My Pain Journey, Part 3

To date, no human beings have died from their bladder’s exploding. Prevention is overrated. The church is a bully and I am warm.

These are my main takeaways for today. Yesterday, I had to go out and pee about an hour into the infusion and the nurse suggested to me that I should pee right before it started, which I had. Of course I peed again this morning right before it started but I was curious to see what would happen if I waited longer. I’ve always had to pee more often than other folks it seemed, and I didn’t know if that’s because my bladder is smaller, maybe I just drink more water, because I’m more sensitive to the bladder pressure sensations or something else. 

Besides, to my knowledge no human has ever died from a bladder explosion so I decided even if it hurts, it can’t really hurt….get it? And this would challenge my response to physical sensations such as pain and perhaps give me a new way of looking at it. Because as I concluded yesterday, if I feel safe, then the pain shouldn’t really matter and if no humans have died from bladder explosions then I should be safe, etc.

As I lay there contemplating this concept, the visual of a human dying from their bladder exploding became funny and I smiled behind my COVID mask. Then I started chuckling, first to myself, then out loud. Then I started laughing and then laughing even louder. The lights are all dimmed and it’s quiet to enhance the effect and there are two other patients in there going through the same thing. So the nurse got up, came over and whispered to me, kind of like in church or the celestial room,

“Are you OK George?” 

“Yes, I’m fine” (smile behind my mask)

“Well, this is the IV infusion room, so no loud laughter in here.”

“Oops, sorry” (snicker)

He walked away, and I smiled again behind my mask, then I started laughing again, managing to keep it to myself. What’s so bad about loud laughter anyway?

What was fascinating was that as the bladder pressure continued to build and the discomfort intensified, the pain sort of morphed as it took on new qualities or tones which made them seem kind of fleeting and not as powerful. I realized that pain is kind of like a bully – often intimidating us into taking all kinds measures to keep it under control. And that’s how I got to “prevention is overrated.” We can try to prevent all kinds of discomfort in our lives such as going to the bathroom right before some event starts, but then we’re giving this little monster the power to turn into an outright demon.

And then it hit me: the church is a bully, just like my bladder. I don’t know where it came from or how I got to this but it just kind of spontaneously clicked. Maybe it was this: I flashed back to one of my earliest childhood memories as a three year old, sitting on a chair in the ladies room at church in my Sunday clothes. I was sitting next to my highly aggressive older brother – we were both in trouble sitting on the little kid’s chairs and my Mom had positioned herself in front of us, sitting on an adult-sized chair and scolding us, “Now we’re going to sit here until you two can behave.” My Mom’s chair was much bigger, so it was like she had an extra measure of power or authority that made her seem kind of imposing, almost intimidating. Why was I even here? I didn’t think I had started anything – my brother had, and I was just trying to establish boundaries. And that makes me bad? Not sure I understand this all yet.

One of the things I learned early on about chronic pain sufferers is that they actually develop a preference for hard things over pleasant things….like say maybe completing some relatively insignificant task instead of giving themselves a break. Which tracks with my experience, because in the abrahamic/judeo-christian traditions, self-indulgence of just about any kind is considered wrong. The natural man is an enemy to God, starve yourself for 24 hours once a month, masturbation is bad, you can’t play on Sunday, today while the sunshines work with a will, put your shoulder to the wheel, other’s needs are more important than your own and on and on and on. It never ends – the monster is never satisfied. But the other thing it does is try to trick you into thinking that it cares about you and will take care of you. You get assigned friends wherever you go, promises that things will be much, much better in the next life if you’ll just feed it for now, promises of happiness in this life which may or may not be delivered on and some other warm fuzzies.

As long as you go along with it all, this thing keeps its temper mostly under control, with the exception of occasional growls or nips so you don’t forget that it’s in charge. But if you ever decide that maybe trying so hard to avoid provoking the monster isn’t worth it anymore and start to stand up to it and maybe you’ll get rid of it…it gets really, really mad. It threatens you with the loss of your family, unhappiness in this life and eternal misery, isolation, and all kinds of other unpleasantries. Essentially, it needs me more than I need it. The church is a bully. 

And I am warm, but not from the pee. Thankfully I finally did get up to go pee. They disconnected me from the IV, put me in a wheelchair, wheeled me down the hall and let me stagger into the bathroom by myself to pee. Wow. Back to some version of reality, whatever that is. Ketamine doesn’t work the same way as other meds – it helps you disassociate things, break things in your mind apart and build new things. Like looking at the church or pain differently.

I finished peeing and the nurse wheeled me back into the IV room and hooked me back up.

At first, I was a bit cold but didn’t need the blanket back on. Then I got warm. How can you go from being cold to warm so quickly? Did my body actually warm up that fast or were the sensations just changing? Now that I think about it, there have been many times when my feet were cold and then the cold started to feel hot. Like on my first job as a newspaper boy at age nine. I don’t know how many times I came in from single-digit temperatures with my feet having transitioned from cold, to hot, to numb. It happened today, but I ended up at warm and stayed there. It was like the story of the three bears and the baby bear’s was juuuust right. Reflecting on it now, it might have been the realization that the church is a bully that led to the warm feeling of contentment and security. Funny thing is that this feeling was almost exactly like the burning in the bosom sensation I had when I was thirteen and got my testimony of the Book of Mormon and the church, except now the takeaway was kind of the opposite. Which sort of debunked the idea that I could rely on the warm feeling as evidence of a conclusion because how could it be reliable if it facilitated opposite conclusions at different times? Maybe it wasn’t evidence so much as just my mind trying to find something to satisfy the itch: what if when I was thirteen my subconscious had concluded that the church needed to be true to help me successfully navigate and survive the scenario that fate had dropped me into…and today, my subconscious concluded that the church wasn’t so scary anymore. The pain wasn’t really what I thought it was after all.

Oh, by the way….it turns out that at least one human has died from a bladder explosion. I told my family about my ketamine-enabled notions when I got home and my daughter googled it and found that an astronomer called Tycho from the 1600s died of a burst bladder because he didn’t want to leave a banquet because it would have been a breach of etiquette. Sounds kind of like a lot of the arbitrary demands the church puts on us, such as whisper in the chapel, etc. But so much for my conclusion about no humans dying of bladder explosions. Oh well, at least I’ll admit it when I’m wrong, unlike a certain really rich organization I know of.

Last thing: yesterday my eyes were closed almost the entire time. It wasn’t that I couldn’t open them or that I was sleepy – it’s just that what was going on in my mind was so much more interesting. But today, my eyes were open for about the first two hours until I went to pee. In fact, I hardly blinked it all. It was amazing. I have this nagging blinking tick that an optometrist once told me was because I have dry-eye syndrome, later confirmed by an ophthalmologist. My eyes start burning if I go more than a few seconds without blinking. But today, my eyes didn’t burn at all  even though I probably only blinked a handful of times over the course of two hours. I’ve started to suspect that there isn’t really much wrong at all with my eye’s tear production and it’s just another one of those monsters.

And one more last thing. Never thought I would say this: I’m a Ute fan now. I went to BYU but the University of Utah Pain Clinic has been incredible…and the church is a bully. But now that I realize that, I can figure out what to do about it.

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