A recent study by the Institute of Medicine estimated that at a cost of $635 billion, 116 million American adults suffer from chronic pain, which is greater than the total of those afflicted with heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined.

I am one of them.

And that’s only in the USA, but pain is indiscriminate. It crosses national boundaries, economic borders and ethnic lines.

Pain is a strange bedfellow. When you are in pain, you can’t focus on anything else, but once it subsides, it is difficult to perceive exactly what it felt like.

Whether you suffer from ankle sprain, knee strain, back pain, brain drain,
Bladder, blood, bone, breast or one of the hundreds of cancer,
Headache, stomach ache, toothache, earache, or any body part ache
Arthritis, bursitis, colitis, encephalomyelitis
Polymyalgia, fibromyalgia, neuralgia or any of the algias
Multiple sclerosis, dermatomyositis, sarcoïdosis
Or one of the umpteen syndromes,
Whatever the name, no matter the ailment,
Pain becomes your partner.

Winter accentuates the pain; every cells aches.  The cold damp seeps into my bones. Viruses proliferate, bacteria run wild, and influenzas rampage.  I want to pull a blanket over my head and hibernate until spring.

Yet I roll out of bed every morning. I move. One. Step. Forward.

Chronic pain may subside temporarily, but it comes back to haunt you. Over time it wears down resistance, breaks spirit, zaps energy, steals joy, robs the soul.

Pain makes you set your jaw; your eyes grow falsely bright with anxiety. How long will it last? How can I endure the next hour of work? What can I do to minimize the intensity?

Pain interrupts the best-laid plans and interferes with long held dreams. Pain rules.

What do fighters do when they can’t fight back?

Take a time out. Return to your corner. Close the shutters. Stop of the noise. Rest up.

Give into the burning, stabbing, searing spasms. « Time out » is especially difficult for old athletes, trained to suck it up and get on with it. But as my body screams, I shut out society. I retreat to a dark, quiet room and let the douleur wash over me, surround me, embalm me. And I look to others for inspiration.

Like my eighty-year-old dad, who after his fourth surgery last year, willed himself to sit straight and raise dumb bells to strengthen shoulder muscles. He lifted the same two-pound weights my grandfather hoisted when his legs grew too shaky to stand from Parkinson disease. Or my brothers-in-law who battled back from heart operations without missing a beat.

I look to my daughter, an intern longing for a day off, yet working 13-hour shifts 24/7, because like all doctors, she knows that chronically ill children never get  a holiday.

Though my body may be broken and my spirit weary, I get by- With a Little Help From My Friends

From the cozy comfort of my bed, I strum my guitar, sing off tune, read a book, write a letter, say a prayer; I know firsthand.

That, which does not kill me, makes me stronger. – Nietzsche

And I am as tough as they come.