Apology: In the last blog I promised to write about the nature of the fight with cancer. It is still work in progress hence, the Pain & Gain substitute.

There is no avoiding the subject of pain when talking about fighting cancer, it comes as part of the package. From the early tests and diagnostics, all the way to the point of hopefully full recovery, pain is embedded within the entire process.

The thing about pain is that it is a lonely, unsharable experience; you can only describe it to others and the description is never completely accurate.  So, when you say ‘I am in pain’ the doctor, nurse or whoever is listening to you is bound to ask: on a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain are you experiencing?  In my view, this is as rough an instrument of measurement as it is possible to be.  It is like asking: on a scale of 1 to 10, how fast is your car?  Or, how heavy was the rain?  You get an idea but the information is close to useless.  Not everyone’s perception of pain is the same.  Some people tolerate dull pain than they do sharp pain. Others are naturally not comfortable with the slightest of pain and make it obvious with what appears an over-reaction by others.

However, as a sufferer of the pain in question, clearly you want something done about it, beyond a show of sympathy and understanding, you want it alleviated somehow.

Having fellow patients all around me during my 60+ days in hospital I came to realise that the most effective way of conveying pain is to do the primal thing and make an appropriate noise on a wide range from the gentle ‘ouch’ or ‘ayeee” to the full throttle high-decibel visceral scream that shatters windows and makes the listener’s ears ring for hours.  Any adult who experienced tending babies would tell you a baby has different /cries / screams, depending on its level of discomfort.   It is true that we have different tolerance levels and therefore: ‘he who shouts the loudest, gets the most attention’ but, that’s OK in my book.

Before going for the liver operation on 31 August 2018, my experience of everyday pain was the usual headache, occasional migraine, toothache, or stomach upset.  I avoided medication and pain killers, except when I had a dental treatment that required contact with nerves where I elected to take local anesthetic.  Apart from that, I experienced the real pain of biopsy on two occasions; which I will return to later.

Since 31 August 2018, I came to experience a spectrum of pains that ranged from the tolerable ripping of dressing from a hairy part of my body as an arm or chest, which prompted no audible reaction from me, to the stabbing of internal tissue with a long needle pushed by the ‘interventional radiologist’ who no matter how much clear warning he gave me, I dealt with the excruciating pain with a loud scream followed by swearing at him.  On a scale of one to ten, this felt like 9.99. I reserve a full 10 for perhaps being shot by a kinetic object such as a high-speed rifle bullet.

So, here are a few types of pain I experienced and my reaction to them, together with an estimated score out of 10:

  • Ripping plaster applied to stem blood after a needle wound – no reaction (0.1)
  • Pulling out staples that held the long scar of the operation – occasional ooh (2.5)
  • Inserting an enema and injecting a fluid – ooooh (2.6)
  • Pulling a catheter out – woaah (4.2)
  • Inserting a needle to extract blood – from no reaction to ‘Jesus Christ!’ depending on the competence of the person doing it (from 0.5 to 6.9)
  • When bile leaks out of draining tube and seeps into the open wound hole and burns your flesh like acid – Aaaaah (lasts for about 2 hellish minutes) (7.7)
  • Continuous dull pain of the main surgical operation – continuous rhythmic moaning that seem to help manage the pain (8.8)
  • Having a small wound stitched while wide awake – OUCH, how about some local anesthetic? (9.24)
  • Pumping 6 liters of saline solution into my body through a drain hole to flush out potentially infected fluids in less than 15 minutes – almost passed out in the sustained agony (9.66).As a result of this aggressive procedure, I went into a violent convulsive shaking that lasted for at least 15 minutes, witnessed by my poor brother Samir, who could only pile more and more blankets on me and watch helplessly until I finally fell asleep with exhaustion.
  • The day after the operation being lifted from my bed by four people and placed on the CT scanner table, then dropped clumsily down – Aaaaaaagh (9.75)
  • Having biopsy samples ripped from my prostate (2013) or my liver in August this year – tears of pain, nausea and profuse sweating (9.89)
  • Strategically inserting a long needle in four separate places while wide awake – For fuck’s sake! (9.99)

Having described the various pains I experienced, there remains the question of the gains.

Clearly, none of the pain I experienced was pointless or gratuitous; it had a purpose and nearly always was a necessary part of treatment and recovery. Looking at the qualitative aspect of the total sum of the pains, the whole experience is too recent to look back with full objectivity and wisdom.  However, I would say I learnt a lot about myself and my levels of tolerance.  I also feel the experience prepared me to deal with future potential pain management.  I hope in time, I will have a better analysis of this aspect of fighting cancer.

Finally, there is a pain which I have not included in this piece because it is not physical but psychological and it is the most excruciating of all pains I have ever experienced.  I will cover this type of pain in a later blog.

Thank you for reading and I hope you continue to do so.