My contempt for much of what passes as corporate modus operandi by the pharmaceutical companies has, this weekend, been tempered by the reality of a dying nerve in a bi-cuspid tooth, requiring extensive doses of anti-biotics and liberal applications of pain killers.
Amoxicillin, for the infection, and ibuprofen, or tylenol-one with codeine were the medications that finally suppressed the rather extreme discomfort.
Prior to a visit to the dentist, I had pictured "something" (I did not know what) actually dying. There is this atrophy that changes the composition and form and shape and even function of the dying entity, almost as if we are given these micro-incidents as foreshadowing of our own mortality. There is a throbbing pulse within the tooth, as the nerve "gives up its own ghost" in a valiant attempt to stay living, that I pictured as almost a person in the last throes of life, akin to what is commonly known as Cheyne-Stokes breathing.
And then I realized, in both body and mind, how significant, yet taken for granted, is the great amount of time we spend without pain. And, suddenly, not for the first time, but "again for the first time" became humbly grateful for the many hours, days, weeks, months and even years I have enjoyed without long-term pain.
For that gift, I am grateful to God, and to the genes of my parents, that passed on a relatively healthy body to engage with life on terms that I can respect. Nevertheless, there are hints of mortality in my experience this weekend.
I have been privileged, as chaplain intern and later as clergy, to attend dozens of patients in the palliative care ward, where each was facing directly and immently his or her own death. And while one sees others coping with their own mortality, one does not grasp its totality, as one does with one's own.
Some of these patients wanted to deliver their last homily, in how I should live my life; others merely wanted to go to lunch and say goodbye; others were happy to share a few last thoughts about how difficult it is to say goodbye to all those one had intended to say it to; others wanted to share their most memorable moments in their life, as they were now alone without family to share those memories with.
And while there are hints of mortality in any deep and lasting pain, there is also the potential for real care and connection near the end.
It is the mystery along with the pain that we face in coming to terms with our own mortality. And while we recognize the mystery within life, we often do not enter into conversations about death, in North America.
And that omission is one of the most serious gaps in our conventional view of life, to exclude consideration of death, our's and that of our loved ones.
We all know the cliche that death is a natural part of life; and yet, we treat it very differently from how we treat the rest of "nature" partly because many of the deaths we experience result from untimely accidents, tragedies that did not respect a full term of life expectancy and because we do not have answers for what is on the "other side" we either fantasize about it, or we demonize it.
Nevertheless, have been given seven full decades, one is obliged to begin to come to terms with this natural event, our own mortality, and do that in stages as they are presented, so that when the final curtain falls, it will come as no shock, insofar as we are able to minimize the shock both for ourselves and for our loved ones.
So, a hearty thanks for those pain-relieving and those infection fighting pills that came from those behemoths, the pharmaceutical companies....the pain is now bearable, and the prospect of a "root canal" as the next step slightly more acceptable.
Men may say that have a "high pain threshold" but, for most of us, I think we are falling into the bravado trap....It is women whose capacity to bear pain far exceeds that of most men, (if we were willing to admit the truth) and I, for one, acknowledge a very low pain threshold, of which I may not be exactly proud, but neither am I embarrassed.