Saturday, September 18, 2010

On Pain and Medication

Today discovered Dana Jennings, who blogs with great insight about his experiences with prostate cancer. I read one of his posts about pain, treating it with modern medication versus the stoic, sometimes misdirected handling of it in some ancestral communities. It brought me right to my current situation.

Two days ago I was overconfident about the recovery of my right arm. I carried something that was too heavy, and now I am paying for it. I've had two days of intense pain. I've medicated it enough to dull it and make me functional, but it underlies every thought and activity of the day. I've even put off my knitting group for a bit because I'm debating whether I can be social and not grumpy and distracted.

Pain has been an issue for me ever since lupus was diagnosed 18 years ago. In the early years (until about three years ago, I believe) I avoided pain medications. I would handle a day of pain by sitting quietly and doing some activity that took my mind off the pain. I would avoid using whatever joint or limb was hurting. I could effectively keep myself from dwelling on the pain, and everyone around me congratulated me for it. My psychiatrist said I should teach others how to do that. My rheumatologist laughed at the way a bottle of pain medicine that was written for a month would last for a year. I patted myself on the back for my extraordinary powers of self-control. After all, I had worked in methadone clinics and seen the pitiful souls who allowed themselves to become addicted to prescription pain medicine. I was not going to wind up like that.

What nobody saw, including me, was that I so severely restricted myself from using pain medications that I also limited my function and fitness. No one advised me that I should take enough medicine to get off my couch and be more active. No one related my persistent weight gain to that lack of activity and avoidance of pain. In the end, I didn't become addicted, I just became a sedentary lump.

My medical background did me a disservice. I was intent on taking medications that cured or helped my disease, and avoiding those that just provided comfort. If a medicine didn't decrease the immune response or stop inflammation or make nerve cells work better, it wasn't worthy of my use. I underestimated the importance of treating the pain that attended my condition. In the end, that wasn't good medicine. It contributed to weight gain, osteoporosis, fatigue and depression. It left me less able to care for myself and be independent. It was this that finally opened my eyes and made me more responsible about treating my whole being, and not just the disease.

These days I take my pain medicine thankfully, grateful to the researchers who developed ways to keep us functioning despite the pain, happy that I don't have to use so much energy enduring and ignoring this discomfort. My life is fuller, more productive, and I am more useful to myself and others.


1 comment:

  1. Good for you! It's hard for all of us to acknowledge that pain IS a symptom of a disease and is requires treatment just like any other symptom. It should be treated, not just withstood.