“Some parts wake up quicker than others,” explains Sonny Steele as he walks gingerly toward the campfire. 

The washed-up rodeo cowboy, played by Robert Redford in the 1979 movie “Electric Horseman” has more than a few aches and pains each morning. It’s no wonder he limps, lists and leans.

Nevertheless, I’m thinking of adopting his saying as a kind of mantra. There are some days when I definitely feel that “some parts wake up quicker than others.”

On those occasions when I’m called on to describe the pain, however, I’m stumped. Doctors and nurses always ask us to rate our pain, but it’s not that simple. I can’t always assign a number or pick from a lineup of cartoon faces. Naturally, I wouldn’t pick the face with the big, marker-drawn smile. Why else am I at the doctor’s office after all? But is the face that looks like a dried up, wrinkled Florida orange the right choice either?

Over the years, I’ve created my own descriptions for assorted pain issues. A bout with strep throat as a teenager had me thinking I’d swallowed razor blades. A bone spur felt like a nail hammered into my heel, and a tension headache is a balloon slowly inflating in my head. And, when I suffered a torn rotator cuff, I lamented that “my shoulder is in a vice.”

Naturally, I’ve never swallowed razor blades or stuck my arm in a vice. If I had, though, I’m sure I’m spot on – just like the TV commercial that illustrates difficulty breathing with an elephant perched on a man’s chest.

Maybe Web M.D. could use my descriptions.

Indeed, I have experienced some pain firsthand and know wherein I speak when telling these stories. Horseback riding used to play havoc with my knees – so much so that I described the pain as a hand above my knee and one below, each twisting in the opposite direction.

I’ve also had a firecracker explode in my hand, and a bee sting my thumb as I grabbed for some taffy tossed from a parade float. Each provides me with a colorful description of pain for the medical folks.

Mom had some colorful pain imagery, too. She’d announce that she was “wrung out like a dishrag” or that her indigestion was like “peanut butter sticking to my ribs.”

My high school Spanish teacher from Brazil had trouble with her contacts in the dry climate of Wyoming. She’d lament that she had a boulder in her eye. I wondered if it was like the “mote in one’s eye” in the Good Book.

One thing I’ve noticed about pain is that it’s noisy. My ankles pop when I navigate the stairs in my house, and my neck crunches as I look behind me to back out of the garage.

“If I looked as bad as I feel, I’d scare small children,” one writer penned. Another put it this way, “Too much pain to sleep – too much pain to get up for pain pills.”

With that, I suppose it’s true that pain means “you’re not dead yet.” That may very well be, but it’s little comfort when “some parts wake up quicker than others.”

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