An Old Enemy and a New Friend

I’m back and rearing to go. Only I can’t move. I severely injured my back, or maybe reinjured it, and it’s got me immobile and miserable. Seems I don’t fully appreciate something until it’s gone—like a spine without bulging ruptures. Or medical insurance. But it’s not a wasted experience. So far I’ve shifted my thinking about an old enemy, and I’ve met a new inspiration that I want you to know too.

I’ve always classified pain as something to run from and avoid at all costs. I’ve viewed it as a mortal enemy. I was wrong. Pain is part of life. Avoiding it is avoiding life. That said, being in this much physical pain is horrific. It makes me edgy and despondent. Maybe if I had listened to its whisperings earlier I wouldn’t be suffering from all its screaming now. C.S. Lewis explained that: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I’m hearing you, Pain. I’m listening now. I know now that you’re more of a frenemy than an enemy. You’re my body’s warning system that something is wrong and needs attending to. Little parts of nerve endings in my injured area are called nociceptors. When they are damaged they trigger a communication highway that moves through nerves, up the spinal cord, into the brain’s thalamus. It’s the sorting center that assesses and sends signals to other parts of your brain that control touch, emotion, physical reaction and memory. In short, my brain regulates the rest of me. Every part works to identify and report my pain so that I can best deal with it.

Now that I’ve made frenemies with my pain, I can appreciate what it’s telling me. I can be more empathetic with others who suffer. I can appreciate that pain is forcing me to be still when I want to get up and hike my snowy home town hills. Its severity warns me that this time, I might need more than bedrest if I’m going to get better and not worse. What I’ve got now is acute pain. What I do NOT want is chronic pain. All this lead me to discover that my Catholic friends have a patron saint for back pain. Her name is St. Gemma Galgani. When Gemma was a girl in 1898 she suffered what is believed to have been spinal tuberculosis. Unlike me, she endured with a jovial attitude and unwavering faith. She lay immobile for over a year, went through agonizing cauterizations, and was forced to wear a hideous iron back brace. She was at the doorstep of death when a miracle healed her—partly. For two months she was able to move and wear her brace before the atrophied muscles around her spine grew strong enough to serve her. Now she is a compassionate comfort and inspiration to all those suffering back pain.

I’m not Catholic, but St. Gemma inspires me. And pain isn’t something I detest anymore. I won’t be so quick to ignore its warnings. I won’t be so quick to mask its messages. I can recognize it as a gift from my Divine Designer to warn me and guide me.

I’ll be fine. I have a comfy bed. I have a son who went to Walgreen’s at midnight to get me a heating pad. I have a heart full of gratitude and faith that healing is possible. And my happy news in all of this is that if I can change my thoughts about an old enemy like pain, I can change my thoughts period. That friends, is my mission for a new and empowered life, and it’s nothing short of a miracle as real as St. Gemma Galgani casting off her brace and walking on her own.

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