What a pain 

Grace in the face of adversity is an admirable trait

I must say I like a doctor who doles out morphine for a bad stomachache. After a while, though, the pain went away and I must have showed signs of improvement, because the emergency staff sent me home with no fanfare and no fancy conclusion for what put me in the hospital. Just "stomach flu" was all they could come up with. Damn, I thought to myself, that's not very dramatic, but I must say I was admirable in my pain.

I insisted on driving myself. Chris is hopeless when it comes to comforting the sick, I swear to God. He perched himself in the bathroom doorway as I turned into a total vomit bomb, not even offering to hold my hair. I guess I should be happy he got even as close as he did, because I was spewing like a busted beer keg. "Are you taking out-of-date medication again?" Chris asked suspiciously from his safe distance.

He must have been referring to that time a year-and-a-half ago when I took a pain killer from a prescribed batch left over from a root canal years prior. I had an excellent reason for taking the pill, too, seeing as how I'd been stabbed in the chest 500 times with a jagged machete -- or at least that's how it felt. Believe me, breastfeeding is just fine until the day you stop, which is when you feel like you've been attacked by some kind of flesh-eating breast cancer. So I took the pill, I took it I tell you! And I'd do it again if it didn't make me curl up, sick as a salted slug. Serves me right, Chris chided.

Now here he stood just outside splatter range, handing me a towel and three spray bottles of bathroom cleaner. I hear his mother almost died when she had him; he was born tiny and too soon. Funny, because he is far from tiny today. He is a 6-foot-4-inch ex-professional football player, which might explain his philosophy regarding sympathy to those in pain ("Walk it off!"). It would be easy to despise him if he collapsed, at all, under pain himself, but he handles pain quite admirably.

Last year he inexplicably contracted a case of Bells Palsy, which is that mysterious condition that deadens the nerves on one side of your head so that it looks as though half your face is falling off your skull like a Malibu mud slide. Nobody knows what really causes it or how long it'll last once it's contracted. The only certainty surrounding the disease is that there is no cure.

In short, if it had been me who had contracted Bells Palsy, I'd have spent the duration of the affliction crouched in the corner, wailing and waving people away like Frankenstein tormented by torch-wielding villagers. "My face, my face," I would have moaned -- unintelligibly, of course.

But not Chris. Bells Palsy didn't even break his stride. He just continued about his business with his new phantom-of-the-opera face, scaring little children and faint-hearted adults, tripping on his own lips occasionally. About five weeks later, a tingly sensation signaled the return of nerve activity on the dead side of his head. Soon he was back to his bristly old self, able to bare his big teeth with his wicked smile. To this day I'm impressed by how he handled that, quite admirably.

I wish it always worked that way. I remember when my mother was in the last stages of liver cancer and my sisters and I drove her to the hospital every other day or so, checking her into the emergency room where they could do nothing but offer more pain killers. At one point my mother stopped the doctor when she was about to piggyback a second heaping dose of morphine, "Isn't that a narcotic?" she asked, aghast. My mother was afraid of becoming addicted, and the 27-year-old emergency-room doctor, who looked to be about eight months pregnant, evidently hadn't learned to allow the dying to hang onto the illusion of a future. Addictions happen over time, she said, and my mother didn't have enough time left.

Talk about pain. There is nothing more painful than seeing hope die in the face of someone you love. What was there just went away, a tiny animation in my mother's eyes or something, an element that preserved the "her"-ness of my mother through the balding head and the blistered lips and jaundiced skin. It just faded right then. So I took the doctor aside and said, "Isn't there something you can give her for the pain?"

"She doesn't want any more morphine," she said placidly.

"Isn't there something, something?" I continued to plead, isn't there something in one of those intravenous bags that could re-ignite the flicker lost from my mother's face? The doctor looked at me expressionlessly, carefully keeping herself from absorbing the damage she had just wrought and its ensuing grief. We were each about the same age, the doctor and I, each about to experience agony in our own right a month from then, she when she had her child and me when I'd become parentless and therefore no longer someone's child. We stood there, her face frozen and mine melted, each failing to be admirable in our pain.

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