A wince in the smiley face



By Jody Stump

“Keep your chin up!” “Smile, things could be worse.” “This too shall pass.”

Our world has a hundred sunny aphorisms all designed to banish spirits dimmed by pain. We are, by nature, cheerful spirits determined to plow through adversity and rise above anguish. From childhood, we are trained not to complain; to bear with equanimity whatever trials befall us. That makes it all the more striking when a prominent New York Times columnist breaks the unwritten rule and speaks out in a public gripe.

Last week, Jane Brody, the Times’ popular Pollyanna of healthy living, broke rank with the stoics and wrote, at length, about the pervasive pain that follows invasive forms of orthopedic surgery. In her case, it was knee replacement, but as I read her column, it struck a nerve deeper than the throb in my right shoulder. Here, at last, was something in print expressing the ache-y frustration I have felt since my rotator cuff repair in December. I blessed Brody for banishing the taboo that says one mustn’t speak out about personal unpleasantness. Her column was not a plea for sympathy, or a complaint against anyone or anything. Instead, it was, by way of an explanation for her own behavior, an acknowledgment that when people hurt they may not be as charming or as cheerful as people around them expect.

We orthopedic patients in recovery know we are the “lucky ones”-we know we will get better and that someday we will look back on this and laugh. But, for now, pain trumps the intellect and nothing in the hopeful pre-op chatter with our doctors prepared us for days, and then weeks, of wincing discomfort. Like Brody, I was sanguine and hopeful about the operation. I smiled and bought stacks of worthwhile books to read while laid up. Instead, we found that with pain occupying the forefront of our consciousness, we had brain capacity left over only to read the most meager genre fiction, stories with no demands of plot nor much literary merit. As for writing, stringing three sentences together in some logical train of thought became a feat worthy of the Little Choo Choo. “I think I can… I think I can…”

“What about pain pills?” I hear you ask. Doctors offer only the mildest forms of anodyne, those that blunt the pain and wear off exactly one half hour short of the minute your prescription allows a repeat dosage. And, there seems to be no medical consensus as to whether heat or ice is a better palliative for torn tendons, so recuperative days are spent flip-flopping between lying immersed in steaming Jacuzzis and perching immobile under piles of packed ice.

Thrice-weekly therapy serves to stretch clenched muscles and pummel angry joints. And, after two months, I am making progress-I can reach the showerhead and apply my own lipstick. Mascara is another matter, but I am certain that application ability, too, will be restored in time.

In the meantime, don’t mind me. I may be grumpy, but I’m not mean. Deep down, I’m still a smiley at heart, with a momentary hurt inside.

Meal in a Meatloaf

Serves 8 – 12

Pain, of any sort, can only be salved by comfort food and what’s more comforting than old-fashioned meatloaf? To my mother, a proper meal meant a couple of veggies, some meat or fish, a bit of starch and a glass of milk. That was the ’60s way to grow a family. These days, I don’t have the mental wherewithal to juggle multiple courses, so I make this quick and easy meal in a meatloaf and freeze half for a second day.

1 package chopped spinach, cooked and squeezed dry

1 1/2 pound ground beef

1 1/2 pound ground pork

1 1/2 cup minced onions

1 egg

1+ tsp. salt

1/3 cup milk

1/4 cup bread crumbs (optional)

1 cup grated carrots

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 pound ground turkey

1 small package rondele cheese with dill

1 cup minced celery

2 tsp. herbs-any combination: thyme, marjoram, parsley

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Toss the beef and half the pork with 1 cup onions, milk, egg and 1 teaspoon salt. If using crumbs, add here. Grind fresh black pepper to taste and divide the mixture in half.

3. Mix half the meat with the carrots and cumin. Pat into the bottom third of a loaf pan.

4. Toss the turkey with the remaining pork, onions and cheese. Add the spinach and about a half teaspoon of salt. Pat into the pan.

5. Stir the celery and herbs into the remaining meat. Round off the top of the loaf and bake 40 minutes. Pour off some of the fat and let it sit, covered, for fifteen minutes before cutting.