Your pain is in your head

Pre-BH 3 (brain hemorrhage #3) I wouldn’t have paid any attention to the controversies this week over opiods, and their twin faces of pain relief and addiction.  Now that I’ve been one of “those” people who went to the emergency room in search of pain relief for the worst headache of my life, well, it seems relevant.  And in a whole new way, I get just how subjective pain is, and just how hard it is to explain to someone else how bad it feels. 

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I was relieved when I got sent home from the hospital with a prescription for 10mg of oxycodone to take every 4 hours, and thankful that we could get that prescription renewed easily.  I say “easily,” but it was my husband who had to jump through the hoops, hoops which some are saying need to get higher and smaller whenever opiods are prescribed.  As for me, I got no high, no happy, floaty feeling, nothing that would make me want to take these for the fun of it, especially because they really back you up, if you know what I mean.  

But Barry Meier, author of “Pain Killer,” on the Diane Rehm show argued that we need to have better regulations.  And then the head of a cancer treatment center calls in to say if all you’re getting from the drug is pain relief, you’re on the right dose.

 (Listen here for the full interview, and to hear first person accounts:  

http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2013-09-12/barry-meier-pain-killer

Back to the pain scale – Are you familiar with it?  1 is no pain at all, 10 is the worst pain of your life, or if you like, choose a face:  

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The ER nurse asked me to rate my pain, and when I struggled, she said to use natural childbirth as a “10.”  I can do that, I thought!  I know what that feels like.  That felt like the world totally collapsed into the physical state of my body.  There was no other reality; it didn’t matter who was in the room; it didn’t matter what came out of my mouth (GET IT OUT!!!!  rings a bell.)  I totally get how women can give birth in trees.  

This headache wasn’t like that – I could still talk.   I could understand she was asking me a question, and I knew I needed to try and answer it, but I was in enough pain that I couldn’t figure out how to answer it.  Which is when she gave me the whole natural childbirth scale, so I said “7.”  

At least I didn’t do as badly as Eula Bliss, who when the pain was unbearable and she was asked to rate it with 10 being the worst imaginable, she said a “3.”  Because Matthew Shepherd had just been killed by being dragged by a truck, and she thought she was probably experiencing about a third of his pain.  Needless to say, she didn’t get the help she needed.

For her take on pain, click here:  http://www.radiolab.org/2013/aug/29/plotting-pain-scale/

But her doctor father suggested another pain scale:  What are you willing to give up to get rid of this pain?  And all of a sudden, I wished I could explain to the nurse what I had been willing to give up to sit in the ER.  It was still subjective, but:  I was willing to admit the pain was so bad, I could not do my job.  I could not think about, nor write, a wedding ceremony or a sermon.  It was so bad, I was willing to suffer the humiliation of not showing up to perform the wedding the next day or lead worship the day after that.  It was so bad, I was willing to subject myself to what 150 other people would think about me, my work ethic, my commitment, my strength of character, my integrity, because I was in too much pain to lead worship on Sunday.  And I was in too much pain to care.  For me, that’s a hell of a lot of pain.  

So, thankful for a prescription of oxycodone, but still wish I could’ve had a little bit of a high to offset the whole miserable experience.  Because you know you are hurting when you’re on 10mg of oxycodone and still, in order to sleep, you are using an ice bag as a pillow.  That’s pain.

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One thought on “Your pain is in your head

  1. Amy –

    Amy, your personalexperiences with pain, so poignantly described, have helped me deal with the painof others and eventually of my own. In my bereavement counseling atthe Hubbard Hospice House, I encounter pain that I never could have imaged. Physical pain but also emotional and spiritualpain endured by patients and their loved ones. Hospice Houses have great capability, gifts, to manage physical painwith an array medications. Pain can be managedso well that a patient can interact with love ones and sometimes return home. Every day needs are provided with dignity andcomfort by caring staff including the custodians. End of life’s emotional andspiritual pain: Helping a patient can beas simple as the touch of a hand, the wiping of a tear, reading and talking asif they can understand, a moist q-tip on parched lips, or just being present. Comfort can come by telling the history ofpain, of hopes, of fears. Even morecomfort can come from telling about good memories, accomplishments, legaciesthat will endure long after one’s body passes. Long marriages, even 70 years, that started as teenagers. Great, great grandchildren. A warm wood stoved, lantern lighted farmkitchen. Successful children. Loving parents. Beer buddies. A perfectly still lake, soothing without acaught fish. Helping others. Renewedrelationships. Such good memories can help push the bad memories aside. Spiritual pain is hard; no onecan explain God’s will. Knowing andtalking about being saved and about seeing death as another step of life, thelight at the end of a very dark tunnel can be comforting. A dying person can continue tocontribute. Their faith can help other’sfaith grow. Love ones can find the samecomforts. It’s OK that necessary tearsof grief never end since the love never ends. The unimaginable voids in life can be filled. Giving the person permission to pass on canprovide release to all. Again the good memories can displace the bad of themoment – the fears, the anger, the guilt, the frustration, the regrets. My own experiences: An immanentlydying woman with no bodily functions save voice and intellect. “I am of no use. But when I get to heaven, I will be with lovedones again. But I am of no use.”She smiled though tears when I said she’d just uplifted my faith. Another: A woman with severely tremblinghands. I held the one she reached out andthen I read scripture. The tremblingstopped and she smiled. Although I think none of this isunique, I want to share it hoping that others can be comforted, too. Thanks again, Amy.

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