It was one month before my birthday and I woke up one morning to a pain in my right arm. Since I come from a family of heart attacks and alcoholics I am wary, but I know the signs and the pain didn’t seem to fit the symptoms.
I have always been exceedingly strong. I don’t give up very easily and I am extremely stubborn.
I thought the pain was a result of a bruise, or a muscle pull. Things like that usually work themselves out so I went to work. All day I stretched and pulled trying to get the joint to pop. Something was not waking up or working right. My arm didn’t throb, but the pain was sharp.
I got my body moving, got the blood flowing, but the pain didn’t go away.
That night it was drugs and bed. I’ll sleep it off, I thought. The next morning the pain was so bad I couldn’t raise my arm.
Now a logical sane person would think that this would be cause for a doctor… No. I’m stubborn and afraid that it might be bad news. So I do what I do with everything I don’t want to deal with. I ignore it.
I spent that day in bed. I would wait it out.
It had gotten so bad that when I slept, if I moved the pain would wake me. On the fourth day of complete immobility in my arm, no sleep and severe pain with no idea how I got this way I was finally starting to get scared.
The lack of sleep was making me paranoid. I began to have very morbid thoughts of having the arm removed. Every tool I saw at work was an instrument of amputation and they began to look appealing to me.
I just wanted the pain gone and having the arm cut off seemed to be the most logical way of achieving this.
You know that saying you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I am right handed.
You know the sun is going to come up tomorrow right? Pretty good chance your car is going to start when you want it to. Your loved ones are all fine and when you wake up tomorrow you are going to function normally, or at least as normal as you functioned today. But… and I say this from experience and with both caution and respect, what if it doesn’t work out like that?
Why wouldn’t you take your body or the parts of your body for granted? I had no idea how much I used my right arm until I couldn’t. It is the first to reach for everything. It is balance, it is climbing it is all movement and any sort of tweak to the muscle in the arm sent a jolt of pain through me.
You know the easiest way to train an animal not to do something is through pain. I bought a sling and kept it completely immobile. And I know, you would think that it would be time for the doctor. No, I had to have a reason. I had to be able to say “It’s going to be alright, it will heal, the cast is on and don’t do that again.
The pain didn’t come from me flying through the air in a mistake. It just showed up and it was my arm. My arm… that could lift generators and water heaters and carry them down a ladder at Home Depot. This… Fear started to humble me. This made me feel… mortal, human. Now we have all seen this:
A person comes walking in, they have a limp, their arm is twisted, and they look to be in pain in one part of their body or another. They walk with a strange slow gate that is something like Quasimodo Cool. And whether its cause is extreme obesity or some sort of disease or birth deformity we have all heard or said the same thing. It usually starts with, “Wow! Dude if I ever get like that you can just fucken kill me.”
Right? And you try not to look, but you ask yourself, how did they get like that, and how do they go on like that? I’ll tell you how.
They didn’t go to bed and wake up like that the next day. There was pain here. There was a pain there. Something got broken and didn’t heal right, or the back got twisted. They slowly grew into it, got used to it and five or ten years later this is the result.
What was so frightening about my arm was I couldn’t come to terms with it. The insight that had been coming to me with everything I had been doing was already opening doors and for that reason I thought that this could be in part psychological. I had been pushing myself into some very dark memories in my past and trying to come to terms with them.
After six days with the pain not lessening in the slightest and going a little crazy from lack of sleep, I began to look for a doctor. A friend of mine suggested his chiropractor and I reluctantly made an appointment. I was now starting to get used to my left arm and part of me was ready to make an appointment to have my right arm removed. Just cut the damn thing off, I’ll make do. I had never been to a chiropractor before and I didn’t know what to expect, but what I didn’t expect was what actually happened.
I know how I looked. You know that pain chart they have in the hospital, that one to ten pain scale of faces? I was at least a seven. My boss at The Home Depot had sent me home on the fourth day because I looked so bad when I walked into the chiropractor’s office the receptionist cringed and made a comment. So they get me in, they take some x-rays, valuate me and send me home. “We will let you know in a few days.”
