Living with my pain

I’m lucky not to have any memory of the immediate aftermath of my burning accident, nor the couple of years that followed when I lay in bed at the South Infirmary. The physical pain not alone from the burns, but also the operations that followed must have been excruciating. I can only guess. I’m just grateful I can’t remember.

What I do remember are the later surgical procedures in Dublin. I’m sure I was given some medicine or pills to ease the pain, but I have vivid memories of the agony I endured – the sleepless nights lying there alone unable to sleep. If you can imagine yourself being thrashing by someone brandishing a whip with barbed wire then you might have some idea of what I am talking about.

I cried a lot – who wouldn’t, especially a youngster like myself? There just seemed no relief at the time, and while the pain eased off eventually there was the discomfort of aching wounds and the necessity of not rubbing or touching the affected areas. Hard to do when your natural instinct is to do exactly that. And the stitches. God, they seemed never ending. Every operation left some legacy, and always I had a dozen or more stitches that needed to be taken out at some stage. If you have ever had stitches removed then you’ll know each one that is finally excised feels like a little stab wound as the scissors sometimes touches your skin and there’s a tug on the skin. Yikes!

Skin grafts were especially sore, and given that I have quite a few on me, the itchiness and temptation to scratch were immense.

I have a high degree of pain tolerance, which has its good and bad points. For example, as I said before, because I have little feeling in my left hand corporal punishment in school was pain free as I always offered that partly numbed left hand. Thankfully, no one ever found out.

On the other hand, there is a downside: a rumbling pain in my stomach came and went for days before it manifested itself in an almighty painful night that ended in a late night/early morning trip to the doctor. An injection later and all was fine – until I headed to the airport that day only to virtually collapse in pain at the departure lounge. Within an hour I was doubled up in A&E and eventually admitted to hospital where the problem was diagnosed as gallstones.

You might think that the worst pain I ever experienced had to be related to the scores of operations I went through over the years. Not true. I was about 12 when one of my schoolmates was diagnosed with meningitis. Because he was one of four boys sitting on a single bench, the other three – me included – were whisked off to hospital for test. At least that’s my recollection of events. And that’s when they carried out a lumbar puncture on me, extracting fluid from my spine. I don’t even have to close my eyes to recall that terrifying pain. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sleep for days afterwards, unable to find a comfortable position to lie in the bed. Worse still, the pain continued on and off for around 12 months after I was discharged. The pain was unremitting and excruciating.

Of course, all this is just physical pain. There is a mental anguish many of us go through from time to time that is a lot more distressing and harder to explain to those who have never lived through them. Loneliness, grief, despair, hopelessness, were just some of my unwanted companions in my life’s journey. They inflicted a lot more hurt than any physical trauma. Loss of self-esteem, humiliation… There’s quite a long list. Fortunately, I learned to deal with them, but not before they had left a deep mark on my life.

So, what was your worst pain – physical or mental?

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