Tag Archives: pain


19 Aug



By L. Stewart Marsden


When I was about ten years old, I began having intense attacks of pain on my right side under my rib cage. It was deep inside. The best way I found to describe it was it felt as though a double-bladed knife, triangular in shape from its tip to the hilt, was being slowly inserted into me. The pain would gradually increase over hours, and I did everything I could for relief to no avail. It got so bad I would force myself to throw up in order to empty my stomach. Again, useless. I even banged my head against the wall to distract my mind elsewhere.

I was checked and tested for a myriad of maladies, including hepatitis and ruptured appendix, during which time I must have drunk gallons of pasty, chalky “stuff” that would show up problems under x-rays.


The attacks repeated over a number of years, seeming to get more and more painful and intolerable. And the duration also lengthened, from several hours to a day and a half. The usual guess at a diagnosis was severe indigestion. So whenever I felt an attack coming on, I’d drain a bottle of Pepto Bismal – thinking it might lessen the severity. That’s what you get for thinking.

Finger down the throat. Head banging on the wall. Even had a pediatrician give me morphine once. Well, that worked, but it sure wasn’t going to be the normal treatment.

Over the years I suffered dozens of attacks. Only complete exhaustion and drop dead sleep helped me survive.

The spring before Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinkley, the attacks began to occur within weeks of each other. At the around the same time, I found out my older sister had her gallbladder removed due to having painful attacks.


A gastroenterologist told me I couldn’t have gallbladder disease, and my pain wasn’t the result of gallbladder attacks because I had been having them since I was ten.

“Improbable,” he surmised, having never heard of someone so young diagnosed with the malady.

This time the tests – for gallbladder – came back positive, and proved the doctor wrong.

The surgery took hours longer than was expected. My gallbladder had shrunk up under my liver, and the surgeon cut a large half-moon opening to the right of my stomach area in order to actually move my liver So he could get to the gallbladder.

It looked like a dried-up lemon, he told me later. And it was packed with dozens and dozens of BB-sized stones that had been produced over the years.


It tells us something is wrong, and compels us to do something about it. I’ve heard preachers say metaphorically that it is God’s way of steering us in the right path. I have a response to that premise, but I can’t write it down in mixed company.

The solution for my pain over the years was first the diagnosis. And no one for the longest time reached a correct conclusion. At the time of those attacks, I was happy merely to have the pain go away, which they eventually did, but only to come back again.

There is no such thing as timeliness as far as pain is concerned, in my opinion.

I’ve been told that the pain of a gallbladder attack is at the same intensity as what women experience when in labor. I wouldn’t know. That could only be asserted by a woman, and I trust they would know.

We’re in a time of pain. The country.

Just shy of fifty years ago we were also in a time of pain not dissimilar to now.

Then, the sources of the pain were evident. On Sunday evenings when CBS covered the war in Vietnam on 60 Minutes. Kent State. Martin Luther King assassinated. The Black Panthers. The bombing of Hanoi. Bra-burning. Marches, marches, marches.

And like a gallbladder attack, it was like a two-edged knife being slowly inserted into the gut of the country, and there was no relief to be found.

We’re there once again. The faces are the same, only the names are different. Afghanistan. Syria. Al Qaeda. ISIS. Terrorism. Police brutality. Denial of rights to a different set of minorities. Racial tension. Political buffoonery. Fascists. Bigots. Racists.

For those of us who were around the first time during the 60s and 70s, it’s deja vous all over again. Ground Hog Day. Like the unseen gods are saying, “We’re going to do this until we get it right”-kind of scenario.

Is it just me? Or have I felt this pain before? And will we ever have a definitive diagnosis? Will we go into surgery to have this malignancy removed at last?

Were it only that simple.

In the meantime, we have the pain, which will persist and recur until solutions are found.






9-11: A Memory

11 Sep


A Memory

It was an extended moment — dragged on and caught on live television for hours. Yet another occurrence that would inevitably be the prompt for the question, “Where were you when …”

For me, it was added to a long and growing list of “where were you when …”

  • John Kennedy was assassinated
  • Martin Luther King was assassinated
  • Bobby Kennedy was assassinated
  • NASA’s Challenger exploded

With the exception of the Challenger explosion, news of the other events filtered through the news networks, along with photos and some video.

Not 9-11.

Two jet airliners smash into the Twin Towers, the first images not captured live on TV. Another jet airliner crashes into the Pentagon, and still another falls out of the sky to crash in Stonycreek, PA.

Like waves.

The effect was dumbfounding. Disbelief. No mental capacity to comprehend the why of it.

Who would shoot the President?
Who would shoot Martin Luther King?
Who would shoot Bobby Kennedy?
How could the space shuttle explode in midair?

At the time of 9-11 I lived in the sleepy town of Hendersonville, NC and was married with three children living at home.

Those videos and images and live television feeds were still able to find me, despite my insulation from the scenes of disaster. I was nearly 11 hours from Manhattan, and 7 hours from DC, yet unable to remain distanced from the events of that day.

