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Coffee + Painkillers

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This all started with my first pain management group at the Maria City Centre Hospital. I don’t do groups, I don’t even like talking in one on one situations. But my physiotherapist, Dr. Levi Rivai, told me I should really try a group. Not feel so isolated and all that. Short arse grumpy bastard.

            White walls and blue linoleum floors stretched out in front of me. The sense of death hung in every corner. I was led to the room and entered, slightly late. Cigarette smoke lingered on my clothes, a stark comparison to the sanitising alcohol I rubbed into my hands.

            Everyone had gathered in a circle of cheap plastic chairs. Uncomfortable chairs for a bunch of uncomfortable people. I grabbed a chair, the feet scraped along the floor, and I sat slightly outside the circle.

The workshop leader had handed out booklets before I’d arrived. She shuffled with her paper-filled folders, her auburn hair in a messy ponytail. A brunet guy in athletic sweats was looking at me. He smiled, freckles disappearing into his crinkles; he handed me a booklet.

I grimaced and took it. His eyebrows pinched together. I jerked my head and stared at the pages in my hands.

“So sorry about all this! I thought I was more organised,” the lady said. “Today I thought we would take it easy, get to know each other, get comfortable. So how about I start by introducing myself and go left around the circle, you can all follow my format if that helps.” She smiled wide and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “My name is Dr. Zoe Hanji, but you can all call me Zoe. I am 39 and suffer with chronic pain. I was diagnosed when I was 28.” She looked expectantly to her left.

“Hi, I’m Connie! I’m 23 and have Crohn’s disease. So if you see me get up and leave the room, I’ve gone to shit.” Connie had his hair buzzed short and wore scruffy jeans and a bright orange hoodie. His head was very round.

“I’m Sasha, I’m 24 and have carpal tunnel. I play too many video games.” She laughed, her highly tied ponytail swung around her head. She wore wrist supports.

“My name’s Reiner, I’m 21. I got into a sports accident and have some pretty gnarly nerve damage.” He was broad with a blonde buzz cut. He held hands with the guy next to him who looked nervous.

He cleared his throat a few times.

“My name’s Bertholdt, I prefer Bert. I’m 23 and I have arthritis.”

Then it was my turn.

“Jean. 22. Fibromyalgia.” I said. I leaned further back into my seat and gently rocked. My eyes just wanted to close. I couldn’t keep my focus. The room was warm and tried to lull me into sleep.

My head snapped upright.

It was The Boy’s turn. He smiled softly and rubbed his right knee. He adjusted his leg and set it out straight.

“My name’s Marco. I’m 23. I have Chondromalacia Patellae in my right knee. Also some back pain. The doctors think it’s from an injury.”

“Wonderful thank you! I’m going to briefly go through your work booklets and let you all have some of the snacks provided. I’d like you to talk to each other and hopefully we can work in pairs for this eight week period so that you all have a supportive friend outside our sessions.” Dr. Hanji said. She flicked the booklet open and began reading and explaining sections.

My eyes drifted to the large windows behind her. My eyes stung; I hadn’t slept properly in months.

I quickly typed in my phone notes: ‘GET SLEEP PILLS OFF GP’

Everyone around me stood and ambled over to the refreshments. I heaved myself to my feet and stiffly walked to the coffee. They all spoke to one another with more energy than I could ever imagine having.

            I stirred sugar into my strong black coffee.

            “Hey,” Marco said. I didn’t think he was addressing me. “I noticed you hadn’t spoken to anyone here yet, thought I’d say hi.” My head twitched in his direction. He leaned on the table, holding weight off his injured knee.

            “I’m not very sociable.” I dropped the teaspoon on the table and sipped my drink; the warmth of the mug seeped into my cold hands.

            He laughed.

            “Spoons?” He asked. I narrowed my eyes, sipped my coffee.

            “Two.”

            “Ah, I understand.” He nodded.

            “This is our first session, how do you know about spoons?”

            He laughed again.

            “I’ve been going through a lot of different therapies to try and recover. I did a bit of pain management before I came to the group.”

            “Same.” I drained my mug and stared at him.

Dr. Hanji shuffled over, pushing her glasses back up her nose. “Jean! I’ve heard so much about you from Levi! We’re old friends. I’m so glad you’re talking to someone! Marco, Jean, how about we hurry this along and put you both together as partners? I think you’ll be a great match.” She nodded manically.

I pulled the hood of my black jacket up and tucked my hands into my sleeves. So cold. Marco smiled and appeased her.

“That sounds good to me, Dr. Hanji.”

“Wonderful! Right, must get on mingling, make sure everybody is okay!” She wandered over to the bald kid and the swingy-ponytail girl.

I let out a sign and sagged against the wall.

            He scribbled on a corner of his booklet, ripped it off and handed it to me.

            “That’s my number. Meet me in town tomorrow for lunch?” I slowly took the paper from him. “I’ve got to head off and pick up my little sister from school. See you.”

            And he left.

 

I was in and out of sleep from three the next morning. I spent hours staring at the ceiling. My body felt stiff, like a limb would fall of if I moved. My eyes were dry. I rolled onto my side and began my daily routine. I hoisted myself up and sat on the edge of my bed for a few moments, head hanging. I took deep breaths and carefully stretched out my joints.

