Pain Or Suffering-Which Is Worse?
Interestingly, I was invited to give a TEDx talk @ Sarjapura, Bangalore last weekend. I had no clue that TEDx commands detailed preparation and drafting of your talks. Not used to a written script, I was in a quandary. Over the last couple of weeks, thanks to the various drafts I had an opportunity to look back at life one more time.
The reason I was invited of course was my super impressive medical resume and how I managed to fight health issues time and again. Family, friends, acquaintances often ask where did I get the strength to cross hurdles of life and endure the pain and suffering.
I, in turn, questioned myself if the suffering was as much as the pain? The answer came like a fade-zoom-disappear ppt slide in front of my eyes.
Pain can never equal suffering
There was a pain. Physical pain and discomfort of another level. Such that a normal person cannot fathom reading about it.
There was the pain of:
- Super swollen veins in both hands with no room for another prick
- The chemotherapy venom going through the tubes into the system. The havoc played each day in the body
- Radiation after effects. The throat going sore making each sip of water going down the gullet feel like acid for months on end
- Surgeries that cut the sternum apart or ruthlessly cut a precious part of the lungs and Diaphragm
- In the stressed lungs as they hankered desperately for that next breath. Yes, Myasthenia Gravis does that and more.
I would lie if I say there was no suffering. It comes in forms we like to manifest them in. Personally speaking, for me it showed up as
- A deep sinking sensation each night. When fear engulfed. Despite your love sleeping right next to you, you fear and face the darkness alone. The eerie night gets with itself images of a tomorrow full of a pending CT scan or an MRI report or another stint and cycle of chemotherapy
- Suffering was not being there for my child who always tried to put up a brave front before a pending hospital visit of mine
- Suffering intensified seeing your husband run pillar to post with the ‘case history’ across the length and breadth of the country for a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th opinion. In desperation. A fear that he tried to hide behind that persistent smile.
- Or constantly listening to your dear brother’s encouraging words knowing he wished for a magic wand that would correct everything in his sister’s life with a swoosh! Or the sister-in-law sitting hours on end ceaselessly chanting for you. And a mother who won’t leave your side for a second. That hurt.
This is my story about pain and suffering imposed by medical nightmares. However, the latter happens in other circumstances too. Unreciprocated love. Losing a loved one. Not having the job you wanted. Financial losses.
But then look at it closely, they are all manifested not by the body but the mind. Bodily pains may not be under our control but suffering is.
How quickly, we fall into a trap of self-inflicted torment. Self-pity. Followed soon by depression. I call it the Meena Kumari syndrome.
Pain is a physical feeling while suffering is an emotional one
Pain generally is followed by suffering but a suffering need not be only because of bodily aches and pains. Interestingly, chronic medical issues and discomfort mainly have roots in emotional suffering and then it is a vicious cycle of health issues giving rise to emotional suffering.
Luckily in my case, thanks to a rock solid support system of brothers and sisters and in-laws, not to forget superlative friends, my suffering so to say during the past 12 years never matched the pain. Off course, the usual fear, anxiety, depression (big time), lack of self-worth (super big time) and a host of other things happened. Yet who am I to crib for it was I who did manage a trip to Bangkok with my family in between a chemo cycle. Seriously!
I had the choicest of mangoes despite obnoxiously high sugar levels due to steroids and loved every bite of it. Threw some of the best get together and parties at home while I could neither eat nor drink a sip of that champagne. Celebrated each festival and anniversary with gusto. It was my dear friends and me who managed to sneak in those super delicious mushroom quiches from the whole foods store at Apollo Hospital while I was supposed to be on the boiled pumpkin and anemic and amazingly tasteless hospital food!
I did make a conscious decision to focus more on getting well and getting on with life like before rather than a question, why me?
Yes, pain and suffering go hand in hand. The endeavor though has to be to lessen at least one of the two which is in our control. Suffering.
As one of the Buddha sayings goes:
Pain is when you are hit by an arrow. Suffering simply is your reaction to the arrow that hit you
Life has great lessons to learn from. Now is always a good time to reflect.
Here are some books you might want to savor. Found them interesting. You could order them on Flipkart or Amazon.