Pleasure, Pain, and a Pot of Tea

by Sarah Henry on June 24, 2012 · 48 comments

in food flotsam & jetsam

So pain is my bitch right now. She’s been on my back — well, technically deep inside my left buttock, weird I know  — for three months. She and I have been down this road before. But that familiarity does not bring comfort. She comes to bed with me every night and she’s still there, with renewed vigor, when I wake up in the morning.

I tried fighting her at first. Fighting is what I know how to do. I’m good at it.  So I would drag pain with me to places she did not belong, frankly. And sometimes I could grit my teeth and fake my way through it. And sometimes it was just a bad idea, and pain would win and then I would make some excuse, plan an exit strategy, and hobble out the door.

There have been efforts to make pain go away courtesy of Western medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. There have been adventures in woo-woo treatments too. Some of these approaches have brought an hour or two of relief. Others don’t send pain away but they do transport me to the Land of Nod for eight hours and when one has been surviving on just a smidgen of shut eye for days on end, sleep — whether  it comes naturally or is drug induced — is a delicious thing my friends.

While I’m not proud of it, I have had days, even weeks, where I’ve thrown myself a pity party. It’s not a fun event, this soiree for one. Friends and family, experiencing compassion fatigue no doubt, aren’t game to go along. And why would they want to? So I’ve wallowed in the unfairness of it all and whined and complained about the relentlessness of it too. And bemoaned all the things I can’t do now that bring me joy — like hiking and dancing and gardening and simply jumping out of bed with a smile on my face instead of a grimace. Trust me, this is not a good look or a way to endear yourself to others.

But when I’ve been able to get beyond my own suffering I’ve found myself exposed to suffering in other souls. Sometimes this suffering has shut me up and made me feel ashamed of my own whinging. In the past couple of months I’ve eaten with people who have survived hideous cancers, endured a chronic illness that almost killed them, or cared for children with serious and complex physical, mental, or emotional conditions. There have been losses, too, of loved ones. While I have, of course, empathized with their experience I have mostly been in awe that these people are able to string a sentence together that does not pertain at all to what must be front and center in their minds. Rather, they are delightful dining companions.

Just this week, while attending a canning class, I sat next to a woman who was in agony from an autoimmune condition that was now impacting her spine. She wore a pain patch, she told me, but otherwise I’d never have known that this bright and shiny soul was suffering. Similarly, at a party of cookbook and food writing types I bumped into a friend who’d recently had a hip replacement, a surgery that doctors typically say takes four to six weeks to recover from. But in her case, the surgeons unintentionally broke her femur while drilling through bone during the operation, and her recovery was more like four to six months, she told us cheerily, as she deftly steered the conversation to more uplifting matters. These encounters, I’ve begun to think, are signs from the universe: Get over yourself already.

I think I hit bottom on Friday morning, when the pain was so severe I found myself gripping my Wedgewood stove and sobbing, long and loud enough to wake my sleeping son. The teen shuffled out in his dressing gown (robe) gave me a hug, offered sweet words of comfort, and then said: “Just checking, Mum: It’s the pain, right, not the meds?”  His concern made me smile, I assured him it was the pain and that I wasn’t losing the plot through some drug-induced fog, and then I wiped my face and said: “Porridge?”

He nodded. I pivoted from stove to sink. Filled the kettle. He grabbed the oats. I found a pot. And we went about the familiar, comforting routine of making breakfast because really nothing is so bad that a pot of tea, along with a bowl of porridge — laced with cinnamon, and dotted with plump raisins, shaved almonds, and a generous sprinkling of dark brown sugar — can’t make just a little better.

And then it was time to hit the desk and meet a deadline. The story of the day: Practicing gratitude. Another sign from the universe, I thought. I finally picked up that book my friend Julie bought me, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. You may have opinions about such approaches. So be it. Don’t judge me. I need all the help I can get.

And so like a 12 stepper who has fallen off the wagon, I am back to chronicling what gives me meaning and brings me joy in a gratitude journal I keep hidden under my bed, where pain cannot find it. It turns out, there is much to be thankful for: Shooting stars, a friend’s hot tub, gorgeous weather, a short walk, galpals giggling at implausible final reel developments in an otherwise sweet romcom, the fresh and tender greens and beans from a buddy’s garden shared over a family dinner, the abundant herbs from my own veggie plot, bunched up and doled out among willing takers.

