrigue (when I tore my eyeball and had to wear a black eyepatch as we toured Jerusalem: Moshe Dayan reincarnate.) My undiluted episodes of pain—my broken hand and foot, a few mishaps with knives—honestly didn’t hurt that bad and haven’t been that memorable.
Until the popcorn. I think I’ll remember the popcorn. But who knows—maybe pain is only remembered as excruciating when, like oil and water, it is mixed with another emotion.
Here’s to creative synthesis . . .