I’ve been utterly distracted for the past five weeks: the fuzzy mind-state of illness, the nurturing love of having my mother around, the warm-press of a family reunion. I didn’t really want to get into it here, but I found I couldn’t just go back and pick up on the blog-post strands I had made drafts of in early February. So, here I am, starting afresh.

Daily writing is such a challenge, but the strain of not writing has become to be a larger and larger cloud in my life, making a few weeks without sitting down with my words a jagged, disjointing experience.

I vow not to let it happen to me again. Ever.

Anyway: Pain.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been suffering from a minor skin infection on the back thigh of my right leg. Okay, maybe not minor, but not major in the way that it ever threatened my health seriously. I won’t go into any of the gory details, but what has left the biggest impression on me is the way the body and mind deal with physical pain.

I’ve always been a fairly healthy individual (touch wood). And perhaps because of the privilege of my health and my parents’ occupations as physicians, I have had a steely attitude towards health care and illnesses. Though my parents healed most of my childhood illnesses with antibiotics, I developed a “Pour some ‘Tussin on it” attitude throughout my 20s. Let things run their natural course, I would say. Hot tea and lemon and a shot of whiskey will cure anything, right? Not suffering from any anxiety-induced health issues, I had no sympathy for those who did. [I once had an ex-boyfriend who would grab his neck in agony every time we fought. My yelling: “It’s all in your head!” helped neither the fight, nor his ailment.] I’ve always assumed I have a high pain tolerance, too – mostly because of my disinterest in taking mild pain killers.

The bump on my leg went from a minor itch to a tenderness to a dull ache to a throbbing pain to a sharp high-pitched jab, which had to be repeatedly triggered during a healing process that included surgery and daily packing with medicated gauze. Today it has receded to a faint stinging and awareness.

Throughout this process, I observed how the body and mind are worn down by physical pain, which grows into epic proportions in the mind if you let it. Interestingly, I was just reading Week Two of Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation when my pain was transitioning from throbbing to the sharb-jab. In the chapter, entitled “Mindfulness and the Body: Letting go of burdens,” Salzberg says: “A very good place to become familiar with the way mindfulness works is always close by—our own bodies.” She recommends a “Body Sensation” meditation, where you “train your mind to be with a painful experience in the moment, without adding imagined distress and difficulty.” She cites this study from the University of Manchester in which they found that meditators are better equipped to handle pain.

Well, what I learned is that I am not particularly well-equipped to handle pain, and that it is very difficult to free pain from it’s accompanying emotions and lingering distress, though it is an almost exhilarating experience to endeavor. I also found a striking cultural difference in health care issues around pain. America is all about sterility and sedation: General anesthesia! Vicodin! Codeine! Morphine drips! They give you major novocaine at the dentist just to clean your teeth. In India, I found that sedation and pain killers are not something easily given, and that the concept of pain is widely accepted as part of healing and health care. My tough-guy ego was bruised when many of my family members talked about suffering from similar ailments at one time or another, and though they agreed about the pain—there was an acceptance of it’s naturalness that I felt my western upbringing prevented me from having. It gave me a different understanding of life here in India—certainly of health care. It gave me an immense amount of newfound empathy for the children at the Rehabilitation Clinic for Children, a hospital for poor children with orthopedic deformities where Robin works.

I have to admit, in the middle of this experience, when the world around me was distorted into a dirty, over-bright, lurid fun house—I did have some fantasies of “going home.” [But where is that really though? My storage space in San Francisco? The empty room in my mother’s house in Ohio? Or is it maybe even here in Kolkata?] But in retrospect, I feel stronger for the empathy I’ve gained, and that which does not kill us, will very likely end up in a future piece of fiction.