Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Physical Pain and Depression

I'm sitting here in a neck brace, wondering how this accident affects my life beyond physical impairments. As I said before, nothing was "broken," thank God, but sometimes things are less painful when they break rather than being stretched to the limit. As I type my chest hurts, my neck hurts, my shoulders hurt, my knee hurts, and I suffer from numbness in my left fourth and fifth fingers. This numbness is a persistent symptom from compression of cervical vertebrae 7 and 8, what's called "a stinger" in football circles. If I cough or strain, a band of metallic fire shoots down my arm into my left elbow and fingers; it takes my breath away. When this occurs my right little finger goes numb as well, confirming that the injury is spinal rather than more local, as in a stretched axillary or cervical or brachial plexus on one side. Bilateral symptoms in the same dermatome mean that a central lesion is at fault.

Both knees have third degree abrasions, now beginning to leak from under the scabs. The right hurts worse because the accident included a brief dislocation of my right kneecap.

My left shoulder was dislocated as well, but popped back in like the kneecap. Above the shoulder I display the clinical deformity of "tenting," where the collar bone, now separated from the shoulder blade (3rd degree acromioclavicular separation), rises up and pushes against the skin.

I also have pain from thoracic compression at T5 as a band around my pectorals, and pain shooting into my shoulder blades bilaterally from a cervical compression at C3-C4.

In addition to all these is the constant ache and burning of soft tissue injuries to muscle, ligaments, fascia and tendons, especially in the left shoulder and at the base of the occipit where the strained splenius capitus muscles insert.

Emotionally my knowledge of medicine and my own body relieve me of any fear, knowing that my long-term prognosis is fairly sanguine. I may need surgery on my left shoulder but delaying it will make the operation easier, as the body goes on repairing what it can and clearing the surgical field of inflammation and debris. The opposite can also hold true if too much scarring complicates the field.

I have never been afraid throughout this ordeal, unless it be the immediate fear of pain should I cough or move--knowing that in the next instant I will feel like a fish speared by its own nerves.

Pain renders the mind blank and speechless, unless it be the occasionally needful swear word.

I feel lucky in my mind but my body doesn't agree.

To be thrown at 25 mph from a motorcycle onto a winding two-lane highway in the fog with much traffic, and fare as well as I have, seems a miracle, as if the angels said, "So far and no further." Further could mean dead or at least quadriplegic; yet the fact that I was relatively spared feels more like a lucky statistic than a personal gift. When the pain lessens I may be able to rejoice more fully.

I am selling the bike, btw; it was dangerous for my bulk because it was underpowered, at 125 cc, at pushing my fat ass up hills. And I have no desire at present for a bigger, safer bike; I was doing OK with the bus system before this happened in any case.

After sitting here to write this, my neck and left shoulder continue to register the highest pain levels, while my left hand feels funny with its numb digits.

Pain is the greatest teacher but it is sometimes overrated as a tutor. One learns nothing from chronic pain except endurance, maybe a little increased caution.

I feel much the same way about depression; its main lesson is also endurance, hoping "this, too, will pass." I can't speak of any dark night of the soul or spiritual realization from depression or the accident. They are similar in requiring stamina, or the quality of indomitability that I have shown throughout my life. My name means "Rock," and my body's response to this accident was very much like a rock, with a few exceptions. So likewise I am a rock in depression. I continue to function despite the inexpressible feelings of anger, fear and sadness co-mingled into self-hatred that attend my waking hours in that condition.

Strangely, my strength does come from the darkness, from depression. If I can endure severe clinical depression I can endure nearly anything. And the prospect of depression puts my present thoughts of pain in perspective; I'd much rather endure physical injury than mental torment. Those who say otherwise have not known depression as I have, and I hope they never do.

Bloodied but Kiloneutral,



  1. Hope the pain begins to lessen soon. All the best.

  2. Anonymous7:30 PM PDT

    As you say CE, your medical training provides some comfort. It's amazing how the doctor in you can make such a dispassionare inventory of your various aches and pains.

    be well or should I say heal quickly,

  3. Selling the bike seems like a really good idea. Maybe a bicycle would work better? Certainly safer.

    I look forward to a poem. A snapshot, you in mid-air, staring at the on-rushing roadway, telling yourself how much the landing is going to reinforce your premonition of the results of 50+ year olds doing stuff they should have stopped doing at 45.

    Well, maybe not. Hope you're feeling better today. -blue

  4. Perhaps all one can learn from chronic pain and/or depression is endurance, but many people, sadly, cannot even reach this point with their suffering. And yet, you have. Your strength will certainly see you through. And my goodness, how shocked I was to read of this tonight - I am so glad you are (relatively) OK! We never know what life will throw at us next, do we...

  5. Twitches, you are right...we all live not knowing what life will hand us, throw at us next. I think, often, dealing with the stuff life throws at us personally, we forget that we are not alone dealing with stuff life throws. Often we are dealing with what we've come to know well. My Ozark grandmother used to say, "put your troubles and those of others in a barrel and roll it down a hill...you'll choose your own, the ones you know best at the bottom"

    I suspect she was right...the devil you know is better than the devil you don't.

    Craig is strong...we all know that...he's too damn tough and engaged in life to give it up. I am lucky...living in the same small town...I know he makes a difference in the lives of many...those seeking the advice of a master gardener, those wanting to know more about wild mushrooms, those asking for his music at an event...and, perhaps more telling, with those who fall among the disenfranchised ... he makes a difference in the lives of people locally in ways beyond his poetry and his command of it that we've all come to respect online.

    That's much too full a life to get on a motorcycle again on these roads, pal. Please don't.
    Get well! We need you at Art in the Gardens! : )


  6. Allan Peterson10:26 AM PDT

    CE- Very sorry to hear of your accident. Your medical background makes descriptions bright with pain's details. Seems like you had more than enough to deal with before this. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

  7. oh my goodness...i do hope you are doing better by now. i keep thinking of your poems...the one about the sunflower has stuck with me. each time i go into my garden i think of your images. you are such a magnificent writer.

  8. Good to see you at Art in the Gardens today if only briefly. We were "on duty" at the same time, but I could hear you if not see you...sounded like you were in good form to me. : )



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