There are moments in this work that bring home the absolutely clear distillation that only comes from great pain. Today I saw a child reach out for his loving mother as the only response available to significant pain. Never mind that the child was a nearly 40-year-old man*, and the mother, for all her loving kindness, could not begin to touch the pain arising from his multiple abdominal tumors.
He was short with her, sarcastic in a way you expect from teenage boys who don’t want to clean their rooms. She hovered over him, carefully avoiding mentioning certain procedures so as not to upset him. It was an entire boy’s childhood enacted in a 30-second vignette. And draped over it all was the presence of his physical pain.
The hospitalist came while I was there, so I stepped out to give them some privacy. When I came back in the son was looking at his mother, clearly needing someone else to help him decide. “Should I take something, then?” he said. She nodded, “I think it would be a good idea.” He called the nurse, who gave him a small dose of a large painkiller. He settled into a comfortable position, ready to receive gentle, soothing touch. I held his feet, head and hands with a warm, weightless hold, visualizing a space clearing in the center of his pain — one small, comfortable space where he could sit for a little while.
After his massage, I walked down the hall with his mother, who held my hand the whole way. “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” I said. She stopped and turned to face me. “I don’t know,” she said, “that’s a good question.”
She walked back to her son’s room without an answer. Her hands worked at her sides and her shoulders slumped, trying to balance the weight of her own, significant, excruciating pain.
*–names and identifying details have been changed