            My phone vibrated on my bedside table.

            10:45 PILLS

            I sighed, grasped the bottle of water that forever resided on my side table and pulled my weekly pill pot from the draw. I popped the lid open and shoved four pills in my mouth, swallowing them in one.

            I felt hollow and empty. I wanted to lie back down and stay in bed for the day. I’d feel bad if I didn’t meet Marco.

            I sent a text to the number he scrawled out.

            - Hey its Jean. Where we meeting?

            - Hi Jean! :) I know this sandwich place that does good coffee off a side road from the station. Its called The Sawney and Bean Café.

            - Thnk I kno it yeh

            - Great! I’ll meet you there at 12?

            - sure ok c u

 

The Sawney and Bean Café used to be an old antiques shop; I remember passing it regularly on my way to college. They had an outside table area set up with funky purple umbrellas. I dragged a seat out and sat. I rolled the sleeves of my blue and green plaid shirt up and adjusted my sunglasses. I kept a spare jacket in my backpack. I flicked cigarette ash on the floor and took a long drag.

            “Wow, it’s so warm today!” Marco said, placing his grey backpack on the ground under the table. I nodded. “Want a drink?”

            “Yeah please, I’ll have a mocha.” He nods. “But uh… can I have cream on top. And uh… can you grab like a handful of brown sugar sachets?”

            Marco laughed.

            “Yeah of course.”

            He walked with a slight limp into the café. I stubbed out my cigarette and leaned back in my chair. I rolled my shoulders and cracked my neck. The sun warmed my cheeks and a light breeze tousled my hair. Bright green parakeets glided in the air and gathered in trees, chirping loudly.

Marco returned quickly with drinks; he nearly spilled his peppermint tea.

            “I could have gotten my own drink if you were struggling.”

            “No, no. It’s fine.” He smiled and hoisted himself into the seat next to me. “Just overdid it this morning. Shouldn’t have done so much.”

            “I can’t do anything without lash back.”

            “Lash back?”

            “Yeah… lash back…”

            “You mean backlash?”

            “That one.” He laughed. “It’s not funny.”

            “It’s kind of funny.” He nudged my bicep. He wasn’t in sports clothes today. He wore fitted black jeans and a cream t-shirt with a small navy bear over his heart. I was in the t-shirt I slept in the night before and ripped jeans that had lived on my bedroom floor for a few weeks.

            I didn’t put on deodorant that morning. Fuck.

            “Oh!” Marco reached into his front pocket and pulled out an excessive amount of sugar sachets, dropping them on the table in front of me. “Your sugar.” He grinned at me.

            I felt the corner of my mouth tug into a half smirk. I peered over my sunglasses at him. He sipped his tea; a gentle smile on his face and one small dimple dented his cheek. His sleepy brown eyes were framed with long eyelashes, and tiny wrinkles in the outer corners.

            “Do I have something on my face?” His eyebrows pinched together.

            “Uh, no. No.” I cleared my throat and pushed my sunglasses back up my nose. “Thanks for the drink.” I began tearing open sugar sachets and pouring them into a gap in the cream.

            “You’re welcome. I brought the booklet. I dunno, I thought maybe we could talk about some goals?”

            “My goal is to not be crippled anymore.” I said before I thought about it. Marco looked at me slightly startled. “Sorry.”

            “No it’s fine, I get it. I mean don’t we all?”

            “We aren’t the same though.” I sipped my drink and quickly wiped foam off my lip.

            “No one’s the same, Jean.” His smile was small.

            He was right. Why did I have such a complex? I was angry that this happened to me. I was 22. I should have been out drinking with friends, going to uni, working a job. I should be able to travel and try extreme sports. I should have been able to learn to skateboard and rollerblade.

            “What was it you did before your knee then?” I said.

            There was a sudden burst of energy in his face.

            “I used to do some ice hockey for fun, it gets pretty violent but it was so great.” He turned in his chair to face me more. He crossed his bad knee over his good knee. “But I really wanted to dance.”

            “Dance?”

            “Yeah, I was training to be a professional ballet dancer. I wanted to study to teach as well.”

            “So now what?”

            “Uh, well…” He looked at his hands, he picked at his cuticles. “I don’t know. I’ve not been able to train as intensely in over a year.”

            “Well, shit.”

            “It is quite.” He smiled at me again. How can he stay so positive? “So far, things help but nothing cures it.”

            “Yeah I understand that.”

            “So, right now, it doesn’t look like I’ll ever dance professionally. I’d still love to teach though.”

            “So that’s your goal. Start becoming a dance teacher.” I scooped some cream onto my finger and quickly put it in my mouth. Some dropped onto my jeans. I scrubbed my hand into it.

            “Yeah I guess so.” He smiled warmly and wrote in his booklet. He looked at me and tapped his chin. I wiped at my face. He laughed, picking up a napkin and wiped off some cream. My cheeks flushed hot. “What about you, what drives you?”

            “Nothing.”

            He hesitated and chewed his bottom lip.

            “How about…” He scribbled something else down and slid the paper towards me.

            Find a purpose.

            I smiled.

            “Yeah, that sounds about right.”