Pain and Suffering-1

After a long absence I have returned. Pain and suffering have clouded my judgment, so I didn’t write.

Early this year I found out that I have prostate cancer. No symptoms at all. Just a blood test for prostate specific antigen (PSA) that was so high it was almost certain I had cancer. Then a scan, then another scan and a biopsy. Yup, serious all right. Hooray for prostate cancer awareness month! All those blue ribbons. Anxiety, writing up a will. Hormone suppression treatment (women? what was I thinking?). No serious side effects except weary and a bit confused at first. Then radiation therapy: high doses, but just 5 treatments. My radiation therapy doctor confused me by saying that I might feel tired. I didn’t feel tired. Quite alert. So after the second radiation dose, I went for my usual 1.5 mile walk with my dogs and collapsed half-way. Not tired (sleepy) but weak. Still, this was tolerable, short-term. And all the indications are that the treatments have worked and that my prostate cancer will be in remission (don’t hope for it to be eliminated).

Then the bigger problem. No hiking with my dogs. No chiropractor or massage therapy for my back because of the coronavirus lockdown (we’ve been pretty safe here in New Mexico because of a great governor who shut everything down right away). I developed sciatica (I didn’t even know how to pronounce it: “sigh-atica”). Really bad pain. Pain pills didn’t help. Awful. And so I write my reflections on that.

English (and some other languages) conflate two different experiences with the words “pain” and “suffering”: emotional pain/suffering and physical pain/suffering. But they are different in a very important way.

I can empathize, indeed feel strongly another person’s emotional pain. I can remember similar, even distantly similar experiences, and imagine what the other person is feeling. I reach out. If I can, I put my arm around him or her. I encourage. I can help.

But physical pain? I can’t imagine the pain you have in your shoulder. You can’t imagine the pain I have in my leg. Unless, that is, you have had pain in almost exactly the same place for the same reason. Even then, it’s hard to remember pain. Thank DOG that we cannot remember pain as we can remember joy.

So sympathy, yes. But empathy, no. Thanks for your kind wishes that I recover from the sciatica. I will, but that’s another story for the next posting. Soon, I hope.

Stay safe. When there’s no empathy, let there be sympathy.

When a trout rising to a fly gets hooked on a line and finds himself unable to swim about freely,
he begins with a fight which results in struggles and splashes and sometimes an escape. Often,
of course, the situation is too tough for him.
In the same way the human being struggles with his environment and with the hooks that catch him.
Sometimes he masters his difficulties; sometimes they are too much for him. His struggles are all that
the world sees and it naturally misunderstands them. It is hard for a free fish to understand what is
happening to a hooked one.
Karl A. Menninger