The following is an excerpt from Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System (Nebraska, March 2017) by Sonya Huber. Huber is an associate professor of English at Fairfield University. She is the author of Opa Nobody (Nebraska, 2008), Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir (Nebraska, 2010), and The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
From Part VI: Measuring the Sky
Alternative Pain Scale
When we go to see doctors and specialists, we are often asked to rate our pain on a 1 to 10 scale. I always get confused by this instrument, partly because I don’t know what each level means. Is 1 “no pain,” and would 10 be “the worst pain imaginable,” such as being burned alive or torn limb from limb? Using that standard, it would seem arrogant for me to claim even an 8 if I was still able to function. So I use 1 to 7, with 7 being “bad,” though I don’t tell my doctor this. That puts my normal pain at 3, but I’m not sure how it helps my doctor if I repeat the number 3 over and over. So I have come up with a helpful replacement scale.
- I have bold plans to revamp diet or try new stretches out of desperation borne by last night’s pain, and I am overjoyed and energized that I am right now not in pain.
- I’m busy- busy- busy, because if I move fast, the pain won’t catch me! And I’m in motion now, but once I stop, I’ll be drawn to the couch with magnetic force.
- God, why am I so bitchy? Oh, wait— I’m in a sort of grinding, background- noise, world- clenching box of pain just beneath the edge of my conscious.
- Couch. All I want is my couch and Netflix.
- Wait, I’m kind of unsafe to drive just because I’m in pain. Like I can’t think clearly. Wait: does that mean I’m high on pain itself? Did I invent a free and unpleasant way to get high? Everything is suddenly funny. Pain Vegas!
- Get the heat things and the cold things and the Tiger Balm and the various ointments and salves and put them all on me immediately.
- Don’t fucking touch me.
- Do you still love me? Someone tell me they love me because I worry you hate me when I’m in pain. Am I irritating? Is it hard to love a near-invalid?
- We need to check on our long- term disability policy. Do we have long-term disability? What if I can’t work anymore? I can’t go to work tomorrow but I have to. We need to make a Plan B right now. What about eel farming? Can we put eels in the pond behind your parents’ house? Could we live on that? We should start buying cans of soup on sale and put them in the basement.
- Everything is so beautiful and precious because I might die soon. I love that lampshade so very much.
- I hate everyone, and everything is bothering me and making my skin feel gross, and I hate this couch where I’ve been lying for hours, and I just want a shower but the thought of the effort of a shower makes me want to cry.
- I was born to play video games on my phone. I am good at this.
- I can’t read. The sentences are too hard. Remember when books?
- I can’t watch TV. I’ll just scroll through Facebook in a fester of something unpleasant, but even the blue hurts my eyes. Look at all the healthy suckers doing things, completely oblivious to their looming deaths and physical disintegrations.
- I can’t even play games on my phone. My last stupid pleasure has been taken from me, and I wish to lodge a protest with the universe.
- Where are the drugs? Oh— I stopped taking them because they wrecked my stomach. Where is that old bottle with the prescription from two years ago?
- I don’t even care about the drugs because I’m learning something from the pain. It’s making me deep and spiritual, and I see shapes and colors. If I just roll with it, I can surf the pain. I can.
- No, I’m not learning anything. I need the drugs, and the pain needs to be killed.
- Mommy? Oh dammit I’m the mommy. Oh, just breathe like you’re in labor. It will pass. (Except there’s nothing good at the end, except maybe you will give birth to a horrible, gooey thing like in the movie Alien that will come and bite your face off .) Will someone please feel sorry for me immediately?
- Am I going to puke? Would I feel better if I puked?
- Words are hard. My name is . . . something? Whatever. “Name.”