Chronic pain is my constant companion, like an unwelcome shadow that follows me everywhere I go. Sometimes it hovers just at the edge of my mind, like a mouse hiding in the cupboards, small and subtle enough that I can ignore it. Other times it’s like an elephant sitting on my chest, immobilizing and forcing me to think of absolutely nothing else. Usually, it’s more like a cat.
Just like a cat presses against and curls around you while you’re engrossed in a task, my pain makes itself known as I move through my day.
And just like a cat leaps away from your hand the moment you’re free to give it the attention it demands, my pain often hides as soon as I can spare a minute to devote to it.
But once I’m engaged in my next task it’s back, wrapping around me, threatening to trip me up and bring me crashing down.
Whether a mouse, an elephant, or a cat, it is never welcome in my home.
Until a few weeks ago. My perspective changed when I was reading Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey.
Dr. Brand is a leprosy specialist and he explains that leprosy ravages the body by deadening the nerves. As nerves die in various body parts patients are unable to feel pain and so, unknowingly, damage themselves. Their hands and feet get bumped, burned, or scraped and because it goes unnoticed the wounds fester. The eyes fail to tear and to blink but because there’s no discomfort, the eye dries out and the person is blinded.
The lack of pain means a lack of response to danger and consequently the body slowly, piece by piece, disintegrates.
This realization made me appreciate my physical pain because I know that it serves as an alarm system. When my spine is screaming I lie down. When my eyes ache from the strain of using them, I rest them. My body tells me what it needs and I respond. I respond and the pain subsides.
I never thought I would appreciate the gift of pain.
An alternate version of this post appears on the Disability and Faith Forum