A story of pain and more pain based on true events that every senior over age seventy will affirm

The pain really happens. Expect it if it hasn’t hit already. But the point of the story is the ending.

Good morning, sweetheart

The sudden pain shot up her left leg like a burning fuse, the cramp hardening the calf muscles into a rigid burl, knotted and gnarled. Anna’s grimace was a mixture of agony, familiarity and resignation, a victim on the rack watching the ratchet wheel turn. Panting in anguish, she stretched her toes toward her chin to elongate the Achilles tendon and loosen the grip of the spasm that had turned her calf rigid. A lifetime passed until mercifully the jaws of the vice opened, shutters of relief rolling over her body, waves of wayward neurons firing flurries of oddly orgiastic vaginal pinpricks and sphincter tics. As the baseball sized knob relaxed Anna watched the muscles of her legs vibrate rhythmically under the skin, flickering like neuropathic strobe lights lacking an on/off switch.

Careful not to awake her sleeping husband, Anna sat up and rolled her legs over the side of the Orthopedic mattress she and Joe had recently purchased in response to the company’s advertising promises they would sleep through the night free of the back and joint pain that often awakened them. “Lying so and so’s,” she muttered to herself, gingerly placing the heels of her feet on the floor, rolling her swollen ankles in half circles to loosen the tendons crisscrossing from arch to toes. Instantly she realized her mistake: the rolling motion that lengthened the calf was a seesaw that alternately contracted the elongated muscle embedded alongside the tibia. Anna writhed in pain, her legs feeling like cudgels carved from briar, contorted and misshaped. She dug her thumbs into the rigid muscles, massaging the tender tissues with long, cajoling caresses down the length of the shin. Eons later the nervous system declared truce among its warring axons and dendrites and the cramp untied, leaving Anna limp; her nightgown saturated in dank perspiration.

“What next?” Anna mumbled as she limped to the bathroom; tip toeing quietly around the bed where Joe slept undisturbed. The answer came without warning. A paroxysm times ten of the pain that wracked her earlier tore through the arch of her left foot, the oblique rip of a serrated blade sawing through the bony arc between heel and metatarsals. Anna reeled in agony, lurching against the medicine chest, somehow managing to fling open the mirrored door. They were there on the bottom shelf, the plastic bottle of quinine tablets, the precious powdered leaf of cinchona officinalis that would ease her pain as digitalis to the trembling victim of a heart attack. Anna fumbled to open the tightly sealed bottle, bloodying her mouth as she bit off the child protection cap. She placed two pills under her tongue and tried to calm the panic that gripped her, whispering a Holy Mother of Jesus mantra as she exhaled in short bursts. Whining from the pain she felt her body aberrant and deformed… then miracle of miracles, the torture ceased; the pain subsided. Whether placebo or gift of God – Anna’s doctor postulated the former – the bow in her arch straightened; the sole of her foot became relaxed and supple.

            Anna’s relief was short lived. Nausea swallowed her whole, drowning her in a foul, Chem class gas of sulfur dioxide and Porto Potty fog. She felt the color drain from her face, leaving behind a death mask of withered parchment, pock marked with hieroglyphics of the morning’s oft repeated history: crows’ feet and sunken cheeks; an other worldly greenish hue in the shadows of eye sockets mine shaft deep. She fell to her knees oblivious to the thud of patella against tile and the broken capillaries that would blossom into a glaring purple bruise. The impulse to vomit became compulsion. Anna pulled herself to the toilet, ignoring the wispy strands of her hair floating in the water as she bent over the porcelain bowl. The convulsions that rippled up from the depths of her bowels vacuumed her stomach into her spine but the bellows-force heave that erupted was a Saharan gust. The dry heaves came in waves without letup; bile from the lining of ruptured stomach walls coated her cheeks, tongue and teeth. Doubled up in the fetal X-ray, head between her legs, she pressed her limp body against the bathmat’s cotton shag, an island of warmth on the cold marble floor. It took an eternity until Anna felt the nausea slowly drain from her body. She didn’t move for several minutes.

