What Triggers Pain?

I wake up in the middle of the night with my toes in a cramp and a shooting pain in my left hand. Feeling my age much? In an effort to walk off the cramp, I head to the kitchen for a glass of water, you’ll be relieved to know my toes realigned beautifully, but the hand is throbbing as if slammed in a car door. I slip quietly back into bed dumfounded by this sudden onset of pain. I try to relieve the ailing appendage by putting it gently inside the covers, then outside the covers, over my head, across my face, on top of my thigh, hanging off the edge of the bed, resting on the nightstand, I finally curl up in the fetal position, and reach for my rosary. 

Larry is quietly breathing next to me as unperturbed as an infant. I want to sit up in bed and scream at the top of my lungs, “my hand hurts,” but I’m a mature woman, slightly more worried about his sleep than my inoperative hand, so I give him a pass, and allow his rest to continue uninterrupted. This is how I was taught to deal with pain, privately, and I believe this experience is common especially for women. 

Here’s the problem, Larry has the entire day planned, in less than five hours the ‘fun’ begins. He mentioned something about the coast, sunsets, and Big Red (his beloved convertible). He starts a new position in a few days and this particular outing is a form of celebration. He single ‘handedly’ planned the entire day, I haven’t a clue what he has up his sleeve, let’s hope it doesn’t involve zip lining, or bowling.

I scheduled an early morning eye appointment a month ago, I am completely out of eye gear, and need a year’s worth of contacts. Larry begrudgingly agrees to accommodate my vision with his plans for the day. 

As I’m guzzling down my first cup of coffee I try to explain to Larry about the pain building in my hand, “it really hurts.”

He seems mildly interested, “hum, that’s odd,” glancing up from his computer to give my hand a curtesy glance.

Me, “Odd! Yes it is odd and I might die.” 

He rubs his hand over his mouth, “I wouldn’t count on it,” oozing with empathy.

Doing my best not to throw a shoe in his direction, I struggle into a pair of sweats, and drive single handedly to the Family Eye Care Center. I can see Larry watching me from the kitchen window. He has this annoyed look on his face because I’m driving over the lawn. My hand is hurting so bad, I can barely fasten my seat belt, let alone stay on the cement. In my defense, I gave birth to four children, without pain meds. 

I’m not a total wimp. 

The assistant at the eye care center drags me through a series of screening tests and then places me in a room to await the doctor. He’s a kind enough man, a little too chit chatty, I really could do without all the pleasantries at this particular moment. I want to scream, “my hand hurts, prescribe something, I’m dying,” but this goes against my training, so I smile, and respond appropriately to his incessant references to the chart in the mirror, the strength of my right eye over my left, and my preference in eyewear. 

He says, “your blood pressure is a little high.” Really?

I think clarity of vision is a gift especially when applied to complicated issues. Don’t you agree?

While I’m scheduling a follow up appointment I run into an old friend I haven’t seen in about fifteen years. Are you kidding? She wants to do the two minute catch up thing and I’m simply not capable. I mumble something about work and race out the door waving goodbye with my good hand, “nice to see you.” I’m sure she thinks I have deplorable manners.

As I swing into the driveway Larry has Big Red out front, OMG, he’s dusting her off with this gigantic feather duster. Never have I managed to coax Larry into assisting me in the war against dust, but here he is, ‘dusting’ off Big Red. 

Just to mess with him I say, “you missed a whole section in the back.”

I see him kneel down to examine the bumper as I saunter into the house, shower, and throw on the first thing my good hand makes contact with. Shoving a baseball hat firmly over my bed head I race back to the dust free car. He has a bunch of paperwork in a neat little pile, printed maps, directions, and such for our celebratory day. Lord have mercy.

I’m slightly delirious with pain but somewhere in the back of my mind I am hopeful that the throbbing will eventually stop. It’s a genetic defect, optimism ad nauseam, I always think ‘things will get better,’ until proven wrong, which never happens, because eventually things do get better. Does that make any sense?

