I sat in the doctor’s bleach white office, shivering in the polar ice air conditioning. She said I would have chronic pain for the rest of my life. I sat for a moment, scoffing at the idea, and then asked, “And since it’s not technically arthritis, you can’t prescribe me anything?”
“Well, it’s a rheumatoid arthritis-like condition with all the symptoms, but the blood work says you’re clean, so yeah, we can’t prescribe you anything,” replied Rheumatologist Dr. Ibarra in her fractured English accent. Her accent being as obscenely cute as it was, I managed to keep a smile on my face, but the thought creeped into my mind, “Every single doctor, every one’s a total quack.”
As I walked out of the office, I commented to my mother, “This is just getting ridiculous.”
She replied plainly, “I know son, I know.”
None of them know what the hell is causing me this pain. I want to scream every minute of every day. I’m always on the verge of tears. And all they can do is send me to a pain-management clinic? For the rest of my life? No. It cost way too much. There’s no way I would make my parents do this. Paying fifty dollars per session? That’s bull. I’m cheap, and I’d rather be hurting all the time than pay that much.
It all started two years back. I was biking up a fairly steep hill, and I didn’t know how to use the gears. The bike’s gears didn’t work anyways. The gears were rusted on this turquoise bike, the brand rubbed off. I never had to chain it up; nobody in their right mind would steal this rolling heap of metal. In its highest gear, I pushed up the hill with intense pain in my legs. I thought it was my legs getting stronger, the pain of muscle building, your work paying off. It wasn’t. I strained my knee joints and had an awful ache in my knees from then on out, but I got used to it after a while.
I’ve had a tendency to push myself, because I’ve been wrestling for eight years, and that’s something that comes with it. I’ve always thought that if I worked hard, pushed myself, went beyond the limits of what I thought possible, I’d become stronger, both physically and mentally. I’m still a firm believer of this, but this time, it didn’t. In wrestling, I already didn’t use my legs enough, but after that, my nickname, the Paraplegic, was set in stone. I just dragged my legs around like they were dead weight. I got second in state barely using my legs.
This year in wrestling, my knees ceased to ache, but began to have sharp cutting pains inside my knees all the time, so I went and bought knee braces that I wore whenever I did any kind of exercise, including wrestling. My legs kept getting weaker, even though I had been doing more work with them than ever before. My hard work was rewarded with more pain. As per my beliefs, I pushed myself harder and harder at practice and the weight room hoping to become stronger. Needless to say, this was a bad decision.
I could barely walk for three days. Then, because I was frequently late to (and missed) wrestling practices, due to a potent cocktail of severe chronic pain, depression, and my own laziness, my coach made me run one-hundred stairs. Stairs were the worst thing I could do to my knees besides squats. I could barely walk up stairs from day-to-day. I tried to do them, and I ran through thirty, with a purpose, through the pain, but then my knee collapsed. This hadn’t happened to me outside the weight room, and even then, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do an additional rep, but I still tried.
It wasn’t like that. It just gave out, stopped working, quit. I never, ever quit. To have my body quit like that just put me into a state of shock, and when I went to talk to my coach, he said, “If you can’t even do a hundred stairs, then maybe wrestling’s not the sport for you.”
That made my blood boil. I thought, “This is my sport! I’ve been doing it for eight years! Not the sport for me?!”
I stomped back out, with a purpose. I did twenty more stairs, and I started a strange line of thought about damaging my body. I’ve been told for years that if I keep living at the pace I am, I’m gonna be burned out by forty.
This was the first time I even considered that they were right, and decided to finish them tomorrow. I hobbled to the locker room; all I could feel in my legs was my pulse. It died down, the adrenaline wearing off, then the pain set in again. It was worse than before, but I didn’t want to scream, or cry. I wanted to quit. This was the first time I’d felt this sentiment. I shrugged it off, but it was still in the back of my mind, resurfacing with the pain.
I thought “Is this pain making me a coward? A quitter?”
I went home and passed out. When I woke up for dinner, I got out of bed, and I fell to my knees. I couldn’t stand. I was telling my body to move, but it wouldn’t move. I tried to force myself up. It didn’t work. For a split second, I was afraid. I was afraid of not being able to walk, of having to use a wheelchair, of not being able to climb, having to look for a handicap ramp, of being weak; I couldn’t stand the thought. It disgusted me. After getting second at state! This is what I was reduced to? No!
At this point, I was mad. I took a moment’s rest, and grunting like an old man, I forced myself up. It was like had a limp in both legs. I sat down at the dinner table. My knees had a sharp pain, like somebody was tearing up my knee joint with a jagged rock.
It still hasn’t gone away.
I kept wrestling, wrestled for my position on varsity with an injured elbow and without using either of my legs hardly at all, and then I went to a tournament. In a match, all I needed was two points to win, or one to tie it up. I tried to do a stand-up, a move used to escape from bottom position and earn one point. I could get into position, but any force I applied didn’t move anything; the sharp pain was there shooting through my body. I pushed through it, but my body wasn’t doing what I told it to; it wouldn’t move. It gave out, and I fell to the ground.
I tried to do a reversal, a move used to earn two points by changing the control of the match over to me. I had it completed, but I couldn’t complete the key element: pushing my opponent with the force of my legs. The match ended, and I lost. It wasn’t the match so much that got to me, but the fact that my body wouldn’t move when I told it to. After that, a week of bad things smacked me in the face.
I started lifting weights instead of going to practice; I was on the injury list. At that point, my ankles had started hurting, and within a week, all of my vertebrate hurt every waking moment of the day. My wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, knuckles, hips, all of my joints hurt. The pain was debilitating. It made me want to scream out in agony, but I just kept going. On top of that, I had been having insomnia and wasn’t getting much sleep. And then before I knew it, the wrestling season was over. But I still kept lifting after school.
I want to say things got better, but that’s only true to a point They certainly didn’t get better in the conventional sense. I went from doctor to doctor, and they had no idea what was wrong. The pain was at a point where I couldn’t even concentrate in school. All I could do was spin my pen, grind my teeth, try to sleep and tap my foot to try to distract myself from the pain. That was all I did. I didn’t live day to day, I didn’t live minute to minute, I lived second to second. All I could think about was the present moment. It left me debilitated, hardly myself, but I still managed to pull a smile out of my bag a magic tricks. I think when you’re in that much pain, the only way to deal with it is to laugh it off.