As the daughter of a rheumatoid arthritis patient, I’ve been familiar with chronic pain from a very young age. I’ve seen it reduce my sophisticated, witty, creative gorgeous hunk of a dad to a barely hanging in there shadow of himself – until the next dosage of his meds would finally kick in, and there he’d be, back again, (almost) his old self.
So, I basically grew up with a firm belief in Daddy’s Little Helpers, because I experienced empirical proof for their effectiveness on a daily basis. No wonder I’m generous with the Ibuprofen myself. Gotta watch that, I know.
I also know pain isn’t necessarily a physical phenomenon only. At least, it’s not the actual pain that makes it horrible but the way it eats up who we are, the way it makes us crawl into ourselves and hide like a frightened young child. It’s scary to feel overpowered like that, and as a migraine patient I’m aware it can hit you out of nowhere at any given time, and hold you in its clutches for days if you’re too late in taking your drugs. Some might argue that migraines are the worst, but after a while, you learn that they have a certain dependable rhythm, and that they eventually will go away again, a perspective that makes them bearable.
This isn’t the case when you’re unlucky enough to have a condition like my dad did. I got a taste of what that might be like when I found myself with an aching jaw last week, which I first assumed was another symptom of the bad cold I was recovering from, and maybe due to the chilly first nights at our country cottage (I think we had 3 °C in there when we arrived. My daughter and I both wore our knit hats to bed!).
It wasn’t so much a toothache. My whole lower jaw was hurting, and it gradually got worse. Unfortunately, there was no doctor to see out there, and besides, I was busy with wood-burner maintenance, catering for the brood and occasional strolls through the snow-covered forest.
Also, I was mentally gearing up for my son’s 15th birthday, so didn’t have a lot of time to think about myself. Finding him a cool present the last minute because he couldn’t make up his mind which new bike to choose … left me with no present, which was unheard of. Thank God for amazon prime! Have you guys ever heard of Fidget Cubes? They’re awesome. One of my son’s teachers actually allows him to play with his in class because she thinks it enhances his concentration. Well, as long as it doesn’t drive the others bonkers, right? I’d certainly kick his ass if I were to sit next to him trying to work on my French grammar or a math problem while he was click-click-clicking away …
We went back to town on Friday. Can you believe I really only see how beautiful it was out there now when looking at the photos? I’d been popping Ibuprofen for 2 days, and when we got back, I was barely hanging in there as the pain got more debilitating by the hour. But my husband made me use our infrared lamp, and that did help a little, so when midnight rolled around, I had baked a pretty cake, organized our folks to come over for brunch, made a very yummy chicken salad and when we toasted with champagne around midnight, I was tired, but doing alright.
Family brunch was great and the Fidget Cube was delivered on time. But as I was relaxing into our Big Boy’s Big Day, the pain came back with a vengeance. It hurt when I had salty things, sweet things, apples, hot beverages – in fact, everything I put in my mouth made my whole jaw hurt. It was starting to wear me thin, and by nightfall, I was actually considering going to the ER – but then changed my mind when I thought about how I’d be sitting there next to stab wounds and broken bones and traffic accident victims – with what exactly? A toothache? Come on. So, more painkillers.
My son’s friends came over, we gave them his favorite Chili and cake, they gave him a cool tee
and then they watched a Marvel movie, munching on popcorn. I have to say I really don’t like the Cap very much at this point. He seems very … um … Republican? I get how he would be a bit conservative, and thinking inside his little pre-war-values-do-the-right-thing-box, because he was frozen for decades, I really do. But screwing over Tony Stark like that? Who does that? Anyway, after a fascinating post-movie discussion of superheroes and Avengers and whatnot and whether Marvel was superior to DC (duh!), eventually the youngsters retired to my son’s lair for the slumber part of the party, and I went to bed too.
I slept OK, and it actually seemed I’d gotten better in the morning – that is to say until I had my first sip of hot tea. The pain flared back up, and from then on it only got from bad to worse, and it’s no exaggeration when I say I was a complete mess when I finally sat in the dentist’s chair on Monday. They checked out my teeth, which seem to be alright, oddly, in fact the doc said they looked great. Plus, there actually are no maxillary sinuses in the lower jaw, so the source of the pain remains a mystery. Neuralgic something or other. Uh-huh. But I left there carrying a prescription for high-dosage Ibuprofen and an antibiotic, and praise be for Sir Alexander Fleming: after taking my meds like a good little patient for 2 days, I’m actually better, and my brain is waking up.
So why am I writing about all of this? Because I find it interesting. I couldn’t have put down any of this yesterday – although I’ve reflected on the subject a great deal. But my brain kind of shuts down when I’m in pain, to the point where all I can do is exist and wait for it to stop. I’ve had two babies the ’natural‘ way, the first one without an epidural and the second one with, and I can’t even put into words how different the experiences were – complete helplessness, pain and horror versus feeling in control and actively participating in giving birth. I know many women don’t take any drugs and they can handle the process, too. And while I admire that, I’m self-aware enough to know I simply could not have done it. I don’t know how I would have delivered my son without medical assistance and a vacuum extraction. After 19 hours of constantly increasing pain, I was completely exhausted and unable to do anything but say ow, ow, ow – I didn’t even have enough strength left to scream. I think a few decades back, one of us wouldn’t have made it, probably me. Or they would have given me a Cesarean, which would have been absolutely fine with me after hours and hours of labor pains ;-).
So, pain management – a fascinating topic. I just read a novel about a soldier who is captured and interrogated under torture – grim stuff. He is part of a special ops unit and actually trained to withstand pain. What makes him break in the end (for, as his torturer informs him in the beginning, everybody does eventually, and I believe it) is that they tell him the love of his life is dead, thus taking away the one safe place in his mind, the perspective of reuniting one day. It made sense to me, even though I don’t know how that whole mind over matter thing even works.
My therapist once asked me what pain meant to me, and I think I answered that it was the most powerful force in the world. It dictated my childhood because everything in our lives revolved around my dad’s pain. And it’s a thing I feel I have no control over. Dr K. helped me see that the unusually frequent migraine attacks I was experiencing at the time were actually code for my feeling overwhelmed by other issues in my life. Pain, to my subconscious, seems to be a way of telling me to slow the hell down. It was easily the most enlightening of all our sessions over the 2 1/2 years I was seeing her. And of course it has to be noted that the migraines actually stopped after that session. How’s that for successful treatment? I’ll bet I made it into being a case study for her own supervision ;-). And I’m so grateful she always knew which questions to ask.
So now that I’ve shared all that with the class, I’d like to know about your own perspective on pain. I’m sure you must have something interesting to add…??
Also, I’d like to show off socks I made over the last 2 weeks – the green pair was finished while I was getting all annoyed with Captain America ;-).
And the first Very Pink Sock for my girl J. is done – I like it. And of course, so does my daughter who told me I needed to make her a pair just like that when I was done with J.’s.
Wishing you a completely pain-free February, I’m off to catch up with writing I’ll be paid for, too!