Six months ago, I was feeling great. My workout time was really beginning to pay off. As I pulled into the parking lot at the gym that Friday morning, I remember thinking that this was the day to intensify my session. And, I was determined to push myself on some new shoulder exercises.

Now before you begin imagining me as a svelte specimen of finely-honed muscle and grace, remember that I’m just a short, slow lump of clay that fell off that Great Potter’s wheel maybe a little before He was finished. When I use words like “intensify my session,” I’m talking about doing about two minutes more work with just a few more pounds on the bar.

The exercises went pretty well on that fateful morning. I felt a little soreness in my left shoulder on the way home, but nothing major. Through the day the pain deepened. By the next Monday, I knew that I had gone too far. But being the mental giant I am, I decided to “push through the pain.”

Oddly, there was almost no pain during the subsequent workouts. The stabbing sensations most often hit when I was sitting quietly and then sleeping became a huge problem.

After weeks of discomfort, I made an appointment with Dr. John. I explained my plight. He patiently pressed here and there, sent me down the hall for x-rays, and then sat me down for a straight talk.

“Bursitis,” he said. “Not the worst thing that can happen to your shoulder, but it’s going to hurt until it stops.”

I started to interrupt him to explain the inanity of his last statement and ask him a more important question, like “When is it going to stop?” Then, Dr. John’s faithful nurse, Tabatha, appeared with a very large needle and handed it over to the good doctor. For some reason, the sight of very large needles almost always inhibits my ability to speak – or even run, which is what I should have done.

“We’re going to shoot a little cortisone into that joint to get you some relief.” Dr. John probed my shoulder with his fingers, then uttered that all-too-familiar, “Okay, big stick.”

I’m pretty good at receiving shots and I handled the entry with great aplomb. Then Dr. John began moving the needle around and down into the joint.

“Yowchhh!” I proclaimed intelligently. Dr. John looked at me over his glasses. I noticed through tear-blurred eyes that the needle was still in place. Almost immediately, he pushed the tip against the bone and continued to plunge the contents into my shoulder.

“You know, that really hurts, Doc!”

The plunging continued. “Yeah, that’s how I know I’m shooting the right place.” As stars danced around my head, I thought of how many right places I might stick that needle if I could wrestle it away from Dr. John.

I’m beginning to understand that pain serves a purpose.
But suddenly it was over. Some of the pain continued, but the needle came sliding out. Nurse Tabatha handed me a tissue to dry my eyes. Dr. John handed over a sheet of exercises and explained what I would need to do to get well.

The shot did help, although the bursitis got worse before it got better. Just three weeks ago, after several false starts, I got back into a regular exercise routine. The pain in my shoulder was only slight. So, this morning, I decided to “judiciously intensify my session.”

Now, several hours later, I have doubts about my personal judgment. My mind is crowded with thoughts like: ice, ibuprofen, and amputation. And I would really complain . . .

Except that I saw a story on television this morning about a five year old girl who has a much different problem. The story was crowded with pictures of her at various stages of her life with massive abrasions and third degree burns. The good news is that she never felt any pain from these injuries. The bad news is that she never felt any pain and thus didn’t know to avoid the various hazards that crop up from day to day. She has a rare disorder that robs her of all but tangential feeling – like some vibrations.

While I’m griping about slight discomfort, this precious child is facing a world of tremendous danger because she is unaware of what can hurt her.

My shallow nature still yearns for a life that’s free of trouble and conflict, yet deep down I’m beginning to understand that pain serves a purpose. Not just as a protective device, but as a reminder that we should be watchful for our own sakes and merciful to those around us who are hurting.