This week, I’m going to try another procedure to make pain go away for good. Or, if not for good, at least six months or so. And I know when I come back from the surgery center the first thing I’ll want to do is warm the tea pot my friend Jay gave me, just the perfect size, feel, and pour, and fill it with the luxurious tea my friend Felicity has been bringing me, and then I’ll curl up on the couch and nurse that tea and I’ll want people to tell me stories that transport me to another place for the day.

So put the kettle on. Make your favorite brew. And tell me a tale. I’m all ears.

You might also like:

Greater Good Science Center: On the fine art of gratitude
Learning to Love the ‘hood on Foot: One Edible Adventure at a Time
Hospital Food Gets a Makeover

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie Silas June 24, 2012 at 11:36 am

Luv you Sarah!

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Sarah Henry June 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Backatcha, missy.

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Jane Boursaw June 24, 2012 at 11:57 am

Oh pain sucks! Sorry you’re dealing with it continually, Sarah. Hang in and keep the faith.

And I totally am going to find a copy of Full Catastrophe Living.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..Anna Karenina Trailer is Lush and Epic, but Should I Read the Leo Tolstoy Book Again?

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Sarah Henry June 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm

I hope, Jane, you find it helpful, for whatever ails you or your loved ones.

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Tori June 24, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Broken femur gal weighing in here: I thought you were as perky as I at the party. Maybe like two magnets, we pushed each other’s pain with laughter. Hang in there and good on you for doing a gratitude journal. I love it that a writer’s best therapy is…writing. xo

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Sarah Henry June 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Isn’t that the truth, Tori? I’m so grateful for a creative outlet to process it all. And grateful, as well, for friends and colleagues like you.

Lovely to see you after so long too, formerly broken femur and all.

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Wendy June 24, 2012 at 5:58 pm

I wonder if a TENS machine might help?

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Sarah Henry June 24, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Wendy: Thank you muchly for chiming in with a suggestion that might help. I had to Google TENS machine, though, and then realized I might have had this kind of low-level electric stimulation during physical therapy.

(Some basic info here, for those who are curious: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcutaneous_electrical_nerve_stimulation)

My experience with some of these things — including acupuncture (which I’ve found helpful in other ways) is that they can overstimulate an already overstimulated area, and thus exacerbate pain, if that makes sense, when you’re at the acute-on-chronic phase.

But I will remember to include it in my tool bag of tricks to tackle this injury when and if the time feels right. Thanks again.

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haven bourque June 24, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Sarah, you’ve written the story that so many of us could write (albeit vastly more beautiful!). Know that we are with you every step of the way. My hot tub is now your hot tub; my Wedgewood and I will cook you a recovery feast, and my automatic shift is your steed wherever and whenever you wish to travel. xoxo, Haven

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Sarah Henry June 24, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Haven, a gal with a hot tub AND a Wedgewood AND an automatic car: You are a chronic back pain-addled person’s dream pal. Thank you for being part of my circle in real life. Your many kindnesses and words of wisdom have meant so much to me.

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Molly Brown June 24, 2012 at 9:08 pm

You brave soul! Good on ya…you did make me cry though, if i could take away your pain, i surely would right now.

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Sarah Henry June 24, 2012 at 9:31 pm

I know, Ms. Molly, I know you would. Knowing that is a comfort in and of itself.

I’ll be calling on your healing services and high tailing it to your neck of the woods — a place that makes me feel better regardless — just as soon as I can stuff myself into my car and get my gammy left leg to work that clutch without making me wince.

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Nancie McDermott June 25, 2012 at 7:18 am

What a beautiful, reflection-inspiring hunk of writing. So sorry for your suffering, and so dazzled by how you have explored it here. I wish I were handy to be on the pit-crew and support team. You’re on my gratitude list — grateful to know you and be able to read you from afar and visit with you now and then in foodie-fun places.
Nancie McDermott´s last [type] ..Rhubarb Pie

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Sarah Henry June 25, 2012 at 8:06 am

Thanks Nancie, so nice to know you’d be part of my pit-crew support team if we lived closer. I’d be demanding one of your famous pies — which we could consume over a cuppa — and I just know that you would make me laugh out loud, it’s one of the things I love about you.