Larry says, “We’re going to Mount Umunhum,” all excited like it’s the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite or Disneyland. “It just opened to the public. It used to be an Air Force base, there was even a bowling alley up there at one point, and a school. The base housed hundreds of families.” One can only hope the bowling alley has been demolished.

I smile, nod, but honestly I’m barely hanging on to the basics of the conversation. “We’ll get to see The Cube, an old radar tower that sits at the summit. It’s a relic of the peak’s role in the Cold War.” I can’t seem to sustain interest in anything but my suffering. 

As we make our way up Hicks Road, my discomfort, and the climb increase at like ratios. The road ends at a large parking lot. You have to hike up to ‘The Cube’ if you want to see the spectacular views. Perfect. There are about a thousand steps, high altitude, and my pain threshold has expired. I want to cry, throw-up, maybe both. I continue to exist in this bubble, not wanting to disappoint Larry, or completely ruin his experience of Umunhum.

Larry is unusually animated, pointing out landmarks, and scenic points of interest. I believe his is trying to compensate for my lack of enthusiasm. I have to admit the views are extraordinary. 

We walk by a large circular area marked with a beautifully crafted stone wall. It’s being preserved as a Native American ritual ceremonial site. Glancing around I understand why they choose this particular spot. It’s sacred. I take a few pictures for my world religions class but continue along the path to the summit in silence. 

The vantage point from the top of this mountain offers extraordinary views of the entire valley. I feel omnipotent, as if I’m standing on top of the world, mesmerized by the sheer expanse of the familiar landscape below. 

Writing about this now, days after the Las Vegas massacre, I’m wondering if Stephen Paddock felt the same rush from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Hotel? 

I wonder what pain he was trying to escape? But more importantly why did he feel entitled to unleash his pain onto the innocent victims? From this vantage point nothing is distinct. It almost looks fake, like a miniature play structure, or replica of life. I have to assume Paddock was not able to make out the facial expressions of his victims from his elevated position. It makes me wonder if one can feel mercy or empathy from a distance?

What causes a man or woman to feel justified in hurting others because of their own pain? 

The president calls it pure “evil.”

Courtney Martin makes a lot of valid points in her recent post, “If there is evil here, it is complacency, and it is collective.”

Violent video games have been blamed for the rise in cultural violence, lax gun regulations, insufficient healthcare, along with family instability, and the breakdown of cultural norms. I think it is also related to the lack of strong male role models in the lives of our youth. I try to remember the last time I thanked Larry for being such an extraordinary father?

How do we take responsibility for the increase of violence in our society? What have I done since the last massacre?

The questions tumble out but the answers do not come easily. It’s complicated, polarizing, political, and after a few months I’m afraid we’ll be inclined to simply move on. 

My son Dante and a few of his cousins have tickets to a country western concert in the Bay Area in a few weeks. I’m petrified, during dinner last night I counseled him upon entering the stadium to identify the nearest exit, have a plan in place before the music starts, locate possible shelters. I used to warn him about drinking but this seems irrelevant today.

After looking around the mountain for thirty minutes or so I tell Larry, “we have to go, I need pain meds, and maybe some ice.”

He’s beginning to realize the severity of pain shooting through my hand. I see the worry in his eyes as we make our way back to the car. As we pass the ceremonial stone circle, I stop, and stand in the middle of this sacred space. I don’t care what anyone thinks. I hold my sore hand up to the four directions: north, south, east, and west. I ask our Native American ancestors to heal me in a humble, sincere, and desperate prayer.

On the way down the mountain I hold my aching hand in a vice grip against my stomach, it’s the only thing I can think of to ease the pain, I feel the sweat dripping down my back. 

Within thirty minutes of my impromptu prayer to the ancestors the pain is gone, the back of my hand remains swollen, but I can easily move all the joints. I completely stunned.

