Pain Scales

Expensive, Anaïs Chartschenko
Pain Scale; Untethered, Anaïs Chartschenko

I have an uncomfortable relationship with pain. I laugh hysterically; it runs in the family. I remember my mom stubbornly bleeding from wounds that ought to have gotten stitches laughing and laughing, rolling on the floor. She accepted butterfly bandages finally, tears streaming down her face from laughing so hard.

And then later, not that long after that, I got cut too. A nasty gash across my finger gushing blood even as I pressed toilet paper onto it. I remember staring at it, stupid vertigo bringing me down. I still have the white scar.

I laughed. I laughed and laughed as I refused to go to a doctor, afraid of doctors. Afraid of stitches and afraid of sterile rooms I didn’t understand- afraid of the bill I couldn’t pay for at the time too. I do slightly better now. Slightly. I still laugh. But I like to think if I was bleeding out, I’d at least go.

I disconnected from my body, from the pain that wormed in. It was easy to do. I consumed myself in other pursuits. There are parts of my body that don’t seem to feel very well, and if I thought about it, I’d get scared. I’d not feel something on my right leg… the numbness crept. Or my hands.

My face will go numb. It’s easier to distract myself in research. I read the Oxford English dictionary. I read books by Henry Miller, Oliver Sacks, Paul Broks, Carl Sagan, all the poets and philosophers and intriguing biographies and what nots. I read a hundred pounds of romance novels of all sub genres. If I thought about other people’s thoughts I could try to not think about what I was not feeling.

Or sometimes what I was feeling.

The pain. The endless pain.

I never was a good sleeper. As a teenager, I was already living on my own, working crappy jobs, drinking Red Rose tea and writing bad poetry. I had a friend who’d come over to my rented room and we’d listen to Leonard Cohen while I wrote feverishly with my dark circled eyes, and we’d have a good time of it. Two in the morning? I was up.

I tried different sleep patterns over the years. I read about the Dymaxion cycle, which of course I tried. I’d set a timer to take four thirty minute naps every six hours. I was insufferable in my pursuit to fix myself.

It didn’t help. Nothing helped. I tried to fix the depression, because that’s what I was told must be fixed. Until one day I thought it doesn’t. It just is. It’s a bit depressing to hurt, and be numb, and that’s that. I’m okay with it. I felt better about the whole deal after that. I gave up on sleep methods too. But not on libraries. I kept that.

I don’t know how to find myself on the pain scale. Its smiley face nonsense mocks the situations I can’t explain, the electricity buzzes. The dripping liquid sensations, the deep dark cold that I sometimes can’t escape. The throbbing that seems to be a whack a mole endeavor, and anyways, I am in the process of disconnecting. Disconnecting and numbness is its own subsect of pain.

It pushes against the compression clothing I wear, licking the edges of it trying out the boundaries. Where does that figure?

When I was homeschooled, my mom would grade me in a way I hated at the time because I prided myself in my academic abilities. I never thought I was the pretty girl, so I wanted desperately to be the smart one. Anyhow, she always docked me a couple points, even when I was right. Because who would believe I got a perfect score every time?

That’s the way I am with the pain scale now. I’m beginning to understand her logic. Whenever I’m presented it, I never know how to say I hurt the most. I hurt so much. I hurt so much it’s getting in the way. I can’t smile in life, and it bothers other people, and I don’t mean to be a negative void sucking the life out of the room as I grimace holding my hip as it slips out again… I just fill in the 6. Somewhere believable. In the middle, because I’m still laughing. Those little faces don’t look right with my experience, and how do you make it align? I loathe that scale. Loathe it.

When I was at the physical therapist to get my shoulder brace, she kept telling me to let my shoulder go relaxed in her grip so she could test its motion. Finally I told her I’m like a wounded animal, I suppose. Guarded. It’s hard for me to let go. I’m sorry. I did try. I don’t know how to relax in someone’s hands.

I don’t know. I don’t trust.

But there’s a reason.

People have hurt me without meaning to. I’m fragile. I don’t blame them. It’s not their fault I’m made of flimsy materials.

I talk too fast. I try to pass things off, like please, let’s not get back into the realm of such things as anxiety. But I kid myself. It all winds through, especially if I can’t sleep. If the weeks have stretched to months in a bad go of it with migraines or some other ruckus.

I dial down every emotion, and become quiet. I learned this, it works for me. I smile, and I go through the motions of pleasantries for others. I try to anyways. I sit at the piano. I press the F note, and fill my lungs. I hum until I run out of breath, and keep humming until it burns. Until the fire leads up from my belly to my throat, to my face. Till I can feel it. Because I chose that pain. That small vocal exercise. It’s not a true pain. It’s just a little meditation I was taught by a yogi master, despite my absolute lack of spirituality. I take what I can get.

I got that.

I have a wound. A pulsing wound that cuts through my disconnection, which hums through the silence and chatter of my internal dialogue, past my memorized canon of literature.

I have a wound. I have a doctor I trust not to hurt me.

I sit in his room. Dr. Tom looks at me. I look at him. Oh, man. I laugh.

“Does it hurt?” he asks.

No scale. No qualifications.

“Yes.” I say. “Yes, it hurts.”

“You have a hole in your chest,” he observes. “It looks like it hurts!”

The weight is gone from the fear of a pain scale I can’t fathom. He sees it, and he sees me. I don’t need to explain.




Anaïs Chartschenko hails from the Canadian wilderness. She has come to enjoy such modern things as electric tea kettles.

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Anaïs Chartschenko

Anaïs Chartschenko

Anaïs Chartschenko hails from the Canadian wilderness. She has come to enjoy such modern things as electric tea kettles.

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