In the afternoon, my wife and I walked down to a peaceful park near our house. A half-mile walking trail coursed around the large soccer field and basketball courts. The park was deserted.

It was late afternoon. The sun had begun its descent and was no longer visible. As we walked, I took note of the western sky. It was an incredible site.

Moving from south to north was a huge cloud formation — like a flowing gown that tapered on the north end into the shape of an angel. The hues were purples and pinks and glints of gold. Like Gabriel, I thought, mournfully steering northward, weeping. The the angel’s wings and train of the gown spread to cover the southern sky in growing darkness.

At the time I took the cloud as a sign of God’s exceptional grief over the day’s tragedy, as well as a commitment to cover all of the destruction and loss and pain with a new day hours hence. I’m not given to spiritualism per se, but this was without a doubt a supernatural and spiritual response from the heavens for all who had the good fortune to look up at the setting sun that day. It will remain forever in my mind’s eye, as will those other images from earlier that morning. I wonder if anyone else saw it.

I also wonder, does that cloud of hope or comfort continually wing its way across each and every tragedy around the world?

I know just where to stick the knife

17 Apr





I know just where to stick the knife

by L. Stewart Marsden


I know just where to stick the knife
and how to twist it so —
in vulnerable places of your life,
that set you to and fro.

I know how to chip and pick
and burrow deep beneath your skin
till you are miserable and sick
and plead for mercy in the end.

I know all that — and more, as well —
tho I can easily bring you down,
and cast you to a living hell,
you, too, can do the very same, and turn around this deadly game.


Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 17 April, 2014

O Come, Thou Knight

4 May

O Come, Thou Knight

by L. Stewart Marsden


She allowed him to come to her every night. Willed him to on some nights. What he did was monstrous, but at the same time, exhilarating. She was not a victim; she was a willing participant. She welcomed the act – reveled in its dichotomy of hell and heaven.

Night came none too soon. The drag of day was tedious and tiresome, and she was exhausted by the time the sizzling sun finally dipped beyond the deep wood. The burnt day – with its moist, cottony, heavy air – cooled as it darkened. It became fresh again, with the stirring of nocturnal breezes and the easy, calming night symphony of its unseen orchestra: crickets and katydids; tree frogs and night owls. Blended melodies lifted against the brushing background sound of swaying oaks and elms. They mixed and stirred a concoction so potent that the long dead sat up, fully awakened from sleep.

More than ease from her pain and distance from her troubles, he brought her new life; movement towards meaningfulness she had never before experienced. He was, in a word, the Christ of her newness, and he appeared at the precise moment she teetered precariously between despair and oblivion, over the yawing crevices that disappeared into nothingness beneath her.

* * *

A gust of night wind, the sateen curtain billows in the breeze, and he is there, silhouetted against the harvest moon cresting above the deep wood. Effortlessly, gracefully, he glides to her bed where she is prone and awaits him, barely concealed in her night-clothes. He kneels and stares down at her, his eyes barely visible in their deep sockets. He hums along with the night orchestra and soothes her all the more.

He touches her lightly, strong hands cup both sides of her face. It is ticklishly light. His fingers trace along and under the sensuous skin on her neck. Down to the leveling out of her collarbone, and out to the curves of her shoulders. Then down the upper arms to the soft, pulsating skin at her elbow. Soft, small circles with his fingers.

It is too tempting. Her long legs stir and rub rhythmically, like the tide, and she feels her womanhood begin to flow along the dried creek beds. Rivulets. Then strong and steady streams.

The night. The moon. The cool breeze. The orchestra of sounds. His touch on her arm. The throbbing in her veins, in her legs, in her mind. All is one.

She tips her head back, revealing her neck in the bathing moonlight; feeling its prickly light illumine her throat; her veins elongating; her muscles stretching and tensing; the throbbing moving from her loins to her arm to her neck. His light touch circling, cooling, moistening her arm; his shadow enveloping her – the shroud of a mystical blanket – a final and simple gown.

The end is light and painless. More than painless – climactic. Not fearful nor dark nor monstrous nor unwelcomed nor uninvited. Quick and without fear. And then warm and cool intermingle. Warm on her arm and cool on her face.

Another spritely, turning breeze dances through the window and slips about them both.

She closes her eyes, and then opens them one last time. She smiles genuinely at him, and softly whispers,

“Thank you!”

He says nothing but strokes her brow gently, combing wisps of her hair with his fingers. Then he closes her eyelids. Gently. Lovingly. Respectfully.

Arising, he returns to the window, his graceful body once again silhouetted by the harvest moon. And he is gone.

Of a time she too arises. No pain. No troubles. No tedium. No exhaustion. She turns and looks at the woman on the bed. Old. Tired. At rest. At peace.

She spins giddily toward the window, tears on her cheeks, the fresh breath of a breeze cupping her face. Silhouetted against the large moon, and she spreads apart the sateen curtains, and is gone.

Copyright © 2012 by Lawrence S. Marsden