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Sara June 25, 2012 at 7:28 am

What a heartwrenching description of chronic pain. Wishing you respite in the days to come.
Sara´s last [type] ..Dusty books

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Sarah Henry June 25, 2012 at 8:09 am

Thank you so much, Sara, I so appreciate your kind words and good wishes.

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Susan of Litttle Ladies Who Lunch June 25, 2012 at 8:57 am

Just writing to show my support. I went through bout of that type of pain for a few days and I was scared out of my wits. I can only imagine what it is like to deal with it chronically. I don’t know if this will help, but I used something called a “castor oil pack.” I ordered the wool flannel on-line. Good luck. And I do hope the pain retreats soon!

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Sarah Henry June 25, 2012 at 9:14 am

Hi Susan, Nice to see you here. And thanks for this idea — I alternate between heat and ice packs, which do bring some relief. I’ll have to check out the castor oil kind.

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Sheryl June 25, 2012 at 11:40 am

Oh, Sarah, I’m so sorry. I know from that kind of pain. I had a problem with my neck and tried everything I could to avoid surgery. But the pain was so excruciating and finally unbearable and had me in anguished tears almost every night. Pain is so debilitating and can weaken the strongest of us. I finally had the surgery. Things were good until 10 years later…when the pain returned and I had to have a second surgery. Hopefully you will be able to side-step it the second time around, but if you do have to have it, I sincerely hope it eases your discomfort – for good.

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Sarah Henry June 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Thank you, Sheryl. Curious to hear that you’re a “second-time rounder” too. How long have you been pain free post-second surgery? I do hope it holds this time for you.

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Irene June 25, 2012 at 11:40 am

Pain, pain, go away!
Chronic pain is horrible…wishing you a complete recovery soon!!!!

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Sarah Henry June 25, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Thanks muchly, Irene. I might just try that little mantra in my mind.

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Brette June 25, 2012 at 11:43 am

Wishing you relief from pain very, very soon! I think we have to find relief in our own ways and who cares what it is if it works.
Brette´s last [type] ..Martha Mondays: Coconut Balls

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Sarah Henry June 25, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Appreciate the sentiment, Brette, pretty much my perspective these days too.

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birdhouses June 25, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Wishing you the best! Pain is traumatic. I hope you find something to take it away.

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Sarah Henry June 25, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Well, hello, birdhouses, and thank you for your good wishes.

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ruth pennebaker June 25, 2012 at 1:35 pm

What a lovely, thoughtful post, Sarah. I’m thinking about a lot of those same issues as I try to age well. Hoping this week’s procedure will bring you relief.
ruth pennebaker´s last [type] ..No, We Are Not From Here but the Possum Was

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Sarah Henry June 25, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Thanks, Ruth, means a lot, hearing that from you. Ah, yes, how to age well — and with grace — is something I thought I’d be dealing with a decade from now. And here we are. Must say, though, I think your posts on this subject are spot on — and frequently funny to boot.

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tea_austen June 25, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Might I say that knowing how much you get accomplished WHILE wrestling with physical challenges makes me a little scared for what you will be like full force :-). That said, I wish there was something I could do. I’ve been there too, and it’s hard. Though clearly the pain hasn’t impacted your writing talent one bit. This was a beautiful piece. I hope you can soon look back at this phase and know it’s in your past. Sending best (strength, stiff drinks, whatever works). xox

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Sarah Henry June 25, 2012 at 4:49 pm

You’re funny, Tara, and thank you for your generous thoughts and comments. And for sending best…look forward to having a stiff drink with you when this is, indeed, a thing of the past.

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Alexandra June 25, 2012 at 4:01 pm

This was such beautiful writing, Sarah. I have never had this experience. I’m sorry you have to go through it. I learned today, out of the blue, that an old college friend has advanced uterine cancer. That made my sunny day turn dark. I hope your surgery is successful.
Alexandra´s last [type] ..How to Enjoy Your Wellfleet Getaway

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Sarah Henry June 25, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Thank you, Sandy. And I’m so sorry to hear that you had such sad news today about your friend.

