Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Living with pain
I suffered a serious spinal injury on Friday, February 13th, 2004. I recall it well because I haven't had a single day free of pain since that date. (I would say a single hour, if it weren't for a six-hour period in 2005 during which I was, indeed, pain-free. That's when they gave me an epidural injection of corticosteroids to see if it could reduce inflammation resulting from the injury. The shot included an anesthetic, to ease the pain as the needle was inserted. It numbed everything below the injection site, and I do mean everything. I couldn't walk, I couldn't even pee - but I was pain-free! It was bliss . . . for six hours, until the anesthetic wore off.)
As a result of that injury, my life changed. I used prescription painkillers as a matter of routine. I could no longer sleep a full night; my back would stiffen up and become very painful after three to four hours, so that I'd have to get up and move around. I've adjusted to sleeping in two sessions each day, one late at night, the other after lunch. Due to interactions between my pain medication and the drugs I was prescribed following a heart attack in 2009, I had to stop taking the former, so I've learned to live with relatively high, constant levels of pain. Unfortunately, that familiarity with pain has just come back to bite me.
After driving down to LibertyCon in late June, my right kidney area began to hurt very badly and I noticed a lot of blood in my urine. I didn't initially pay much attention to it. It hurt, sure - like the dickens - but I was used to that. I waited until I got back home before going to see my regular doctor about it, rather than go to the ER in Chattanooga (much to my wife's displeasure). I had a relapse last week, with more of the same pain, so this week my doctor prescribed a CAT scan to see what was going on. It didn't find what they expected, so this morning I went in for an ultrasound scan to take a closer look at whatever's going on in there. (It's most frustrating when the technicians operating the machines won't tell you what they're seeing. You can hear them saying "Oh!" and "Aha!" and "Ooh!", but they won't explain. They simply claim that because they're not doctors, they can't tell you. Oh, well . . . if I turn out to be pregnant, I expect I'll make enough money off of it that I won't mind!)
Anyway, what I'm getting to (slowly) with this screed is to caution you to take pain seriously. If you get too accustomed to a certain level of pain (from arthritis, or an old injury, or whatever), your body's overall pain tolerance rises. That can make it difficult to notice that something new is wrong, and you need to find out what it is before it gets any worse. After all, pain is nothing more or less than your body telling you something's not right. Pay attention to that - and don't just mask the signal with increased quantities or dosage levels of a good painkiller. That, too, may prevent you noticing something important.
I don't yet know what's going on with my kidneys, or even if they're actually the problem at all; but I thought it was worth putting this reminder out there. I've certainly learned the hard way that I'd ceased paying sufficient attention to my body's normal warning signs. The old proverb warns us that "Familiarity breeds contempt". I guess it does the same with pain.