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This I Believe: Pain Does Not Define Me

Nicholas Ellis - Mt. Zion Senior High School
Beatrice Bonner
NPR Illinois
Nicholas Ellis - Mt. Zion Senior High School

Complex regional pain syndrome (“CRPS”) is both rare and excruciating. So rare, that my local physicians only vaguely recalled hearing of it during medical school and so painful that it is often referred to as the suicide disease. I was diagnosed with CRPS in my dominant hand at the start of my freshman year. Instead of playing football and riding on my class’ homecoming float, I spent my first month of high school at the Mayo Clinic participating in a pain clinic. Every day is a struggle ‑‑ some worse than others. But I refuse to let pain define me.

Entering 8th grade baseball, my coach was shocked that I had lost over five MPH from my fastball. Not only did I lose velocity, but it was extremely painful every time I threw or swung a bat. We knew something was wrong. After the season, I learned that my right wrist never recovered from an earlier break, and every ligament was torn. I was devastated that I was going to miss my 8th grade basketball season because I needed surgery followed by an intense recovery period. My new goal was to heal so I could participate in high school sports.

Fast forward nine months. While preparing for football it became evident that something was wrong, so the doctors ordered a coronary angiogram (an MRI with dye). The next day I was screaming in pain in 45-60 minute intervals. For the first time I saw that my parents were scared. Seeing no other option, we loaded up and drove to the Mayo Clinic.

After a litany of tests, I was diagnosed with CRPS and immediately entered the adolescent pain clinic. There I learned to manage my pain. I learned that despite my pain, I could live a happy and productive life. Eventually, I was able to return to school. Unfortunately, the doctors at Mayo insisted that I not stay enrolled in any of my advanced courses, which I knew would hurt my class rank. But controlling my pain and learning to live this new life was paramount to my success. I completed all of my makeup work, earning every grade as compared to the past when I coasted through with A’s.

Although I am not in the same spot I was in at the beginning of grade school, I have a different perspective on the world. I no longer worry about popularity. Now, I work for my grades. I’m no longer in the top five of my class, but I am okay with that. The pain has taught me not to worry about little things. And although I would not wish CRPS on anyone, it has given me unique tools. In fact, I am who I am today because of my pain, and the pain does not (and will not) define me.

This I Believe Illinois is NPR Illinois' annual essay program for Illinois high school seniors. An expression of where their minds are as they prepare to enter the adult world. This I Believe was started by radio journalist Edward R. Murrow in 1951 to allow anyone able to distil the guiding principles by which they lived. Special thank you to our sponsors: The Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise, State Journal-Register, BLH Computers, KEB, and Marine Bank.

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