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nicole June 26, 2012 at 8:34 am

Oh geez. This post really touched me. I’m so sorry you are dealing with pain, every day. I have been struggling with an on-off (but unfortunately mostly on) running injury for a year now, and can completely relate to the feeling of ‘it’s there when I go to sleep, and is still there when I wake up.’ The pity parties I’ve thrown for myself … well, let’s say I’m not proud. It’s hard to focus on the good stuff when you’re just getting through the pain, but you are doing the right thing in doing so. And it will help! Plus … it’s summer. And summer always seems to bring goodness :) Hope it eases up on you soon.
nicole´s last [type] ..The Tuesday Treat: Vegan Cardamom-Cinnamon Rolls

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Sarah Henry June 26, 2012 at 11:45 am

Hi Nicole: Thanks for sharing your story — sorry to hear you’ve been enduring a running injury that just won’t quit. Frustrating (and painful) I’m sure. But as you say, sometimes just a turn in the weather — bright, sunny skies today — can lift one’s spirits, despite what ails them.

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Lisa Rogovin June 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm

I read this post the other day and I can’t remember if I commented. If not, I just want to say I wish I could take all your pain away. Good to hear you’re finding solace in something you can do anytime. Lots of love, Lisa

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Sarah Henry June 28, 2012 at 10:25 am

Thank you Lisa, sweet of you to chime in. Look forward to being back on the food beat with you very soon.

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Jeanine Barone June 26, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Sarah, I have some ideas of modalities you may not have tried: lidocaine patches can provide some temporary relief; then there is a procedure called prolotherapy. Also acupuncture very much depends on the practitioner. I have a friend who was dealing with chronic back pain and he found a neurologist who is also an acupuncturist and it worked wonders. He limped into her office using a cane and walked out sans cane. Amazing. Email me if you need other tips. Hoping you feel better soon.

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Sarah Henry June 28, 2012 at 10:26 am

Thanks for the suggestions, Jeanine. I know about prolotherapy from a mutual friend of ours, may not be the right fit for my particular problem, but that and the patches on my running list to explore with my health and wellness posse.

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Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart June 27, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Oh, kid! I’m sorry to hear about the pain. You might be amused to know that I organized my “tea drawer” in the kitchen recently (late “spring cleaning”), and it appears I have quite a tea problem. Seriously, I might not have to buy tea for YEARS.
Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart´s last [type] ..Adverse Vaccine Reactions – Crunching Numbers at Home

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Sarah Henry June 28, 2012 at 10:26 am

Tee hee, Rox, and drink up.

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merr June 28, 2012 at 7:47 am

Take care, friend. Be gentle.
merr´s last [type] ..Polarities of the writing life and of being a writer

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Sarah Henry June 28, 2012 at 10:27 am

I will, merr, I will. Not much choice in the matter, really.

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MyKidsEatSquid June 28, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I’m so sorry you’re in so much pain. Thank you for writing this. I’ve often pondered how when we think life is rotten when we take time to consider others and serve them we realize there’s hope.

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Sarah Henry June 28, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Nicely put, MKES. Happy to report some pain relief today. Fingers crossed.

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Jane Rogers June 28, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Very moving post Sarah! You are very stoic about all the pain you have and are going through now and also very inspiring for us all. I sincerely hope this procedure makes the pain go away for good. Fingers crossed, Jane x

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Sarah Henry June 29, 2012 at 11:11 am

Thank you for the good wishes, Jane. While I may be stoic, not so sure about inspiring — but then you don’t see what I look like first thing in the morning, when I do a little circuit shuffle around the house to get the mobility going.

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Kris @ Attainable Sustainable July 1, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Staying positive isn’t always easy, especially when you’re in pain. It sounds like you’re taking the idea of positivity to heart, though. Wishing you an answer to the pain SOON.
Kris @ Attainable Sustainable´s last [type] ..Creamy Radish Leaf Salad Dressing

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Sarah Henry July 3, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Thank you, Kris. Getting enough sleep certainly helps one see the positive, despite the pain.

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