Learning About Pain


Well, here we are almost halfway through the summer and I am learning enormous new things about pain. The thing about systemic exertion intolerance disease, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, nephrogenic diabetes insipidus, and unstable severe obstructive sleep apnea—all of which I have—is that, while they are all an almighty pain in the neck and seriously compromise my quality of life, none actually hurt. Imagine if only one—or even all four—caused pain. That would be awful, wouldn’t it? I often have thanked God for withholding chronic pain from my scenario.

Well, maybe God got fed up with me because, about three weeks ago, he visited some middle-of-the-night pain on me. Discomfort in my hips and/or legs. I ignored it. Did I, in fact, have the audacity to ignore a message from God? I don’t know, but it got worse so I consulted with my chiropractor.

The pain was now clearly located in my right hip and the chiropractor and I agreed that it was probably a touch of arthritis, so I took some aspirin and he loaned me his LED lights for three nights. Neither did much to relieve the pain, particularly during the night, so on Thursday I got acupuncture, a lumbar x-ray, and blood work. That relieved the pain for one night, which is often what acupuncture does.

Friday night I again woke in pain—really, really bad pain. Nobody would go with me to the Emergency Room (ER) and I couldn’t get the ambulance company I wanted, but what are you going to do? Pain hurts. I hung in there for a couple of hours but I couldn’t stand it, so off I went to the ER where x-rays of my hip showed that I had both arthritis and sciatica. For those of you who never have met sciatica, here’s what the Mayo Clinic has to say about it:

“Pain that radiates from your lower (lumbar) spine to your buttock and down the back of your leg is the hallmark of sciatica. You may feel the discomfort almost anywhere along the nerve pathway, but it’s especially likely to follow a path from your low back to your buttock and the back of your thigh and calf.
“The pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or excruciating discomfort. Sometimes it may feel like a jolt or electric shock. It may be worse when you cough or sneeze, and prolonged sitting can aggravate symptoms. Usually only one side of your body is affected.
“Some people also experience numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot. You may have pain in one part of your leg and numbness in another.”

So, in the ER, despite my history of being allergic to all medications, I got an injection of something like Ibuprofen and slept for about an hour without my auto BiPAP, which surprised me because I didn’t think I could sleep without it. When I woke up, my first thought was “Hey, maybe I can tolerate medications now.”

For a year I’ve been treating with homeopaths who prescribed a remedy, but still maintained that my immune system was so messed up (mostly from taking antidepressants for 26 years) that I could not tolerate any drugs, yet here I was not only taking a medication but benefitting from it. So what’s up with that? There is no book on how to treat systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID) and there is no literature on what damage is or is not done to the system after taking antidepressants for 26 years. Actually, there is literature on the acute withdrawal phase from antidepressants but there is no data or research on what the residual damage is after you’ve been off antidepressants for 14 years.

So what if my immune system has recovered enough that I can take meds? I decide to try it and go home with a prescription for ibuprofen, 600 mg. every six hours. The next day I feel kinda sorta better, maybe a little bit.

I take my last daily dose of ibuprofen at 11:30 Sunday night and go to sleep. And two hours later I wake up in the aforementioned really, really bad pain. How can the Mayo Clinic call it “excruciating discomfort,” which means “intensely painful lack of physical comfort?” Isn’t that like having really hot ice cream . . . ?

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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