Health, Pain

“Toughing Out” Chronic Pain with a Side of Sarcasm

Chronic pain has been on my mind a lot lately because I’ve been doing a second gabapentin trial, which is going quite poorly. Waiting to hear back from the doctor on her thoughts on the side effects I’m getting. In the meantime, an article about chronic pain was shared by one of my friends on Facebook today. It was from the site Cracked.com, which is a humor site, so you can guess at the tone of this satirical, yet weighty piece. Here’s how the piece opens:

If you’ve tried to get painkillers from your doctor recently, or read literally any news story about white rural America, you know that we have an opioid epidemic. Fortunately, it turns out there is a clear, simple solution to the problem. Here’s a quote from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, breaking it down for the rest of us simple-minded shits:

“The plain fact is, I believe — and I am operating on the assumption that this country prescribes too many opioids — I mean, people need to take some aspirin sometimes and tough it out a little. That’s what General Kelly — you know, he’s a Marine — he had a surgery on his hand, a painful surgery … he goes, ‘I’m not taking any drugs. It did hurt though.’ He did admit it hurt. But, I mean, a lot of people, you can get through these things.”

The article goes on to make some salient points about opioids, as well as “toughing it out” with chronic pain. I’d suggest you read it.

Here’s my reaction to this article and my preface when I shared it on Facebook:

This article. Some days I so need this catharsis. Disclaimer: I do avoid opioids, mostly because they are almost all mixed with NSAIDS like aspirin or their cousin acetaminophen, which I can’t take on a regular basis due to my stomach condition. Also, even low level opioids like Tramadol tend to knock me out, defeating the purpose of them making me able to function. So I don’t deal with the ridiculousness that some people have to go through. Although I need decongestant to breathe and I can only get a ten-day supply at a time because, you know, I might be making meth with it, not trying to breathe. 🖕. And fu, Jeff Sessions and the doctor who lectured me about exercising and not avoiding pain (because clearly I am a lazy fuck since I am overweight) and all the other heartless and/or clueless people.

By the way, up until the really bad flare up I had in December, I was walking 2 to 5 miles EVERY DAY. I was in physical therapy and doing exercises EVERY SINGLE DAY. What I wasn’t doing was sitting around on the couch feeling sorry for myself. Clearly, I ended up with a doctor who didn’t believe me. I guess he also discounted (or didn’t bother to pay attention to) the fact I’d lost 15 pounds over the last six months. For someone in a lot of pain, who also was recovering from stomach cancer, I think that was pretty damn good.

I get up and move every half hour at most when I’m awake. If I don’t, my body screams plenty loud enough to remind me. Since the flare up, I have spent more time in bed, but even in bed, asleep, I tend to wake up every few hours to stretch or shift. Sometimes I can fall right back to sleep; sometimes I can’t. I take a lot of naps. I still do PT exercises every day. I walk too, but usually more in the 1 to 2 mile range. I also do short 5 to 8 minute stints on my exercise bike.

My mother-in-law, who also has chronic pain, commented on my post that her doctor’s favorite line is “motion is lotion.” She doesn’t bother with the doctor much. Most chronic pain sufferers don’t if they can at all help it. What this doctor and many others don’t get is that, sure, staying mobile helps to a certain extent. Staying mobile also hurts. At a certain, ever-changing point, staying mobile hurts a fucking lot, sometimes for weeks or months after the offending incident. These doctors also don’t seem to understand that sitting or lying down or (please don’t make me) standing, also hurts a fucking lot as soon at is stops helping. No one I know with chronic pain just sits around all the time. Thank goodness some doctors understand this enough to at least empathize.

No one with chronic pain is ever AVOIDING PAIN because that is IMPOSSIBLE. We’re all just trying to live the best we can, toughing it out every single minute of every single day with very few moments of relief (I get really excited when I have a day my pain level gets to 3 or lower, and I’m not zombied out on some med). Most of us also have depression, many anxiety (I hope I don’t need to say that neither of those make it easier to tough out anything.). Some even end up addicted to the very medications that are supposed to be helping, and that’s tragic. I lost a coworker and friend this way. I lost another coworker to straight up suicide because of pain, no addiction involved.

Maybe someday, science will deliver a remedy that doesn’t come with a list of side effects. Maybe someday, patients won’t be met with a shrug or condescension when we try to explain to our doctors that their drugs and physical therapy aren’t working enough to let us live anywhere near a normal life. Maybe someday, national leaders will grow enough empathy to imagine what it’s like to tough out pain for the rest of your life because your body isn’t going to heal in a few days or a week.

Yesterday, my husband was upset because the gabapentin trial was clearly failing. “You don’t even get to enjoy your life,” he said. I reassured him I enjoy parts of it, but, yeah, it’s not the best life. I’m sick of pretending I’m fine to make everyone else more comfortable.

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