Zero-dark-thirty. Awake, and I call for the nurse, ask for pain med. And I wait, and wait, and wait. Do they know how hard it is to stay awake? Am I going to wake myself up so far that I can’t go back to sleep? Should I go back to sleep and be re-awakened in ten minutes, half an hour, an hour? Hanging motionless in the bitter darkness.
A woman down the hall starts screaming. Screaming and screaming and screaming. It’s a hospital. You can’t always stay out in front of all the pain. Maybe she just got out of emergency surgery. Maybe she’s waiting for emergency surgery and can’t be medicated. Maybe she’s suffering from dementia and nobody anticipated that she’d wake up screaming. Confusion is a big reason why people in hospitals scream.
So I listen to her scream and wonder if I’d be better off if I’d learned to scream. Comforting requires two things. First, the person who feels bad needs to send a clear message and, second, the hearer must respond with comforting activity. I don’t even know what comforting activity is.
The woman down the hall stops screaming. The nurse comes in with my medicine. I am edgy and question her about why it took fifteen minutes to get one pill. She explains that it was because of the machine. She kept putting 7.5 into the machine but it kept registering 20. It wouldn’t release my pain medicine. The nurse couldn’t get my medicine because the machine wouldn’t let her.
I settle down and don’t go back to sleep. I think the bad thoughts one thinks in the dark—mostly that I am as terrible a person as some of my commenters say I am. Around and around and around. The medicine isn’t doing any good. And I am cold. And swirled in nausea.
I call the nurse again. It is Laurie, who annoys the hell out of me, but who, for some unknown reason, is the person I most want to see. She is tough and strong. Not a wimp or whimper from Laurie; no matter how bad things get, she will hang in there.
She comes in, exclaiming. What am I doing awake? She gets me more medicine. Pulls the quilt up. Hugs me. I burst into sobs. She says, “I knew it; I knew you needed a hug.”
My mother, in her nineties’, told me of watching her granddaughter and great-granddaughter. When the baby would cry then the baby’s mother would go to her, pick her up, pat her, walk with her. My mother said that when I was a baby and had been put to bed then I would start to cry—cry and cry and cry—and my father would not let her go to me in the bedroom. Bed was bed, he said, and she wasn’t to come to me again until morning.
I tell Laurie this story and she is quiet for a long time. She just keeps stroking my hair, then finally says, “You have such soft hair.”
And a lifetime of not knowing how to ask for comfort. I learned silence—and words. Everything must be shaped into coherent words, no blind cry for comfort. Always, rational verbiage to articulate a pain that has no words.
And so, no comfort. Not ever. I learned not to scream in the bitter darkness.
I never learned not to feel pain.