Pain

May 5, 2013

I went snowboarding, and I didn't know how to snowboard. It was a fun time. There's nothing like starting from zero and watching yourself getting the hang of something. To go from not being able to stand up for more than five seconds to being able to go down a medium-steep hill in a matter of hours. Not to mention it's a hilariously fun group activity, as those around you are either also falling down or helping those who are falling, teaching them the best way they can. Not to mention there's an interesting sensation of the cold of the mountain being somehow negated by your thin snowboarding jacket and adrenaline.

Then there's the stuff after, like that refreshing beer when all your gear's off, or how famished you are and how appropriate it is to stuff your face, how sore you are and what a good night's sleep you'll get, and in Japan here we have the hot springs at the particular place we went to, and even though it smelled of sulfur it's still amazing that you're sitting in a hot bath with water naturally heated from the ground and as snow falls on your head. Amazing.

But on this particular trip, I got to experience another interesting... thing. Pain. I'm not talking about my bruises and cuts as I fell for the hundredth time (thankfully the snow was forgiving). In the last stretch of getting to the bottom of the mountain, I dislocated my shoulder.

It's happened before, actually, a couple years ago when I went skiing (when I didn't know how to ski), and I fell strangely, and I felt my shoulder pop. Somehow, I figured out how to twist and pull my arm in a way to pop it back in. I had to lay there for fifteen minutes to recover from the memory of the seconds of intense pain, and to let the stiffness let a little, but there was also this incredible feeling of relief that I was able to miraculously fix it myself.

It didn't go as well this time. In the first few minutes, I started pulling and contorting and I was hoping and hoping that I could get it back in. That's when my friends stopped laughing at my incredible fall and started asking if I was okay. Over the next 20 minutes we tried all sorts of pulling and twisting as my thoughts and vision were getting blurry from the pain and snow. Eventually we gave up, the patrols got me to the bottom of the mountain, got me to the hospital where they x-rayed me and the nice doctors and nurses got it back in place, and I was back drinking beer in an hour, the whole ordeal over in less than three.

So this was interesting, and not worrisome or scary, although extremely painful, because I knew I was in zero danger. I knew that all we had to do was pop it back in. But no one could do it. So it was the most intense pain I've felt in my life, extended over a period of 2 hours. Every movement of my arm was excruciating, like this intense needle pressure all throughout my arm... I don't even want to talk about it. Every lying down, getting up, sitting up, every bump in the ambulance, and somehow it was getting worse and worse.

So because I was in zero danger, all I had to deal with was the pain. I don't think my friends were super concerned either, although they could sympathize with the pain that they'd squirm (I would). So at one point, when it got almost unbearable, I just started thinking about it. The feeling. I tried to think about only it, to try to dissect it. Maybe I was getting a little delirious, and I was definitely exhausted, but something about this helped me relax. It made the twenty minute ambulance ride suddenly more bearable.

And wow, when it was over, it was like the clouds parted and I could hear music. The pain stopped in an instant. It's like I woke up. I could suddenly feel how I didn't know how hard my heart was beating the whole time, how I didn't really understand what the room looked like and how I didn't know what the nice people who were helping me looked like, until that moment. I was so, so happy. It wasn't even relief. It was joy, because, like I said, it wasn't anything to worry about, but it was finally over.

This got me thinking about two things.

I think about the times where I'm stuck in a rut, where I don't see anything or anyone around me. Where I'm worried, or angry, or sad, or even elated, excited, and things blur and darken and I am looking at the world through glued on binoculars, or I'm breathing in air through a straw. At some point I snap out of it, and I realize things are, as always, going to be all right. Thank you, dislocated shoulder, for coming the closest to slapping me in the face with this concept.

And the other is, well the other day, it was terribly cold outside. The wind was especially harsh, and no matter how hard I bundled up I was cold. But after thirty seconds of feeling miserable, somehow a memory of that pain that was infinitely worse hit me. I shuddered a little bit, thinking about how bad it was, and how being cold is nothing compared to that. And I thought about how even if that was the worst pain I've ever felt, that it was still infinitely nothing compared to what so many people have to go through for whatever reason. And suddenly, I was able to stand up straight. I looked the cold right in the face and thought, this is nothing. It's not that I wasn't cold. It's just that I was a lot less bothered by it. And now when something else comes like that, whether it be cold, or wet feet, or I hit my leg on the corner of the table, or I'm angry, or I'm tired, or I'm sick or hungover, I have that in my toolbox to take out and make all that shit manageable.

I had so much fun on that trip, even if I was only able to snowboard for a few hours. And the people, and the food, and the amazing hot baths would have made the trip worth it, but this experience of excruciating pain is what made the trip unforgettable.