Simplifying a Set of Complex Experiences

Several years ago—three or four, I think—I experienced an increasing level of debilitating pain on the top of my hand and lower right arm. The pain migrated to my upper arm and shoulder and then to the area around my right shoulder blade. A series of X-rays and CT scans revealed that the pain was caused by stenosis in a few of the vertebrae in the upper part of my spine and by some osteophytes (bone spurs) in the same region. A neurosurgeon in Little Rock recommended I try a series of three injections in my upper spine. The first injection should eliminate much of the pain, the doctor said, and the next two should eliminate it entirely. “No guarantees, of course,” he said.  I either had no insurance at the time or the coverage was poor; my portion of the cost was about $800 per injection. Following the first injection, with no change, I opted to stop emptying my bank account. I went for the alternative the doctor suggested; a medication that targeted “nerve pain.” It seemed to work. The pain gradually disappeared after I started the medication and I’ve been taking the drug ever since. But, lately, I’ve felt tinges that feel a tiny bit like the original pain. Now that I am covered by Medicare, I suspect I could get the series of injections, but the pain is not sufficiently bad, nor sufficiently frequent, to merit what could be an over-the-top treatment regimen. I hate the idea of being stabbed in my spine unnecessarily. But neither do I relish feeling pain like I felt before. I remember cancelling a road trip with my late wife because the pain was too intense to allow me to drive or even sit in the passenger seat for any length of time. So, I’ve given myself marching orders: if the pain even approaches the levels I felt before, or if the frequency of pain is enough to interfere with day-to-day activities, I will see a different neurosurgeon (the one I saw before has long since moved out of the area). I absolutely LOATHE experiencing bodily decay, especially the pain associated with it. I think I am the stereotypical male: someone “allergic” to pain; I whimper like an injured puppy and insist on receiving relief from even minor pain.


I learned yesterday that some friends have decided to sell their home and belongings and hit the road in their new RV. When I got the news, via an email message from one of them, I felt pangs of envy and an immediate sense of loss. The idea of getting behind the wheel and setting out on a road-trip adventure—with no set destination nor timelines to meet—is deeply appealing to me. But I will miss them. I’ve had several conversations about RV travel/life on the road with the woman who shared their good news with me. Though we’ve only rarely gotten together over lunch to share ideas about co-housing and social conventions and the like, I will feel her absence acutely. Those conversations always left me feeling like I’d had an intense and pleasurable exchange of ideas with someone with whom I share life philosophies and who understands my emotional attachment to the concept of  “community.” I will miss her quiet intensity and her commitment to justice. Though I have not had as much interchange with her husband as with her, I’ll miss him as well; his sense of humor and gruffly gentle disposition made the gatherings of which he was a part a delight.

Learning of their decision to move sparked feelings of regret in me because I had not initiated more social engagement with them. I’ve intended to invite them to my house for drinks and conversation but, like so many “intents,” that one went undone. I suspect that, now, their time commitments will be even more intense. Nevertheless, I will make an effort to get to know them better, socially, before they embark on their new adventure.  I hope their news will prompt me to act more quickly and decisively on other social intentions. My IC and I may decide in the not-too-distant future to embark on our own new adventures; I do not want to do that without cementing the bonds of our relationships with other friends.


Yesterday marked the beginning of a set of new projects around the house. I’ve enlisted my dependable handyman to take on several jobs around the house that will help make life just a bit easier. Things as simple as upgrading garage shelving, replacing annoying metal “rods” and shelves in clothes closets with wooden dowels and shelves, replacing water shut-off valves under the sinks, replacing worn and dirty screen with new materials, cleaning and painting the structural part of the screened porch, and installing new faucets in the bathrooms will make the world a better place. And, yesterday, he confirmed that he he can remove the cabinet above the refrigerator, which will allow us to move my IC’s fridge into that space. She adores her refrigerator and scorns mine, so soon we will be able to relocate hers to its new home. Her home will go on the market later this week; if it sells quickly, as we expect it will, our lives will transition to performing a high-speed household integration. We have to decide what to do with: four beds and only two bedrooms; three desks and only two places to put them; duplicate kitchen appliances; multiple sets of dishes; several couches and chairs and coffee tables and end tables; and on and on and on. When I encouraged her to move in with me, I wasn’t thinking her furniture would accompany her. 😉


I must go out into the garage in a moment to begin putting things away on the newly updated and safer shelving. The handyman and his helper/wife will be here in about three hours to begin the next phases of the home-improvement projects, so I have to prepare the space so they can work. I believe they will bring a trailer with them that, when the materials in it are removed into the garage, I can use to pile “junk” in for them to take to the dump later. I am committed to simplifying my life by getting rid of things I do not need or want. Many of those things will go to Habitat for Humanity or other organizations that can redistribute them to people who need them. And much will simply go directly to the dump. In both cases, those things will leave my house, never to return. I plan to discard or otherwise get rid of a lot of excessive “stuff” that I have, in my unchecked greed, accumulated over the years. I may well ask friends to come have a look before I get rid of some stuff (like books, furniture, etc.); friends can have what I plan to give away and can have first choice on anything I might try to sell. As I go through things to eliminate from my home, I know I will get very emotional about some of them because of their connection with my late wife. I’ll just have to deal with that. Life, and the pain of living with grief, goes on.

So, it’s off to the garage. The race is on!

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Simplifying a Set of Complex Experiences

  1. Thank you, Paulie, for your good wishes. We shall see whether my pain is just a whisper that can be silenced by a hard look or, instead, must be quieted by multiple stabs with a shaman’s needle.

    Yes, I will keep the things that matter most. I cherish your advice, amigo. You know of the experience and you know it doesn’t disappear; it just softens over time, they say.

  2. First off, that is our job as men; to whimper at the slightest bit of pain… I had those injections into my upper spine this past December or January and it’s worked like a charm for me. Sorry to hear that it didn’t for you. I hope you have better luck coming up.

    With regard to getting rid of things, it WILL be tough. But, keep the things that mean the most to you and get rid of the rest, as long as they are not things you would use… I just did the same with some of my father’s stuff… Not the same, but it’s what I can compare it to. Cheers, amigo!

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