In my psychotic sleep deprived head my fears had been confirmed, there was nothing they could do. I was lost and I was going to lose my arm. I went home to imagine a life with only a left arm.
Later that night I was feeling even more miserable than before. I was scared, resigned and feeling sorry for myself as I lay awake in bed.
It had been days without sleep and my arm was still keeping me awake. I began to see things in a way that I never had before and I came to the realization that I don’t love my self at all. Not only that, but I have never loved myself. I made up this fucked up story about myself that I was worthless and not good enough.
I remembered the culture shock of moving to a new city when I was seven years old. The entire street was full of white kids and one afternoon while we were playing, I was suddenly inspired to run into my house, go into my mother’s bathroom, put powder all over my face, then run back outside. I jumped on my bike road out and stood tall and proud. One of the kids asked me why I put powder on my face and I said it was because I wanted to be a white person.
Whenever something really bad is happening there is a place I always go. It’s whenever the shit is coming down, when it’s absolutely overwhelming and I don’t know what to do. The words usually begin with some form of, My God… My Lord…
Now I’m not stupid and I don’t assume that God is stupid. Whenever this happens I am well aware that I haven’t been here in a while. I haven’t been to church for anything other than funerals and weddings in twenty years. And because of that I try to refrain from going there, but at this point I believe I might lose my arm. Life is in the toilet. It’s time to call in a higher power.
It took me six days to get there, but this time I prayed… for real.
When I was very young I used to talk to God, and this used to be the catalyst for some weird shit. I mean I would tell my mother someone is going to call, someone is going to have a baby, someone is coming over or someone is at the door. The thing was. I was usually right. It was just your everyday, spooky, devil child sort of shit. I’m sure if I spit up some pea soup they would have called a priest, but they took it as a strengthening of faith and left it alone.
I grew out of it, and I suppose after going the way of the atheist, my listening got turned way down as well.
I lay there in the darkness of my bedroom with my arm throbbing like some great unusable tumor.
“Lord?” I said, and for the first time in decades an image came to me.
The image was me declaring that I was an atheist.
“You know I don’t think I ever was an atheist. I think I was just really mad at you.” I said.
Laying there in bed, alone, in so much pain, feeling sorry for myself something happened. In that moment I felt something envelope me. I was overcome by this feeling. My senses and everything that I was in that moment was wrapped in this… hug. It felt so secure and it wasn’t physical, but it was definitely a hug.
I apologized for my selfishness and started thanking him for everything I had in my life, all of my uniqueness, my perfections and imperfections and the opportunities I’d had and squandered. There are so many people with so much less than me. What the hell did I have to feel sorry for myself about? I realized I had been feeling this way much longer than just the last four days.
When I finished, an image of “Footprints” suddenly came to me. Now if you are not familiar with footprints: it’s the story of a man who had a dream of walking along the beach beside God. He looks back over his life and sees that sometimes there is only one set of footprints in the sand. He also notices that those were the toughest times in his life. He then asks God why he abandoned him during the toughest times. And God says, “My son, those were the times that I carried you.”
So as the image of footprints comes to me, I had a question come up and I thought… If I looked back right now would I see one set of footprints in the sand or two?
The reply came again as an image. And I saw two sets of footprints in the sand, but what I saw, was one large set of footprints outside of a smaller set, because at that moment, I was just learning to walk on my own.
I realized then that I was not alone at the moment and in all these years I had not been alone.
In the second session with the chiropractor, I learned that I had a severely pinched nerve. I got my first adjustment that day and as I walked out I was already fifty percent better.
I thought about my story and I realized that it came down to context. It’s how you view it and what you say about what happened.
In the back of our Country Squire station wagon my brothers and I are acting like brothers do and getting loud. Paul was sitting in the middle of us and just happened to have his hand out as my father reached around to hit somebody and tell us all to shut up. He didn’t take his eyes off the road and ended up slapping Paul’s hand.
Paul thought it was cool and called out, “Dad you just gave me five.”
“No I didn’t, I spanked you!” It took a second for Paul to register it. And as he looked at his hand, he began to cry. It wasn’t that the slap had hurt, it was that the context if the slap had changed.