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In 1974, when my mum was still giving me my insulin injections back when needles were as wide as bullets and as blunt as a punch, my aunt was over from Belgium and tried her pain-reduction technique. She would slap one side of my leg and immediately inject the other. The theory was that I'd be distracted and not notice the pain of the injection.
That was the theory.
I had an injection gun back then to increase the velocity of the needle. It had a savage spring that when fired sounded almost as violent as a real gun. The theory was that higher entry velocity meant less needle friction and therefore less pain.
That was the theory.
I regularly have blood taken, and when I do, the phlebotomist or nurse will sometimes ask me unrelated questions, the theory I suppose is that in distracting me, I'll forget about the idea that I'm voluntarily offering up my blood via a puncture wound.
That, is the theory.
The question is, do you want to be present when pain arrives, or do you want to be distracted?
Last week, when I was still unwell, my good friend Mikey texted me his best wishes for my speedy recovery.
The week before we had a long conversation on the phone no less, about religion, 3D rendering, maths, the Stoics, Aristotle, Socrates, Homer, Plato, Islam, Christianity, history, medicine, physiology, ethics, you know, an old-fashioned, grown-up conversation. We've had many conversations like that. This started after he nearly died about a couple of years ago. It was a miracle that he pulled through, truly, a miracle.
Before his near-fatal heart attack (his heart stopped many times, for long periods), he was a real physical specimen. There was no warning of what was about to happen. I was distraught that I had not spent more time with him, in any capacity, and feared the worst. I’d be getting updates, sometimes many a day and I feared the worst.
But he pulled through, and I was overjoyed, even though his recovery was arduous and painful, even though his quality of life had become diminished. And yet despite that, he did not complain to me. Not once.
So our communication increased, and I was so fortunate, so blessed to have Mikey back. I knew this was time he might not have had, if he had not been so careful with his health before he was struck down so hard.
I didn't need the slap.
I didn't need the injection gun.
I don't need the small talk from a well-meaning phlebotomist. I want to know. I want to be there.
My beloved brother in humanity Mikey died suddenly on Saturday. I knew he was on borrowed time, but I didn't count on it being so short, but I knew, and that is what allowed me to be present for him in his last year, to the extent it was possible.
I sat on the edge of my bed at midnight, hours past my bedtime, heartbroken, and pondered the minor rebellion of not brushing my teeth.
All my life I have paid a bitter price for minor rebellions. A missed injection, an extra chocolate, an expletive too many, always a rebellion against my body, my soul, always adding up to a bitter price exacted, without fail. A mini-stroke here, blindness there, and other prices paid that are best left unmentioned.
And I thought of you Mikey, who had done so much to take care of yourself and yet paid a price that by rights I should have paid by now. And I got up and brushed my teeth and heard you laugh in appreciation.
I’ll see you again Mikey, but inSha’Allah, not for a long, long time.
I always know it's going to hurt like hell, but I always want to know.