            Her bubble of calm ended with the first twitch of unexplained pressure in her pelvic area. She stood up unsteadily and pulled the toilet seat down, feeling a sudden need to urinate. The pressure in her bladder morphed into a dull pain then quickened in intensity becoming sharp and piercing. “Christ, I have to pee so badly,” Anna moaned as she strained to squeeze her bladder into submission. A trickle of urine burned its way down the urethra, dripping from the vagina like precious elixir from a chemist’s pipette. Anna had a flashback of herself doing the Kegel exercises her doctor recommended after her first pregnancy, sitting on the toilet, squeezing and relaxing to the count of eight to tone and tighten her vagina. Anna sniggered despite feeling as if her bladder was being scraped across the potato grater she kept in the kitchen drawer. She forced herself to relax. An unexpected fart rumbled out of her buttocks and seemed to ease the clamp that gripped her abdomen. The dribble of urine became a stream. “Ahhh,” Anna sighed in relief.

            The crystals she added to the water filled the bathroom with the scent of mimosa carried on a cloud of steam rising from the tub where Anna languished in a soothing warm bath. Soaking a washcloth in the hot water, she applied the folded pad to the lid of her right eye. A bothersome stye had formed there, further blurring the vision already compromised by annoying floaters and a gradually worsening cataract requiring laser surgery that Anna kept putting off. The eye dealt with, she soaped the cloth and vigorously scrubbed the scaling skin on her elbows and knees where fibrous patches of psoriasis had formed harsh red blotches. Taking a shortcut in her morning ablutions Anna stayed in the tub as she filled a cup with cold water and squeezed a dab of toothpaste on her brush. The morning lull abruptly vanished as the cold water hit the receding gums under her canines, stimulating the nerve endings into screaming explosions of unmitigated pain. Anna wished a root canal without Novocain on the copywriter who wrote the lies extolled on the tube of Sensodyne and hurriedly rinsed her mouth in hot water scooped from the tub, ignoring the soapy aftertaste. Vowing to make an appointment with her dentist she stood up in the tub, twisting her body to reach for the bath towel hanging on the rack on the shower stall door. Abruptly, her left leg went numb.

            Unlike the unbearably painful cramps in her calf muscles that she suffered earlier, Anna felt tingling, crawling sensations, as if a fuse had blown in her wiring system, the network of nerves going haywire, disrupting the brain’s ability to communicate with the body. She slapped her quadriceps, feeling the sting in her palm whereas her leg remained unresponsive and lifeless. Anna grabbed on to the safety rail and gingerly stepped out of the tub, careful not to slip, fearing at age 73 the deadly fall that each year maimed thousands of her aging contemporaries. It was as if Anna’s thoughts had taken form and stabbed a knife into her side; psychic pain in her hip instantly made itself felt, feeling like coarse sandpaper raking her pelvis; bone grating on bone. Anna steadied herself. She sat down on the edge of the tub and placed her feet firmly on the cool tile. Slowly she lifted herself upright, minimizing the pain in her hip with a limping, clumsy gait that shifted the weight to her stronger leg. She leaned against the door and lifted her leg, catching the ankle in her hand and stretching the quivering thigh by pulling her foot behind her back toward her shoulder. The stretching exercise she had learned during her jogging days worked well and the pins and needles making a pincushion out of her leg, fell away. As the pain subsided, she opened the bathroom door and made her way down the hallway to the kitchen. Joe was stirring and she wanted to make him breakfast as she did every morning, even though she herself had little to eat other than black coffee and occasionally a soft boiled egg with a slice of well done toast.

“Good morning, sweetheart. I heard you puttering about. Been up long?” Joe asked as he entered the kitchen and took a cup from the cabinet. “Is everything okay?”

Anna kissed her husband and poured the coffee. “Honky dory, Joe,” she answered, “Honky dory.”

Leave a comment