I’ve been thinking about pain — physical pain. And being mindful, I know what causes my thoughts about pain: I’m having lots of it.
What causes my pain is arthritis. Nothing fancy, just garden-variety osteoarthritis. My joints wear out too fast. But it’s severe, and I have it in lots of places. I never got past a green belt in Tae Kwon Do because kicking people hurt me more than it hurt them. The bones in my toes were grinding against each other.
When I was in my mid-30’s, I didn’t know about my bad joints, so I ran 50 to 60 miles a week — sometimes more when training for a marathon. I ran three of those, including the 1980 New York City Marathon. The arthritis attacked my hips a decade later. By the time I was 50, the pain in my left hip would wake me up several times a night. So I had my first hip replacement. My first thought as I awoke in the recovery room was: Where is the pain I get from lying in one place?
As I recovered from that, I was surprised at how much pain I now felt in my right hip. The pain on the left had masked it. A year later, I had my right hip replaced.
My hips largely behaved themselves for a decade, but then a not-so-funny thing happened. Sharp pains in my left hip sent me back to the orthopedist, but my guy wasn’t doing hips any more. He was the head team physician for the Washington Redskins, specializing in shoulders.
To make a long story short and avoid a possible libel charge, let’s just say that I ended up with another orthopedist who said the hip replacement needed to be redone and who didn’t have the right stuff — literally, the right stuff. The new parts he had planned to use didn’t fit, so he used other parts he had on hand. Within seven days after he sent me home, my new hip dislocated three times. I can’t imagine enduring any pain worse than a hip dislocation, and I can’t imagine screaming any louder than I did then. At one point, even morphine wasn’t enough to stop the screaming-out pain.
When one doctor creates a problem like that, you can’t get another doctor to take over your case. I tried, but I ended up back in the operating room 10 days after the screw-up surgery, for yet another hip replacement from the same guy. This time he had the right stuff.
So I’ve had four hip-replacement operations, one on the right and three on the left. With the storm over, I switched to another orthopedist, and before long my shoulders became my problem joints. It was more than five years ago when my new guy told me there was nothing he could do for them other than shoulder replacements. I had flunked out of physical therapy, which made the shoulder pain so bad I couldn’t sleep. And fancy arthroscopic surgery wouldn’t help in my case.
My new doc, understanding my reluctance to put myself through another ordeal, told me to wait until the pain was intolerable, and that point came to my right shoulder a couple of weeks ago. So Tuesday I’m going in for right-shoulder replacement, and if that goes well I’ll have the left one done later this year.
Sorry for the long introduction, but the point here is about dukkha. The Buddha said that all of his teachings were about dukkha and the cessation of dukkha. That leaves us with a religion based around single word, whose translation is tricky. Dukkha is most often translated as suffering. But the Pali word stands for a wide range of negative states of mind. It could refer to anything unsatisfactory.
The Buddha knew that he couldn’t erase physical pain. But he noticed that we cling to the idea that we shouldn’t have pain. We cling to the idea that we shouldn’t get old, get sick, and die. And that clinging makes us unhappy with our lives.
I could rant against my karma — the genes I was born with, the obsession I had with running, the doctor who screwed up my hip redo. Instead I’ll just write a blog post about it. If you find my experience at all helpful to you, that will be icing on the cake.
I have been a bit annoyed with myself for not getting more written recently. Having trouble focusing. And I’ll probably slow down further as I recover from Tuesday’s operation. But people keep discovering Melting-Pot Dharma and reading some of the older posts.
Maybe that’s what I’ll think about this time as I awake in the recovery room.
— Mel Pine (Urgyen Jigme)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine