A Reductive Conclusion on Pain

In my first year in Senior Secondary School, I started to feel extreme stabbing pains in the lower right of my abdomen. With no access to Google, I did the dirty job of jumping to the conclusion of my death myself. Writhing in pain, I would make up my own deadly diagnosis – my kidney had surely broken into a million pieces which were now attempting to make their way out through my bloodstream; my womb had been invaded by violent bacterial cells whose only job was to ensure that I did not make it to the next hour—horrid thoughts, really. I finally settled on one diagnosis – appendicitis. It was the only explanation especially because as time went on, my lower right abdomen became hard and was a little swollen. So I told myself that my appendix was definitely about to rupture. The pain was so real, I was sure I was dying. 

When my secondary school clinic saw that a simple ‘lie down’ was not alleviating the pain, they shipped me to the University hospital. As I sat in the “waiting corridor”, watching people walk by idly, I launched into existential thinking. “Here I am, surely dying, surely to be gone from this world in a few minutes. But because my pain is internal, no one is paying attention to me. If someone walked in with a huge gash in his leg, he would be bombarded with care and support. But because I sit quietly, eating my pain as it eats me away, I would die. Here I am, surely dying. But aren’t we all dying?”

“Adeboro Odunlami?”, a nurse stood impatiently in the corridor

“Yes. Me”, I responded wincing as I raised my hand to indicate my presence. She pointed to the consulting room to her right and promptly walked away. Struggling to get on my feet, I dragged myself to face a grim verdict only to meet a surprisingly bright and happy medical officer waiting for me in the consulting room. 

“Welcome! How are you doing today?” 

“I’m fine, thank you”, I responded keeping my energy in check. I did not want my politeness to be mistaken for an absence of pain. 

“So what is the problem?”

“I think I have appendicitis”, I replied hoping to help us cut through the unnecessary steps of a diagnostic process. I did not expect what happened next because – tell me why – the medical officer burst into rambunctious laughter. I was stunned. ‘Is this what the practice of medicine does to doctors? Making them numb to death and sickness?’, I thought. 

“You don’t have appendicitis. If you did, we would not be having this conversation. The kind of pain you would be in if you had appendicitis would not make you sit here and tell me you have appendicitis.”

“But sir, I’m in very serious pain.” I replied almost begging.

“You’re not,” he said adamantly. “If you were, you would have been wheeled in because the pain would have been too much for you to bear”, he said punctuating his words with the most annoying chuckles you would ever hear.

And with that, I took my first lesson in “A Reductive Conclusion on Pain” and in “Stop Embarrassing Yourself Saying You’re In Pain 101” 

When my first relationship ended, I was in pain. But unlike my abdominal pain, this pain did not require me to present myself to anyone for treatment. I was my own doctor and it was in my hands to determine whether I would treat myself better than the University doctor had treated me. So I had a conversation with myself; “Look, what you’re feeling is pain – granted. But shouldn’t you be bigger than this? To spend even a second thinking about this would be you wallowing. And  you neither have the time nor is it dignifying.”

I walked out of my mental consultation room with a smirk. I was miraculously ‘healed’. But emotional pain is more creative than physical pain. If not fully healed, it’ll show up as other interesting symptoms. 

So I wasn’t wailing or having mood swings, but I opened my school books and read myself to an impossible state of overaccomplishment. No, let me explain. At the time, I had been trying to catch up with my coursework in law school. I was about two weeks behind for some courses and at best, one week behind for other courses. But after this intervening pain, I filled every width and inch of mental and emotional space with my coursework. I spent every ticking second painstakingly re-etching the canvas of my mind with coursework – drafting notices, cramming copious portions of legislation, and learning steps and processes like my life depended on it. Maybe it did. It was rough but it was serendipitous. In about 2-3 weeks, I had not only caught up with all my coursework, I had also gone past the school schedule and was at least, 2 weeks ahead on every single course. Regular classes became an opportunity for revision. 

I felt like a champion. Like I had hacked pain. But months later, I would deal with the consequences of carving over a sore heart. 

“After this, if you ever tell me you can’t open a jar or carry something heavy ehn…”, my husband whispered in my face as the nurses and doctors divided themselves into two units: one to clean up my just born son and the other to stitch me up and usher me into the next phase of my life: motherhood. 

Being in the labour ward for the first time gave me the opportunity to experience another dimension of pain, and – it was inexplicable. As I lay on the narrow hospital bed, I thought I might as well be on my way to the straight and narrow. I thought, “So this is what it feels like to die?” With each wave of contraction, my thinking got more muddled and my faith waned. It was like a nightmare that you had while being fully awake but could not wake up from. And as each contraction waned, I genuinely marvelled at the life still radiating in my body. Life is fickle but it’s also surprisingly obstinate. So many times in the middle of a contraction, I would close my eyes tight and beg God to take me with the pain, I would think, “This is a ridiculous amount of pain. Nothing can be worth this. How on earth does someone go and do this a second, third or fourth time?” I would ebb from that to “God, please if you could just work a miracle of speed birth right now, I would be so so grateful to you. Please just help me.” It was intense. I was weak – physically, mentally and emotionally. 

However, if you walked into my labour room at that moment, I can bet that you would have taken one good look at me and marvelled at my strength. Like my midwife, like my doctor, like my husband – you would have been fooled. There I was, lying in silence, smiling at my husband and only making occasional low grunts, and you would have said, “What manner of strength is this?!” Perhaps, if I could speak with a clear head, I would have explained to you that I wasn’t strong; that I was merely desperate not to show pain, not to express myself in pain, not to be vulnerable even in the face of what I thought was death. 

Not many of my friends have seen me cry. 

I am completely comfortable with this. 

People telling me ‘sorry’ makes me nervous

Like I have to get better quickly for them

Like – now you need to be accountable with your pain

Someone is checking up on you and their goal is that you get better

Don’t waste their time

Don’t worry, I know that’s a toxic outlook on life

I have the best people as friends and they would never treat me poorly if they knew I was in pain

Yet, what I know is different from what I believe. 

I wish I had a rousing way to end this piece; to say, “Here’s what you can learn from my life” or “Here’s how I’m changing my outlook on pain”. But there isn’t. The consequence of my outlook on pain is duo-toned and so neither just black nor white. On one hand, I’m grateful that I can ‘grow a backbone’ and ‘do what needs to be done’ – fac, si facis. I’m grateful that I am great at ignoring pain and maybe sometimes, even channelling it into accomplishments. But on the other hand, I am staunchly aware of how toxic it is to equate pain with weakness or shame. Because that’s not true and it is not healthy.

I hope the chuckling doctor from the University hospital is fine wherever he is. I hope he is learning more empathy and improving his patient communication skills. I hope he is no longer dismissive of patients’ admission of pain. And I hope he still has his rambunctious laughter. 

Oh and by the way, I still don’t know what was wrong with me in my lower right abdomen. I carried the pain through secondary school and a large part of university. It had its seasons and when it came, I could only wait it out. In my third year, I finally presented myself at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and met with a kinder older more experienced doctor. He examined me and confessed that he could feel ‘something’ in the area but was not quite sure especially as the scans revealed nothing. He asked me to return for a series of tests but that was the last time I went. I got tired and just prayed about it. 

The pain hasn’t returned since then.  

18 responses

  1. Tolulope Adewumi Avatar
    Tolulope Adewumi

    I miss reading from you Adeboro! “Do what needs to be done” I relate with that mantra…

    1. That mantra is gold! Thanks for joining me again on this journey 🙂

  2. Precious Avatar

    I read every single thing you write and for good reason. You’re brilliant and the way you write, ugh, absolutely no words.

    I like the way it ended – sometimes there’s no punchline or rousing conclusion, things are just how it is and that’s okay too.

    Loved this piece!

    1. I love you!

  3. Aneminyene John Prince Avatar
    Aneminyene John Prince

    This really grabbed my attention all the way. Enjoyed every bit of it.

    1. Thank you Anem!

  4. I like how you have not imposed a lesson on this piece. I like the self awareness in this piece and even more importantly, I’m glad I could relate. Well done, Boro!

    1. Right? I was very tempted to impose a lesson but I wanted to be true and genuine. Thanks for your comment!

  5. “The pain hasn’t returned since then”. Gosh. That is such a powerful way to end a piece. Omo. PBR this was so good.

    1. Thank you Boma! I appreciate

  6. As much as we don’t usually admit it, emotional pain cuts through and most times leave physical scars. I’m glad you have the best people around you because we sail through life – pain et al – on the wings of community.

    I’m glad we are writing again. This was so relatable.

    1. You’re so right!

  7. Damilola Kayode Avatar
    Damilola Kayode

    Whoaa!! I literally watched your reel and came on here. This was such a good read. Please continue writing Boro🥺 I wss genuinely sucked in, I felt the pain and the all too familiar need to make your pain less so people aren’t uncomfortable. To know show it too much. I genuinely hope that there’s grace to actually start exploring pain as a strength even! I love you! Really want more blogs🤭

    1. God help me! Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words

  8. Sophia Anago Avatar
    Sophia Anago

    I feel like I just took a walk through your beautiful yet complex mind. Boy! I loved it…how is this the first time I’m reading a “you”.

    1. Welcome to my words 🙂 Love you Sophie

  9. Adeboro is back! Whoop whoop!!

    1. Whoop whoop!

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