This post is more of a diary-entry than a public document, for my records really, so if you don’t want to learn dull things about my recent life, don’t read on. I will post something light and silly for all you SAS-types a bit later.
People with my genes are known for a semi-pathological stoicism which we, attributing some value to it, describe as ‘sisu’ rather than admitting it as a flaw. Living among Australians, who are a long way from the sun-bronzed athlete of the Anzac myth, I’ve had to adopt a default position. I can’t go hardcore Finn or I’d be deported, so instead of telling people I find their injury/illness boring and that they need to swallow a big bag of cement (and harden up), I restrain myself to having little sympathy for people who (a) suffer pain unnecessarily, or (b) who malinger or wallow in self-pity. Both are equally abhorrent to me, and I cannot change this view. This video will get you started:
But why can’t I change? Too many generations of suffering in silence, I suspect. Example: my father cut his kneecap off with a chainsaw at work, calmly collected said kneecap, wrapped his leg in an old flannelette shirt, and drove himself sixty miles to a doctor’s surgery, waited patiently until the receptionist noticed the pool of blood around his feet, rushed the doctor out, who fainted on the spot when my father unwrapped his knee. That’s Finnish ‘sisu’ for you — equal parts of rugged, manly stoicism and rank stupidity. So, in a country of pretend hard men like Australia, when criticised for my relative lack of empathy, my answer is that I reserve my harshest standards for myself.
Well, an update on that.
I am one week into a fortnight of enforced post-operative leave following my UPPP. To be upfront and absolutely honest, even if I could go back to work earlier I would not. Not due to physical incapacity, I suspect, but because of risk analysis. One punch to the throat and I could bleed to death in the street, or end up in the operating theatre and have to go through this recovery bullshit all over again. No thanks. The recovery period has been a nasty experience. But for all the quiet suffering, in my eternal quest to explore the wild borderlands of self, what have I learned?
Pain is private. Does’t matter how many times you get asked “How are you feeling?” if your throat feels like you’ve dragged an echidna out of it backwards, then the question can only, eventually, become annoying. It was then that I realised that the question is not to make me feel better, but to give some sign to the worried but helpless inquirer that you are on the mend — i.e.. to make them feel better. Once I understood that, I could start managing their pain. Tell them “Oh yes, turned the corner today, feeling much better” and watch all of the displaced pain vanish from their face like a rabbit going back into a hat. And somehow, not having people fussing anxiously about makes me feel better, too. I don’t need a back-rub at 3am when my throat is screaming, I just need paracetamol and an icepack, and I can get both of those on my own. My legs aren’t painted on.
Nothing beats water. Water keeps you alive even when you can’t tolerate one single other substance passing between your lips — days 2-5 were water only days for me, and my only real concern was not getting enough of the magical stuff to stay hydrated. Water was critical too as a lubricant, the trick being to get enough in my mouth to swallow analgesics so large they felt like Captain America’s shield. Washing my face often with water, for some reason, helped to keep me sane. Having a shower, despite the pain in my scalp from my hair (wtf), felt like a necessary daily ritual to keep me anchored in the world of normalcy. No other liquid mattered. No coffee withdrawals! No craving for wine! Two big exclamation marks, right there!! I expected mad headaches and cravings, but nothing at all. The only other wins I’ve had on the liquid spectrum is with apple juice, low-fat milk, and non-fruity Gatorade. When the predominant taste in your mouth is a mix of blood, old saliva, and healing scabs, anything that refreshes your palate even for a minute is welcome.
This is not a race. On the UPPP forums, people (mostly from the US) seem to love to one-up each other in the race to be first back to Burger King. Jillian H from Omaha crowed that ‘apple pie on day 6 brought me to tears’ — I would hope so, you stupid bitch, the crust would tear the be-shitters out of your wound and the sweetness would burn. But Yankees can’t be denied their junk food. The nation that started the global obesity epidemic, which in turn created epidemic levels of snoring and potentially life-threatening adult Obstructive Sleep Apnea, are now wheeling their 200+ pound bodies into surgeries for a quick fix, then complaining a week later because pizza hurts. There need to be more sharks in the shallow-end of the gene pool to weed out these imbeciles.
It gets better. I can only write this today, or maybe last night, when I had my first ‘gulp’ of apple juice, the single biggest mouthful of liquid in a week. Sure, it hurt like ten bastards, but the pain always recedes. I have lost 12.5 pounds in six days, and can’t imagine how much I’ll lose before I am eating again. I just have no desire for food at all, mostly because of how much pain this generates at the back of my tongue and in my throat. On the pain-bastards scale, a swallow is 4-5 bastards during peak meds, a 7-8 off meds; the tongue pain hits you fifteen seconds after any kind of tongue-like activity, and it is always 7-8 bastards, and has you grabbing for the icepack or, transitioning now, the heat pack straightaway. But pain-memory is short, and in a few days it will be forgotten, unless it is replaced by some bright, new hell.
So what do you do wth all this self-inflicted pain? Do you curl up on the sofa with ice-cream treats and a blanket, watching dozens of movies from your childhood, wishing your significant other was at home to bring more pillows and tell you it will be alright soon, that the pain will ebb away one day at a time, and that everything is going to be okay?
Of course you do! We’re not living in some icy hellhole in the Arctic Circle filled with people who don’t cry! This is Australia, land of the Great White Sulk, where we whinge about everything, no matter how trivial. It’s the reason why we still have the Union Jack in our national flag — because foreigners need a explanation for all our whingeing! Ah, zey came from zer veakling Britishers! So if you know anybody who is going through surgery of any kind, not just my kind, ignore their efforts to push you away. Don’t give up if the cranky bear growls at you. You are not a rabbit! It’s just the pain (and perhaps genetically inherited stupidity) that’s talking. Look after the ones you love. They won’t admit it, but even a bear with a sore throat needs his back rubbed sometimes.
Ah, you crazy Finns.