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Undergoing physical pain

Image credit — Google Images

“It will only be a small prick”, said the nurse as she inserted a peripheral venous catheter (pvc) into Dad’s arm to begin the chemotherapy medication for the day. She had strapped a band near his elbow, and asked him to tighten a fist. As she gradually inserted the needle, Dad winced, shutting his eyes tightly and clenching his teeth. As the needle went deeper into his arm’s vein, he let out a low gasp, and squeezed my hand. “It’s hurting today,” he told the nurse. I could see her trying to do it as smoothly as possible, but the vein began to swell, blood started trickling into the catheter and she pulled the pvc out. “Will have to do it again Uncle. Your vein’s started swelling.” Dad let out a small sigh, as she began the process of finding a new vein again. This time the process went relatively smoothly, and Dad was started on the premeds.

I have always admired Dad’s high tolerance for pain, since my childhood. Any bruise or cut, he would simply apply aftershave whistling slowly while doing so. Even in the later years, after every surgery, he would rarely complain about any pain. Sometimes, he mentioned it that it’s hurting and we would tell him that this is part of his healing process, and he would be okay. He never let the pain get the better of him.

I, on the other hand, have a low threshold of pain. Even lesser, when I see a loved one in pain. As a kid, I would always hide away when my siblings got hurt, since their cries would tremble me. That part of me is still alive every time I see Dad undergoing any sort of physical discomfort. My toes squirm and my fists tighten whenever I see Dad getting a needle inside his arm. I don’t really know how have I managed to see him with multiple tubes inside the ICU post his surgeries. The sight of his blood shivers me.

It’s Dad. The solid rock who has always seemed invincible. He has been the strongest around us, and we’ve known that things will be alright because he’ll make sure of that. And then we see him weakening in front of our eyes, as the disease pales him down. The sight of blood being drawn from his arm, is a reminder that something is not right with him. And that thought hazes away my strength to see him in that state. It clouds my rationality with a rush of emotions forming tears and weakening me to take that moment.

But I’ve got to be there for Dad. I have to not let him submit to his pain. At least in those seconds when the needle is being inserted.

What I’ve realised in the past few years by being with him is that taking my eyes away from his point of injury or during times of IV insertion or when he’s been just out of operations, only makes it worse. If I’m unable to even look at him at his most pain, how can I comfort him to let the pain go? As the nurse inserts the needle weekly into Dad’s arm, I keep my eyes on it, caressing Dad’s hand, and informing him that it’s nearly done. The ability to calm him down with assurance only works when I see it for myself.

Another way of alleviating his pain is by distracting him. It’s the hardest option because when one is in pain, you really have to come up with a more important topic that negates the current situation. Comedy does not work so well. Serious discussions do. As Dad was getting the needle in the chemo ward, he asked me, “so what have you thought of your marriage?” I was stumped for a second, but we had a discussion over it, while the nurse started him on an IV solution of NS.

And finally, the importance of accepting the pain. When the acceptance of the pain sets in, so does the temporality of it. When you feel the angst, you begin wanting to diminish it as soon as possible. Dad makes a sad stretchy face as the needle is poked in his arm, but straightens it as soon as the nurse says, “Done.” She pats him gently on the arm, ensures nothing is hurting and stays on his side for few more seconds to help him relax.

As he leans in his bed in the chemo ward switching on the television to watch cricket, I sit next to him easing my toes. The players distract him from the chemotherapy, and watching him ease down distracts me from the worries of seeing him ill.

Hi, I’m Mariyam, thank you for reading my post. This is part of my series on finding positivity and decoding the ‘be positive’ attitude as my father fights through aggressive oral cancer.

If you liked it, you can read other posts on

You can also follow me on twitter @MariyamRaza for more. Much love 🙂

Mariyam Raza Haider

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A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer and performance poet in Singapore.
She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree.
Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.

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