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About More Voices

Every month More Voices invites readers to contribute short nonfiction prose pieces of 40 to 400 words on a healthcare theme.

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In Pain

The Masks We Wear


Every day we pass by friends, acquaintances, classmates and strangers, and all of us are wearing smiles on our faces. For some, that reflects feelings of bliss, joy or contentment. For others, though, it can be a mask.

I often think about my pain and the smile I wear to mask it. Most days, I am have the ability to express my troubles and fight the uphill battle against chronic depression. I tell myself, “You can do it! Just go and talk it out with your therapist.”

At least I had the ability to express myself and fight the battle; Helen did not.

Wait and Hope

 
Today I woke up much like the days before, and this ability to rouse myself from the safety of my bed, I count as my first of small triumphs. I have been waking up like this since I can remember, in a fog of depression, with my first thought always "I'm not sure I can do this again."

I have never not felt the pain that is depression; I have just had moments of success in hiding it. I fight the callous thoughts all day, every day. Some days I win, some days I fail spectacularly.
 

Why Are You Alive?

 
It was the last evening of July, the summer I turned sixteen. I lay on a hospital bed on my left side, looking across the empty bed beside mine toward the window and the waning sunshine. The window was cranked open as far as its hinge would allow, wide open to the summer city evening--faraway traffic noise an undercurrent to the waves of hot pavement smell and the increasing music of a cooling breeze. I was floating in an ether of fever. Leaves rustled as beech trees shook off the heat of the day. Sparrows chirped. Relief! Respite! Perhaps the window was closed.
 
I was drowsy from anesthesia and a multitude of drugs--gifts that would eventually restore me. Recovering from surgery and my ruptured appendix in this plain, blue-green room, I was to learn about pain and the medicines that are married to it.

Understanding B's Pain

B entered the exam room wearing thick-rimmed glasses, tattered pants and a polo shirt. He clutched a duffel bag of clothes in one hand and bags of hot cheetos and ready-to-heat ramen in the other. The physician, an intern, could not speak Mandarin, so a medical translator was used, via phone.

"What brings you here today, B?"

Not Too Young for Pain

As a kid, whenever I felt bored in church, I passed the time by staring: watching the flashing emerald lights in my vision shimmer. I didn’t find this sight unusual, nor was I surprised by the ever-present ache in my head. Having nothing to compare my experiences to, I figured that heads just hurt and that you could make your vision glitter by staring the right way. The word migraine meant nothing to me.

A Tribute to Arshi

 
In 2013 one of my postgraduate students, Arshi, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Constant visits to the hospital, regular chemo sessions, medications, and visits to Tata Memorial in Mumbai. We gathered for poetry readings and meetings for prayers. We celebrated her birthday on 2nd December, 2013 with a new hairdo and an artificial breast that had been arranged by a friend from Mumbai.
 
Ah, how I wished some miracle would happen and relieve her of her pain.

The Pain That Won't Go Away

 
My wife lives with pain. It followed a failed shoulder surgery two years ago and wasn't supposed to happen with a simple laparoscopic rotator cuff repair. But, due to prolonged traction and an errant scalene nerve block, she suffered a median neuritis that rendered her dominant hand useless, and nothing has been able to fix it.

Metaphorizing My Pain

 
My chronic neuropathic pain is a physical reality, not a product of my imagination. It is the result of a spinal injury sustained during a "simple biopsy" of a spinal cord tumor detected through an MRI. The operation was performed by an eager neurosurgeon in 2004. When I woke from the anesthesia, I could hardly breathe; I felt like a tight band was around my lower chest wall. I also couldn’t move my legs, and they were extremely sensitive to touch. Since then, the pain has expanded and intensified.
 

Pain Deniers

 
The stabbing pain in my abdomen jolted me awake at 3 a.m. Four broken bones, giving birth to two babies, gallstones – all minor aches compared to this. At the hospital they found no reason for my pain. The blood tests were normal. I had no fever. They sent me home.
 

Everlasting Sorrow

 

As a Jewish American, I recently celebrated my faith's new year. I followed tradition by going to the cemetery prior to the beginning of the holy days to pay my respects to my beloved paternal grandmother, mother and father. Standing in front of the Wall of Eternal Life, I read the prayer for the deceased--until a tsunami of pain inundated me.