Hiding the pain

Six weeks ago I attended a celebratory dinner for my sister and her fiance for passing the BAR exam and becoming lawyers. As always there was a lot of food and wine, everyone was in good spirits. But halfway through the meal I started to doze. I hadn’t rested much that day and my narcolepsy was creeping. After I felt my head nod for the second time I excused myself from the dinner table. I decided to go take a quick cat nap in the guest bedroom, closing my eyes for ten mins for a quick recharge. Ten minutes.

When I opened my eyes I knew something was wrong, terribly wrong. I stood up and collapsed. My left foot was broken. I wasn’t sure how, I just knew. I tried to stand up again and cried out in pain. What had happened in the last ten minutes to bring this pain on?

I looked at my foot and it was indeed swollen, with purple discoloration near my ankle. It was too late to call my doctors, and the only course of action, if I wanted to take any, would be the ER. But, I didn’t see the point in rushing to the hospital only to be told to wait, especially since I already knew the diagnosis. I could get an X-Ray the next day through my PCP, saving pointless hours in the sterile ER.

I took a few deep breaths and this time held onto the door jam to help pull myself up. Pain shot up my calf, and I winced, trying not to make a sound. Overcompensating by standing with most weight on my right foot I proceeded to hobble out of the guest room and back to the patio where my family was still eating. Everyone noticed something was wrong as soon as I stepped outside. There was vocal confusion.

Why was I limping? Had I hurt myself just now? I was fine ten minutes ago, what had happened? 

I lowered myself onto a chair, propping my left foot on another beside me while a family member grabbed an ice pack from the freezer. I quickly explained the nature of my disease, that pain flares could come on with no warning, that this unfortunately was a regular occurrence. No more than that. Dinner continued, and was followed by dessert. It just carried on like normal, with the only new exception being that I wasn’t expected to clear the dishes as usual. This job fell to my sisters fiance instead.

I sat quietly at the table, massaging the ice pack into my purple ankle, making it my personal mission not to cry. It hurt unbearably and I knew somehow during the course of the day I had fractured one of the bones in my foot. Osteoporosis was a mean disease, and it had grown in my bones with a vengeance. I suspected that the new dishes box I had carried from the garage earlier was the culprit for this particular pain. It hadn’t seemed that heavy, but who knew these days how easily it was for my bones to crack. My chest alone was riddled with tiny spider fractures along the rib bones where I had received an ill-fated bear hug back in July.

The most important thing of all, though, was to not let myself cry. I wanted to. The pain was excruciating. Every time I moved a fraction, even if it wasn’t my foot, I had to hold my tongue. I didn’t want them to see how bad it felt. How vulnerable I was. I was determined not to falter. So much pride. And for what? So that people think I’m strong?

I wrote about showing my pain a few days ago and how it was hard for me to let go of that control. It’s hard to show the pain on my face. I think it’s from being raised mostly as an only child. I always had to be strong for myself, hold onto that pride, showing no fear, going it alone. But has it helped me? Did it help me that night to keep my emotions hidden? Or would my family have wanted to see how bad it was?

These are things I’ll never know. Unless starting now, I stop hiding my emotions, my pain, my disease. Stop hiding my fears. Let it be known to the world that this is me. I have severe Rheumatoid Disease and I’m in pain. Right now.

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