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Exploring the Anatomy of Pain

I like a look of Agony, 
Because I know it's true—
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe—
The Eyes glaze once—and that is Death—
Impossible to feign 
The Beads upon the Forehead 
By homely Anguish strung.
Emily Dickinson

I’m no stranger to pain. There’s nothing truer than the reactions of one in pain. No pretense, no social niceties, or any hint of the implicit. Just pure unadulterated truth, just like Emily says.

Aside from various injuries and setbacks over my life, around summer of 2016 I was in a motorcycle accident where I broke seven ribs, shattered my clavicle and had some other damage. Had a few surgeries, metal plates, rehab, all that stuff. A week after I had a rib plated, I fell and broke another. I’ve been in chronic pain ever since, mostly related to my broken ribs and the plate that sits just below my shoulder blade.

In May of 2022, I had just attended the Minnesota Teacher of the Year banquet, for which I was a finalist. Got COVID, and in my weakened state, suffered an injury to my back which quickly snowballed…after a week in the hospital being drugged up with no help, eventually discovered that I had nerve damage that had been occurring over the previous few months and my latest injury was the final straw. Couldn’t feel my left leg, lost some function of my hip flexor and the pain was more mind altering than the drugs they were giving me to combat it.

I think I spent over half of my day sobbing from the overwhelming agony of nerve pain. I couldn’t move. No position of my body made it better. I couldn’t work and had to be drugged up to even make it to my appointments, which caused another level of agony that I’ll get into some other time.

I’d say things like I couldn’t do it anymore, even though there’s not really any alternative. I don’t really know what I was hoping for when I was saying it, I just had to do it.

Loki's punishment and Sigyn catching poison that falls on him.
Loki’s Punishment and Sigyn by his side. A fitting allusion based on the support of my wife.

From there, things got worse. I missed the end of the school year, which for me, was as traumatic as anything else. Not being able to prepare my students or say goodbye was awful. It all left me pretty hopeless. Within three weeks, thanks to my persistent wife helping me navigate the healthcare system, I had surgery and started a long and painful recovery.

Feeling isolated and alone because of the intense pain I needed to find anything that might help me cope with what was happening and I came across this book, An Anatomy of Pain: How the Body and the Mind Experience and Endure Physical Suffering. I went through several stages of grief while reading the insights in that book. For the first few chapters, I was angry about some of the conclusions and wanted so badly to scream at the author that he didn’t understand. By the end of my read, I had come to appreciate and accept what he was writing about. This was going to be an ongoing mental battle for me that I would simply have to accept and learn how to integrate intense pain into my daily life.

That acceptance of my new reality is what inspired me to come up with Dolorem. So many of those early notes were autobiographical, angry, raw, and looking back now almost a year later, hard to read. Neit was born and evolved into a realized character and the story seemed to take on a life of its own.

There was just one problem, though I’d wanted to work in the comic book industry since I was three years old, I had no idea how to make that a reality.

Stay tuned to learn about what happened next, and if you are suffering from chronic pain, I am so sorry that is your reality. It’s not fair and you have every right to be pissed at the world and be done at whatever time of day you’ve had enough. If you have it within you do learn more about the history of pain and how we have tried to manage it in this world, I highly suggest the book mentioned above. It played an enormous role in my “recovery” even though I’ve had another setback with yet another serious injury to my breastplate and spine, I’m going to keep going.


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