Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Color of Pain

The U.S. Government imposed a color-coding scheme to represent the relative levels of terrorist threats shortly after 9/11. Eventually, it became more of a joke than anything else—like a hyperventilated weather map. Like the old National Lampoon Radio bit about colored weathermen, where the punch line was the double entendre.

Investors know the color of pain: Red.
Red lights, green lights, yellow lights.
Meaningful colors for the movement of money.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to pain scales the past couple of weeks. The last “minor surgery” I went through turned out to be a little more major than minor from my perspective.

When I checked into the hospital, the nurse asked me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten, ten being enough, I suppose, to knock you unconscious. I actually had to think about it, because the varying degrees of discomfort I’ve endured for the past two years has altered my sense of what’s acceptable vs. what’s a tolerable level of pain.

It’s all relative, though—my five could be your one.
My three could be your eight.
Either way, one of us is an Ironman, and one of us is a wimp.

Color coding pain, however, is an interesting concept. I’ve had pain come to me in colors before, especially in the dentist’s chair. That slightly metallic-tasting pain you get when the drill bit exceeds the novocaine’s ability to deaden a tooth’s nerve—that goes from a shimmering, electric-blue pain, straight to white-hot agony.
You know the feeling.

Those dull aches in the back of your skull and neck after a tough week—that pain is beige to me. If it’s a deep muscle hurt, it can go to a deep brown pain, matching perhaps the accompanying bruise that shows up when your body tells you it’s been hit a little too hard.

I know the slow, yellowish pain of the joints in my fingers in the winter time, a sluggish ache that requires extra time to work through. I know the red-hot prick of a booster shot in the hip, or the hot-pink pin-point of a needle spurting medicine into the shoulder.

I remember awaking from the anesthesia last week, and the screaming-orange pain from the procedure that was shouting through the morphine. I understand they took a little longer to rouse me from the anesthesia because the procedure had been more extensive than that though. So as my eyes adjusted to the foggy images of the recovery room, my brain was registering waves on its Richter Scale of pain…in color.

Not the iridescent, day-glo orange, but a rich, rusting orange.
Burning, relentless, glowing orange pain.
Orange that radiated into hot yellow here, a warm brown there, but always at the center, a relentless orange burning, burning, burning as the drugs fought to quell the pain.

Eventually, the drugs won, but they left my brain fogged with their wispy tendrils of chemical relief. Move the wrong way, use a certain set of muscles without first anchoring my body, and the orange stabs back, flicking its tongue of pain along seared nerves and tender flesh.

There’s still a bit of burnt orange around the edges.
It’s a constant companion, sometimes fading to beige, but always present, always coloring my mood, my moves, and my mojo.

What I wouldn’t give for a little spearmint green.

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