I went over to my friend's house in the stereotypical southern United States. I got out of the car and walked up the well-worn path in the grass to the old weathered house. My friend was rocking back and forth in his chair on the big dilapidated front porch. His loyal old hound dog was laying next to him, but he was squirming, and whining, and making a terrible fuss.
"What's wrong with your dog?" I asked.
"He's layin' on a nail."
"Why doesn't he just get up and move?"
"The nail ain't hurtin' him bad enough."
-- paraphrased Ed Foreman story
Some of my closer friends may remember that little story from the Ed Foreman "Attitude" self-help audio tapes that I spread around our motley group as if I had account passwords to a premiere porn site to share.
The story also illustrates one of those old-school truisms about human behavior:
People only change when the pain to remain the same is greater than the pain to change.
This particular truism was forced to the front of my own thinking tonight like an ice pick in your eyeball, or bamboo slivers under your fingernails, or an appropriate heart attack in the McDonald's drive-thru lane. Remember the truism and I'll try to tell my tale.
For background information, check out a blog entry from over a year ago. It has nice picture of my right leg, post-op, after both bones in it had been shattered. Then it was fileted and surgically repaired like "propping up a crushed bag of Saltine crackers" -- according to the osteopathic surgeon -- with some handy-fucking-dandy titanium brackets and a half-dozen screws.
I spent several initial months horizontal and not placing any weight on that leg for fear that the weight of gravity itself might force the bones in that leg to mend in an unnatural fashion, requiring more surgery. I spent many subsequent months bouncing around inside my house with a walker. The osteopathic surgeon warned me that I would have instant arthritic pain from the injury. Check.
As little as three months ago, I would use my emergency response vehicle to take my own household trash to the neighborhood dumpster. It was only a football field away from my house, but it was painful and tiresome enough just limping around inside the house everyday.
Remember the change truism. Tonight, it was raining. Tonight, I had a throbbing tooth ache. It friggin' hurt so bad, I couldn't think straight. I had already spent the last 24 hours with this evil pain in my face and had only slept about thirty minutes at a time. I was inconsolable. I had to get some relief.
What to do? I had to get some pain relief -- that much was certain. I had already eaten a bottle of ibuprofen with little success. My only option was to get up, get out of the house, and walk to the pharmacy before it closed. I had to succeed.
I got dressed. I put on my black jeans. I put on my black steeled-toed boots. I put on my black U.S. Army standard-issue raincoat. I grabbed my backpack. I grabbed my institutional-looking aluminum cane. I donned my "Grumpy" hat. I'm ready. I can do this because I am stubborn, in pain, and just thinking about it makes me hate the rest of mankind.
The pharmacy is about two miles away. Within twenty minutes, the dark miserableness of my situation began to become very apparent to me. I was stubbornly walking in the cold rain, watching my breath in front me, and the numbness in my feet was quickly working its way up both legs. They call that numbness peripheral neuropathy.
I finally limped out of the darkness and into the glow of the exterior mercury vapor lights of the pharmacy. Imagine how I must have looked to the patrons and employees. I was dripping wet, walking even slower than normal, with a backpack over an old Army raincoat. Clearly, I was a mentally disturbed homeless man. With the throbbing nerve ending in my molar, I was in no mood to shatter this aura with a disarming smile.
I stopped for a minute in the pharmacy, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I had made it here, afterall. Unfortunately, this just made me dizzy and I nearly fell down. I scanned the hanging overhead aisle signs for what I wanted. "Dental Care" and "Pain Relievers" were on opposite corners in the back.
I picked up a bottle of Extra-Strength Tylenol and a bottle of Maximum Strength Anbesol. Since the ibuprofen wasn't completely helpful, I figured a switch to acetaminophen might work. The Anbesol was 20% benzocaine. To relieve my pain, I would have bought a five gallon drum of Anbesol and bobbed for Halloween Tylenol tablets at this point.
On the return trip, I noticed that I no longer stared into the distance for progress markers. I stared at the road directly in front of me -- one day at a time -- one step at a time. My walking was getting worse. I felt like one of those poor people caught on video who has fallen through thin ice on a winter lake. Time was my enemy. Surely my legs would become so completely numb as to make me falter in my trek, lose my stubborness, and slip under the ice forever.
I could see the wet asphalt road glisten with the headlights of oncoming cars. I would wave my shiny aluminum cane horizontally when I saw the glow around my next step. I was defending my personal space. At this point on the way back, I was also walking like a Lon Chaney mummy. I knew I was stealthily dressed in all black. I didn't want Grandma or Grandpa to unceremoniously mow me down with their late-model Lincoln or Cadillac because they were doing 40 in a 25, can't see at night, and probably had too many cheap Margaritas during happy hour.
"Is everything okay, here?"
Holy shit! It's the po-po. While I may have looked like the Slow-Motion Ninja Homeless Burgular on the local BOLO list of the Twilight Zone PD, I certainly was in no mood to have any interaction with the young patrolman.
