Friday, January 20, 2012

Pain: Common Connection with Another Stranger

A middle-aged man looking somewhat unkempt boarded the crowded bus I was on at one of the stops in the DTES last night. Though I judged him stereotypically as homeless and/or an alcohol and/or drug addict (see my posting, Beauty in the DTES, Jan. 24, 2011), my perspective was soon to change.

It changed once I noticed he was in pain and later when he started sharing his story. I could tell his back was in extreme pain as he squeezed his eyes shut – I sometimes do this too when I feel intense physical pain – and hunched over, tightly clung onto a railing at the very front of the bus, having his back towards the front window.

As the bus was jam-packed (not sure why) at a few minutes before 9:30 pm, I asked a woman at the front of the bus behind the driver, if she could give up her seat for this “man who was in pain.” I thought I spoke loud enough, though whether she heard me or not my request was ignored, unfortunately.

Now, during our entire ride to the bus loop in North Vancouver (about a 25-minute ride give or take), I was also in physical pain. I had recently been experiencing intermittent, almost constant pangs of pain in my left heel, a most likely sign of the beginning of plantar fasciitis.

This is a condition that I am familiar with having experienced it a few years prior for the first time. In my case I believe it is attributed to ill-fitting shoes over the years, as I have narrow feet and high arches. At that time, I could barely get out of bed, i.e., walk on the floor, which apparently is a very common symptom.

For those of you who don’t know, this painful condition can be brought about by the inflammation of the tissue at the arch of the foot. It is common to athletes, unlike me, and middle-aged folk, like me, and those who are overweight, somewhat like me, as per the BC Health Guide (

Since I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand comfortably for more than a few minutes, if that, I sat uncomfortably on top of a railing at the front, an area meant for luggage and extraneous bags, etc.

Upon seeing this man in pain and hearing part of his story about it (including titanium rods in his body), I felt that my pain paled in comparison. Interestingly, whilst listening to him share (and sensing he was partially baring his soul), I forgot about my own pain for a little while.

This stranger spoke about being on opiates, not wanting to be on any pills as he hates them, but feeling he didn’t have any other choice. Though he wished to be off them as his tolerance level had lessened over time, he had since doubled the dosage as this seemed to help.

Long story short, I was very grateful to have met this man to again remind me of a lesson. Similar to one of my previous blog postings entitled, A Tribute to David: Connection with a Stranger (Oct. 27, 2010), I relearned that I need to be grateful for what I already have as things can always be worse, including pain. Albeit painfully, at least I can still walk!

I’m always reminded of this lesson too, in particular, when I see someone in a wheelchair. When I do, I express thanks quietly for my body, especially my functioning limbs and digits that I have.

And someone in a wheelchair did board the bus during our trip. So I witnessed two experiences to remind me that though I may be in pain from time to time, I can walk and stand, run, and dance. Lucky me!

What lesson(s) have you learned about pain?


  1. What has always struck me is the relativity of pain. Interestingly, therapeutic approaches differ in either recommending to delve into the pain and not resist it; others suggesting instead to breathe and distract from it. Recently, I came across a study that the social context and support system have the greatest impact on the pain perception. So when you mention your ability to transcend the pain, even momentarily by juxtaposing your experience to that of another,it is clear how much our ability to module pain comes into play. Thanks for posting your experience.

    1. And thank you Manon for sharing your insights and the reseach study. : )

  2. This was a lovely read true our need to be grateful and to rejoice for our ability and mobility...I am happy that you were able to see the beauty in this experience. I am sending healing vibes out to this poor man and to your foot of course :) I too have had planters fac.for many years, but it is managed with really good orthotics when I work out and of course good muscle structure which I hope to hang on to for a little while longer. Thanks for the great read. Pooey to the person who did not give up their seat. Cher.

    1. My apologies for my belated response! Yes, a great reminder for me to be grateful for the mobility I did have, however much. Thanks for your well wishes and comments. :) <3