~secret code stuff~

Saturday, March 21, 2015

on a scale of ten

Full Metal Pinky
I'm one of those people who doesn't easily identify with a user friendly pain scale. It was invented as a communication tool for patients undergoing medical assessment, and it's actually quite sophisticated in its rules of use.

click to see pic bigger
My challenge communicating my pain level comes in part from enduring so much pain for so many years that even I will assess myself in the 0-5 range on a good day if I'm not doing anything that aggravates it into a more immediate problem. Attempting to communicate that to every doctor I see with a hope that anyone else can help me learn to communicate my own pain better to someone who isn't in my body quickly becomes a dismal jaunt into futility, and aspie me often wants to shut down and not even discuss pain level so we can just move things along. My biggest challenge is communicating relative pain to someone who hasn't lived with continual nerve pain for more than three decades.

Why is this important? When  a person functioning with a nerve injury has a change in pain level that seems microscopic to anyone else (7.5 jumps to 8, for example), it might monumentally affect function around one's home. That doesn't necessarily mean we must jump into new prescriptions or pain shots or surgeries. What it means is that whereas I was coping with a string of bad days, I suddenly started dropping eggs on the floor or something because an arm got so bad I couldn't force it to keep doing stuff, or I started stumbling while I walk because I'm having trouble lifting my leg high enough to move my foot forward. Reporting changes doesn't mean I'm looking for handouts and fixits. I was so relieved to finally figure out how to verbalize "help me find a way to live with this better without me accidentally triggering it and making it worse instead of throwing another prescription at me", which translated to physical therapy and two years of wonderful relief and improvement.

Sadly, once that much improvement is reached in physical therapy, measured as range of motion improvements in mobility and strength level improvements in endurance, there is no 'need' to continue, and people like me can find themselves left hanging short of further improvement because health insurance isn't about personal training. If I want more I must cough up the cash. I can use what I've been taught and maintain at home, but trying to keep pulling $1800 a year out of insurance for preventive care to hold back an elective $50,000+ surgery and all its own months of therapy afterward is unacceptable to them. Next step is pain clinic, with not much more than a 50% hope that a very restricted amount of steroid shots will be helpful and stacks of horror stories in the search engines from people who suffered further nerve damage because of the shots. Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injections for Low Back Pain and Sciatica

Because I've lived with so much for so long and have made it through some really rough years to some much better ones without succumbing to shots and surgeries, I know that the subject of pain relief is very relative and subjective, and that making a mission of seeking pain relief can sometimes backfire. I've chatted with a number of people about their spinal surgeries. Some say it was the best thing they ever did. Some wind up on meth trying to handle even worse pain afterward because nothing else works. Some live with irritating tingling and numbness instead of pain, or develop new mobility challenges like limping. A few wind up back in surgeries for complications, and one person I know of wound up paralyzed and so messed up that years of therapies and consequential surgeries haven't improved his life.

Since I have held out this long enduring what others might never believe they could endure, I feel that caving to pain shots and surgery will be more about genuinely rescuing me from ultimate life threatening damage or actual screaming sobbing pain with me curled up on a floor unable to function without assistance than simply just making my pain go away. By the time surgery arrives, I intend to be thrilled if I wind up paralyzed, as long as the pain is gone. Can you imagine how thrilling that would be for me to never have to feel that pain again? I can see me reaching a level where I'd gladly trade the use of my legs if it really meant that, but I know better- life in a wheelchair isn't a breeze by a long shot, and there can be other complications from increased immobility.

Life is pain. Anyone saying different is selling something. I learned that from The Princess Bride. In that movie the pain scale goes up to 50. If I'm somewhere in the upper 30's, I tell people I'm feeling rough. As I cross into the 40's I might say I'm feeling terrible, and as it hits 45 I'm using the word wicked to describe my pain. If I'm using the word nasty to describe pain, I'm at a 48 on the threshold of 50 and about as close to blacking out or throwing up as it comes. A two or three day nasty level is fairly unbearable, but I once did six straight weeks of 48-50 that allowed me to sleep only ten minutes at a time, and only sitting up holding my head up with my fingertips in specific places. Brain scans were fine, no big problems popping up on the neck radar. MRIs are wonderful for assuring me I don't have scary stuff going on, but they don't show you anything about having an odd viral infection hitting a Lymie right in the ol' nervous system. After getting through that one, everything else I go through seems milder by comparison, even though someone else might find my daily pain level, that I would shrug off at a 3 on a 'good' day, intolerable. (I keep saying I'm holding out for an opium patch.)

On a scale of ten, my pain level today is fluctuating around the 8ish point range. I have moments where it drops into the 7s, other moments where 8.7 goes all 9.3 on me and I spend a hellish 15 minutes trying another trick I've been taught by someone who has a PhD in pain management. On weeks like this I get a lot of work done. I must move continually, distract myself continually, rotate through a pattern of up and about or resting, usually in 20 minute increments. If I don't want to throw up and go into throbbing headaches from the higher pain level, I must monitor everything I do, everything I eat, every move I make, and keep my brain racing full blast ahead of the pain.

I started slipping again over the last few weeks. Stuff got hard, depression sideswiped me, I lost my momentum, and stuff in my head got ugly. And then I found out I'm in new territory now. Things could get uglier. Harder. Dangerous... Time to brace for a loop in the ol' roller coaster.

I can do this. I've just gotta get my baditude back on.


  1. I doubt this will help but here's a story. I was born with mine. Its always here, always has been. When I was in my late 20's I decided to stop medicating for it. I spent 14 days sweating and not eating. At some point during that I started to giggle out loud at it when it got real bad. I don't know how or why but it seems to help me a bunch. Its as if I am telling it that I own you! I take OTC stuff when its horrible and giggle aloud allot. So if a bunch of us ever do a Google hangout and you hear me giggling you'll know why. Feel better please.

  2. I read a book in my late 20's called Embracing the Wolf. which was about accepting living with chronic illness instead of fighting it. I love that idea.