DIFFERENT DOCTORS over many years have told me I have a high pain threshold. I always figured it was a “guy thing.” When I was young, we were told to “play through it” or “gut it out,” words that mold you, so that later in life you never take a sick day from your desk job.
Now, I’ve had torn muscles and a number of broken bones in my life, mostly from sports injuries. (I once finished a ball game, only to learn later I had two broken ribs after a collision at home plate.)
But that all changed on a morning last summer, I rose from bed and pain shot through my left leg such as I’d never felt. I wound up in the emergency room at Floyd Medical Center. They said it was sciatica, stuck a couple of needles in my butt, gave me some pain meds and sent me home. I coped fairly well for about 10 days. This scenario would repeat itself twice before I finally got into the Harbin Spine and Pain Center.
On that last ER trip, the FMC doctor told me on checkout that my PSA was alarmingly high. I didn’t ask why they checked my PSA, since that had nothing to do with my pain. But I’m glad they did. I knew right away I was in trouble.
A biopsy, an MRI, and a CT scan later confirmed it. I am now undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. It’s expensive, it’s painful and it’s disruptive to my routine.
Meanwhile, the sciatic pain endures. Some days are worse than others. Even on the best days, I move in slow motion with a grimace. The only position that’s comfortable is lying in bed on a vibrating heating pad.
I now use a walking cane. One day, while walking with minimal discomfort, one of those jolts of sciatic pain shot through my leg, causing me to fall. I landed awkwardly. Back to the ER, I went. Add a compression fracture in my lower spine to the list of ills. (Five years ago, I broke my back in a “bang-up” way, to use the FMC doctor’s own words. It’s still held together by five metal screws. Following the latest ER visit, I returned to the surgeon who fixed my back the first time. He said another surgery wouldn’t help, and that I would have back pain always. I keep telling everyone I don’t want to be on pain meds the rest of my life.)
The tonal shifts of the doctors and staff make me smile.
“Mr. Steele, we got the MRI results back, and it confirms the cancer.” Then shifting to a cheerful voice, “But all of your blood work looks fine.”
A few days later, cheerfully, “We have the results of the CT scan, and everything looks good.” Then, somberly, “Except for that little cancer thing.”
If they worked in auto salvage, it would go like this: “Your car is totaled. But, we did save the spare tire for you.” I’m not complaining. As I said, the tonal shifts make me smile. I am actually very grateful to live in a city with such good medical infrastructure.
I’m also very grateful to have such caring friends, who have brought me food, driven me to medical appointments and the grocery store, and who – yes, I’ll say it – who pray for me. I don’t mean a tossed-off “you’re in my thoughts and prayers” blurb, but people I know who actually pray and who check on me periodically.
I also have friends, too numerous to list, who have been through, or are facing, worse. Just one example: A friend in California lost her husband, her house (to the wildfires there), and her mother in the span of a few months last year.
Back to those broken ribs: I tossed my catcher’s mask aside and awaited a relay throw from centerfield as a runner tried to score from second base. I didn’t try to block home plate; I knew better than that. The runner was kind of slow, though. The throw was high; I had to stretch my arms upward, leaving me vulnerable. The sluggish runner opted to crash into my outstretched torso, even though he had plenty of room to slide and score. We crashed to the ground together, and I heard the umpire yell “You’re out!” I got to my feet, hurting, and the thuggish opponent said, “Sorry.”
I just took the ball out of my mitt, held it in front of his eyes, and said, “OK, but you’re still out.”
A line from a song keeps popping into my head to bolster my resolve. If Paul Simon reads this column, he would say I’m taking the line out of context. I don’t care. It’s from “The Boxer”: But the fighter still remains.
Danica Patrick, the starlet in the macho world of auto racing, has retired. I wonder why more women didn’t follow her trailblazing path? Could it be because most women recognize a vocation where one bad day can end – not spoil, but end — your life?
Tommy Nobis, No. 60, the first draft pick of the fledgling Atlanta Falcons in 1966, died at age 74 in December. Much was written about his career and life, rightfully so. He will be forever known as “Mr. Falcon”. But my personal memory is that his was the first celebrity autograph I got. He came to my small town to play in a charity basketball game. I was a high school sophomore. During a timeout, I called out “Mr. Nobis” repeatedly, until he walked over and signed my program. It was the highlight of my life to that point.
Flipping through one of those advertising circulars that clutter up Sunday newspapers, my eyes were drawn to a photo of a pretty woman modeling an “18-hour” bra, and I wondered, what happens to the bra after 18 hours? And, does that explain why some dates work out better than others?
*The views expressed in this column are those of the writer, and do not represent the opinions of V3 Magazine.