Quick. Think. I looked up at him and calmly used a "nothing to see here" Jedi mind trick. Anything to make this guy continue his boring night without a squirt of adrenaline or suspicion.
"Oh. Yeah. I'm just out for a walk. I figure if I can safely take a shower, I can safely take a walk in the rain and get some rehab on my leg."
Somehow that seemed plausible enough for him. Had he noticed my backpack? I certainly didn't want to explain to him the wisdom of lugging a 12-pack of beer in there. The schlepping wasn't the issue with me, it was just the walking. He wouldn't understand. I would have just been a suspiciously-dressed degenerate. But, off he went.
I made it home. I popped some Tylenol like happy Tic-Tacs. I swabbed the Anbesol. I drank some beer, caught a buzz, and made a self-effacing fool of myself on the main tagboard to the regulars there.
But, in the end, I survived the journey. I don't prefer to blog about personal stuff. I normally avoid it. But somehow, after reading some of the entries I've seen lately among my regular blogdrive haunts, I thought I should share this private lunacy.
The change truism holds true. Verdad. Do you have any moments when you decided to get off your ass and change something big or small? If so, leave a comment or a link.
The nail was my marriage; suddenly the nail grew in size and I began to bleed. Change.
Akira3099 March 6, 2005 08:51 PM PST Heh.. sometimes I feel like the part of the dog with the nail stickin' in it. I'm damn determined to change it all, whilst remaining on my ass.
Nice use of the force!
You're a brave man.
J f Z March 7, 2005 02:51 AM PST Heh. I wasn't that brave. I had nothing to beer, but beer itself ;)
The change truism might also be called the 'pain to change' truism. I've heard various stories to illustrate it. The hound dog story is a simple one and I could actually remember where I had heard it.
It's interesting to me to pin-point those moments of epiphany or when people get 'sick and tired of being sick and tired'.
I didn't really get into it too deeply in the entry because I was babbling on with background and my alone -in-the-dark walk in the rain. But, I was thinking about larger issues like relationships and marriages, as Lyly mentioned.
That weird tug-of-war between the fear of change vs. enduring some ongoing negative situation is obvious when one looks at battered women.
On a bigger socialogical scale, I was thinking that the U.S. has a long way to go to change its ways -- in the area of energy independence, for example -- because our infrastructure has been set up for cars, not pedestrians, bicycles, or much mass transit in the majority of the country. It's going to take a lot of pain to force that change.
Unfortunately, when gasoline is $5-6 / gallon or heating your home costs $1000/month, then people will demand change -- but it will cost more to make changes later rather than sooner. Meh.
The walk was the brave act, esp. in those conditions. If the rest of the dog could feel your nail, it might move for you. The dog on the porch is a bad example for me, especially with this strange southern man that won't help his dog find peace.
J f Z March 7, 2005 11:44 AM PST I imagine you've seen some terrible examples of animal neglect and abuse. I've seen that Animal Cops show on TV, following the Michigan Humane Society in Detroit. That's only the tip of the iceberg.
I went one year to a fancy chamapgne breakfast and charity auction supporting MHS. They are overwhelmed with work, but I imagine the problem in many cities is immense.
Akira3099 March 7, 2005 12:52 PM PST Heh, I guess Bob hasn't reached the people yet. I only deal with breeders.. it's a whole other side of... err.. I won't go there.. but, uhh.. (cough cough)It's the immense cities(cough). Stay off the road J, please. You'll end up like that animal I hit the other day... whatever it was.. j/k.
J f Z March 7, 2005 02:03 PM PST I think most pets owned by these lonely retirees down in Florida are spoiled and pampered beyond belief. But, I have heard stories from the FL NWS/DNR that there is a fairly annoying feral cat problem.
I was hit by a car when I was a kid riding my bike. Actually, two different times. Heh. Both times, I was on the gravel shoulder, but the idiots found a way to nail me anyway.
Akira3099 March 7, 2005 02:51 PM PST It's a sharp, sharp nail
DO NOT take Tylenol with alcohol, and do not take more than the recommended dosage. Doing so can cause liver damage--and not long-term damage like alcoholic cirrhosis, but sudden liver failure!
For the "Straight Dope" on the subject, see
J f Z March 10, 2005 10:11 AM PST Thanks for the info/link, Brandon. That's some scary stupid shit.
I've never been a fan of chemicals or pharmaceuticals. I don't like OTC drugs, let alone prescribed stuff. But, I switched from Ibuprophen to Acetaminophen because I was running a bit of a fever (fighting an infection, I think).
Luckily for me, I only took about 4 500mg Tylenol tablets. Because, with the topical anbesol, I didn't need much more than that.
I don't take that stuff for generic 'headaches', or colds, or common little ailments I prefer to suffer on my own, without OTC drugs. I'm not a rabid naturalist, but I simply avoid extra chemicals.
I figure, I don't need OTC drugs for a stuffy nose, I only need a tissue. I lost my mind with that toothache though! Man!! I could have used a day on morphine drip for that. Heh.