Make Your Pain A Game

SMOOTH OPERATOR
“It has to be surgically removed. There is no other way, if you wish to prevent a more serious consequence from arising.”

While in Panama, I visited a family doctor for a routine check-up. The mysterious protrusion next to the prostate was no longer a mystery. It was a hernia. The words cut through me like a scalpel. At 57, this would be my first-ever surgery as an adult. I take excellent care of my body. How can this happen? Well, it can. Still, it was a shock.

A week later, I’m lying on a bed in the pre-op room with my Panamanian girlfriend (when the nurse wasn’t there). This doesn’t need to be all grim, I reasoned. When the nurse returned, mi amor hopped off, I pulled a harmonica from my pocket, and blew through a repertoire of tunes. Nurses in the vicinity smiled and applauded.

It was time, and I felt very loose going in. No choice, since I declined any internal anesthesia, just the topical, thanks. “I can give you just enough Valium to take the ‘edge’ off, without knocking you out,” implored the anesthesiologist. Stubborn me. I endured five excruciating incisions, though the pain lasted only 3 seconds per cut. The rest of the operating hour I cracked jokes, fantasized making love to my girlfriend, and sang “Smooth Operator” to the surgical crew. When it was over, I thanked everyone for leaving the procreating part in place.

HE ALMOST DIED LAUGHING
When dealing with death and dying, agony and pain, humor furnishes the ultimate survival tools. Norman Cousins, who during his lifetime was editor for the Saturday Review and UCLA professor, also wrote a book titled, “Anatomy of an Illness”. In the book, he chronicled his recovery from a life-threatening collagen disease that had not been cured before. In fact, the doctors gave him just six months to live. Rather than succumb to a state of gloom and doom, he resolved to live joyfully in what appeared to be an abbreviated life span.

At his request all those who visited him in the hospital brought to his bedside funny books, tapes, cartoons, gag gifts, and anything that might provoke laughter. After just a few weeks of devouring a steady diet of comedy (with no other dietary or medicinal changes), his disease went into remission! And his sense of humor became very wacky. One morning Mr. Cousins was eating his breakfast when the nurse stepped into the room and handed him an empty specimen bottle, saying she’d swing back around to collect it in a few minutes. After she left, he took the apple juice that came with his breakfast and emptied it into the specimen bottle. When the nurse returned she examined the sample and said, “It looks a little cloudy today, Mr. Cousins.” Norman picked up the bottle and shrieked, “By George, you’re right. Let’s run it through again!” and proceeded to swig from the bottle. He had to stop, though, because he was concerned that the unsuspecting nurse might keel over from the spectacle.

The raucous laughter of Norman Cousins continually reverberated throughout the ward, which delighted the nurses but disturbed the patients. Hospital administration politely gave him the boot, so he checked into a hotel, which was far more environmentally friendly for outbursts of mirth. His life, which lasted for another 15 years, inspired many in search of pain relief and healing. I saw Norman Cousins receive a humanitarian award about three weeks before he passed on a man who appeared to be vigorous and in good health. He must have died laughing.

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