It was the tumour that broke the camel’s back. I was the camel.
One evening last week, I was reading a book (okay, a comic book) when I noticed a slow throb in the middle of my back. By 2 a.m., I lay on the floor, crying. My wife called an ambulance (a 40-minute wait for a 5-minute drive). I waited an hour for a bed, my back spasming the entire time. I yelped, growled and pleaded with my back to “Stop it, stop it, stop it!” I finally got a bed, where I was reunited with my one true love. Morphine.
The next day, a CT scan found a new tumour had caused a hairline fracture in my seventh vertebrae. I am awaiting stereotactic radiation to eliminate the tumour.
I told Robin how the fracture felt like I was growing knife-edged angel wings. She remarked how much time we’ve spent talking about pain over the past three-and-a-half years.
It’s true. Before cancer, my pain threshold had been established through a hiking-related back injury. Since then, I’ve pushed that threshold again and again.
First, I suffered lightning bolts down my left leg, where the undetected tumour pushed against my sciatic nerve. After my first lung surgery, I felt a deep, sharp stab every time I moved. Morphine got me through two weeks of a sizzling radiation burn on my thigh. I have spent two days on a couch, unable to stand because a blood clot felt like needles being pushed through my legs. I’ve awoken in the middle of the night with chemo-related cramps that imploded my calves.
I can even rank them, pain-wise: 1) the broken back, 2) the lung resection, 3) the radiation burn, 4) the calf cramps, 5) the initial tumour, 6) the blood clot. That earlier hiking injury — once the greatest pain I had ever known — now ranks a lowly seventh.
There are silver linings. When I get my next blood clot, I can tell myself “Could be worse. Could be a (see 1 through 5).”
I’ve also become a connoisseur of pain medication. Percocet? It’s okay. Oxycodone? Meh. Morphine? “You had me at hello.”
Also, I can play “Would you rather…?” really well. Example: “Would you rather have a spinal fracture or a radiation burn?”
I can answer that.
But I would love to stop playing.