Saturday, January 22, 2005


Someone once said that "cooking is a dangerous sport", and I have proven them right. Cooking never has come easily to me. Things that should thin down thicken up, or scorch, or cling to the pan in frenzied lumps, like swimmers caught in a wallowing tide. Cooking is always, "well, I shoulda, coulda, woulda" for me and when I dive into it, it is with the knowledge that, whatever can go wrong, undoubtedly will. My cooking is a family joke and my sons nostalgically recall the "little black flecks in the chili". I admit that I haven't cooked much since they learned to pour.

But I never expected the jinx that has always surrounded my cooking ability to reach out and knock me sideways as I valiantly tried to stir a pot of stew with my trusty little spoon. I reached upward into the cupboard for a bowl, and the next thing I knew, I was laying flat on my back on my kitchen floor, moaning with pain, pieces of broken crockery and bits of stew around my head.

For two days, I ignored the bruising, the aching, the sideswipes of pain, as I am wont to do, putting off that moment when I must visit the doctor. But the moment finally came when I knew that I had to find out if I had broken anything essential or just some minor something that I could leave dangling for the rest of my days with no one the wiser. Oh, bleak and cheerless world as I headed into the cold frosty morning hours to chase down the reason for this growing back pain.

I despise doctor's offices. They're so grim. I don't care if they are painted pink, they are still grim. And everyone looks sick, as well as contagious. If you aren't sick before you visit a doctor, you are probably going to be sick a few days afterward. The very air is filled with a miasma of bacteria, little flecks of horrible diseases just waiting to lodge in your windpipe and strangle you. The magazines are old and disease-ridden, harboring God knows what African virus ready to jump from the dark corners of the page.

First, you wait in the "Waiting Room". Then you are taken to a little Inner Chamber and told to undress. You do so, then sit, staring at the inevitable poster of a human larnyx on the wall, listening for footsteps in the hall. There is absolutely nothing to do. You could have brought your knitting, if you knit, or set up an easel to paint a landscape. But instead, you wait, until finally, there is a rustle at the door and the doctor arrives.

I never have a good relationship with a doctor. It's always an adversarial relationship, as though we are rooting for different teams. I have an attitude, I guess you could say. I don't believe a word of it! I don't trust the medication and I hate padding around in my bare feet on a cold, tiled floor trying to pee in a bottle. I have earned the right to be a curmudgeon and I take full advantage of it. It would help if doctors these days could (A) Speak English; and (B) Look Older than Huck Finn.

But we depend upon doctors to relieve pain and pain is what I have been experiencing for the past week. Millions of people in this country live with excruciating pain and I suppose I have been fortunate to escape it so far. But this time, my sins caught up with me, you might say, and I spent some time writhing and moaning, trying to find some comfortable spot for my injured back.

A compression fracture, they said it was, and there doesn't seem to be much one can do for it, other than wait for it to heal and hope that it does. For one hundred and twenty five dollars plus the price of X-Rays, I am told to go home, get plenty of rest and take pills.

In the days that followed, I finally gained a glimpse of sympathy for Rush Limbaugh. After the first few nights of that searing pain, I would have sold a cigar box full of anything to get those pills. It is said that, when pain takes over your body, all thoughts of poetry, philosophy, romance and humanity fly out the window and you concentrate only on the Physical, on that pain, on the many-toothed monster invading your body.

Some of us seem to be able to bear more pain than others. For some, stoic determination is the way to face pain, to will it away using the strength of a Christian battling the claws and jaws of a hungry lion. Others seem to dissolve at the slightest twinge, moaning for relief. But, despite our differences, we all have our breaking point, when the pain becomes more than we can bear, when it becomes intolerable.

It is then that Science becomes a thing of beauty, an Art form. Look at that, a tiny round bit of fluff, compressed into pill form, and offering hours of relief from this invasion of pain! Has anything ever been lovelier? Could any National Monument have more meaning, more soulful layers of human capacity than this gorgeous little pill I am about to pop into my mouth? I don't know who discovered the first narcotic. Somewhere, some wandering soul plucked a weed and placed it in his mouth can imagine the rest, substances created in great laboratories where the pills become stronger and stronger and more effective...yet more deadly.

Yes, beautiful as they are, they must be treated with caution, lest they become a greater Master than the pain itself, lest they take over from the pain to become the light in the tunnel. And therein lies the tragedy of it....that every good thing has its bad side; that every light is surrounded by darkness, that every pill fades to allow the pain back in and, at the end of it all, it is up to you to grapple with these demons alone.