We land at Phil’s for wine and chowder in Moss Landing. I consider this a sacramental meal. I keep trying to figure out if my prayers where answered or if it was simply a coincidence? 

We continue along Highway 1 to Carmel, his plan includes a little window shopping, wine tasting, and maybe dinner before heading home. I am so relieved of pain I would agree to just about anything but I keep those thoughts to myself (durning our last celebratory weekend I ended up naked, face down, on a massage table).

The first thing to catch my eye as we stroll down main street is a pounded copper table. I walk into the store and run my good hand along the finish. Larry strolls in behind me. We’ve been looking for a farm table for the lake house, something sturdy, and big enough to serve at least ten to twelve people. This is perfect. It is beautifully crafted, the finish is spectacular, and it’s on sale. Larry tries to do a little negotiating with the sales lady but she’s not budging off sale price. We decide to give it some space.

It’s a beautiful day, the weather warm, with a soft northern breeze. My hand remains pain free which is so liberating I can not fully express my joy. It is impossible to live fully with unrelenting pain. I think that has great significance in our world today.

We slip into an oyster bar because that is what you do when visiting the coast. I should mention this is after we inhaled a sumptuous meat and cheese tray at a exquisite Italian winery. We finally make it all the way down to the beach, sitting on the warm sand, watching the sunset is a gift. 

Strolling back up main street we stumbled upon this adorable restaurant, it happens to be right across the street from my copper table, so we slip inside to see if they can accommodate us. They seat us outside, under twinkle lights, and glowing candles. It is as romantic as it gets, especially with the beautiful earrings Larry bought me, spur of the moment. I think he is as relieved as I am about the pain in my hand. 

After dinner Larry sends me across the street to close the deal on the farm table.  I walk into the showroom, give our sweet sales lady a final, final offer, which is denied on the spot. Total fail. 

I find Larry on his phone trying to locate the hotel he just booked? I guess we’re staying the night? This takes several bouts of cussing, walking up and down the wrong street, questioning the quality of our phone service, but like I say, “eventually things will get better.” We found our room, no toothbrush, facial soap, pjs, and once I toss my contacts I’m legally blind. Que sera sera… 

We are unaware that Stephen Paddock checked into the Mandalay Bay Casino on the same night.

The alarm rings at o’dark hundred, my mouth is dry, and everything is out of focus. We slip back into the clothes from the day before, find the car, and thankfully a Starbucks. My first class starts in a few hours but the massacre in Las Vegas won’t happen for two more days. I’m still naive enough to think “things will get better,” but the truth is I’ll be adjusting to a new reality in a matter of days. 

The owner of the furniture store called me about the table on Monday but I’m no longer interested. Instead I feel an urgency towards prayer, the kind the brings you to your knees, because the pain is so severe. Dag Hammarskjold says, “we are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny, but what we put into it is ours.” 

This morning I woke up in the middle of the night with a pain in my gut. I head to the kitchen for a glass of water, then slip quietly back into bed, dumfounded by enormity of violence in our world. I try to relieve the discomfort, but end up in the fetal position, reaching for my rosary. 

I’m Living in the Gap, drop a thought or two in the comments. 

Post Script: I have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in my left hand, caused by repetitive behaviors, not unlike how we learn to be human. 



Leave a Comment

  1. This is stunning, Cheryl. You've captured so much of what I – and I suspect many – have been thinking lately. And for too long before that, truly. This – Yes it is odd and I might die. Sounds so much like our house I had to laugh out loud. My husband's responses are equally empathetic. I often have bad hand pain from rheumatoid arthritis. Today is one of those days and it is just awful. Hope your pains are few today!


  2. Wow. Thanks Lisa, I meant to write a silly but fun blog about domestic issues/conflicts encountered while trying to keep the light going but after Las Vegas I wasn't able to leave out the obvious connections and difficult questions running though my mind. Hope your pain is minimal today but it does remind me of the suffering many people experience each and every day. Thanks for reading. Please check out Lisa's blog: The meaning of me!


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