Where Does It Hurt?

We’ve all had those moments. Those transcendental moments between sleeping and waking in the morning. Those moments where we somehow slip seamlessly from the vivid reality of our dreams to the dozing slumber of our bed.

Lying there, still somnolent, I used to try to orient myself to the day. Was it a weekend? Could I roll back into the arms of slumber and ignore the clock? Was it a weekday with a calendar filled with deadlines where I had to leap up and fuel my adrenaline with caffeine? Was my husband still sleeping beside me or had he already gotten up or, perhaps, was traveling and hadn’t been in bed at all?

I no longer have those somewhat delicious waking thoughts in the morning. Thanks to RA, my first thought in the morning is now, “Where does it hurt?” I’ve traveled well beyond the boundary of, “Does it hurt?” That question has been answered too many times in the affirmative to even be asked. The checkmarks next to that question have worn the paper through to the point that no more check marks can be applied.

No, the question is definitely not “Does it hurt?” but, “Where does it hurt?” Usually followed by, “How badly does it hurt?”

Sometimes the answer is obvious. Sometimes the magic elixir of sleep and bedtime pain medication doesn’t relieve the pain from the night before. Sometimes, like the dregs of leftover dried-up pizza, the pain whispers to me, “I’m still here.” The sore, swollen joints from the night before still cry for relief.

Often, though, it’s a matter of exploration: a game of hide-and-seek. I must seek out and identify the pain before it can unexpectedly ambush me.

Still under the covers, I begin with gentle stretches. Starting from the bottom, I gently stretch my feet and work my ankles. These have been troubling me a lot lately and it’s not unusual for them to signal their protest of being so rudely awakened.

Moving on, I bend and straighten stiff knees and resistant hips. I roll back and forth and stretch my spine. Then I slowly raise my hands over my head, rotating and stretching my shoulders and neck, and extending my elbows. Finally, with my hands still over my head, I stretch my fingers out and then make fists with my hands while rolling my wrists slowly in a circle.

Usually this is enough to identify what hurts, but pain is a very sneaky thing, lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike when you’re least expecting it.

After stretching in bed, I carefully sit up and swing my legs over the side. I take a moment to stretch from side to side, usually hearing cracks and pops up and down my spine.

Then slowly, gently, I lower first one foot, then the other to the ground. Then even more slowly and gently I slide forward off the bed, putting more and more weight on my load-bearing joints. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I have to sit back down and stretch some more before actually asking my joints to get started on the day.

But always, the morning ritual is completed with pills and salves to calm the hurt. Sometimes it’s just some Voltaren gel after my shower. Sometimes it’s Tylenol or Aleve. Sometimes it’s something stronger.

But every day, the question remains the same: Where does it hurt?

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