“I Have Lived With Serious Pain…”
By Myra Christopher
It’s hard for people who know me to imagine that more than 50 years ago I belonged to one of those high-kick dance teams. We wore short skirts and white leather boots which we kicked over our heads when performing during half-time at high school football games or marching in parades for miles and miles wearing leather flat-soled boots.
It might have happened otherwise, but for nearly twenty years, I have lived with serious pain associated with advanced osteoarthritis. In part, I attribute it to the pounding and stress I put on my joints as a teenager. I have had two shoulders and one knee replaced. I’m nearly four inches shorter than I was in my young adult years, and the TSA screens light up like a Christmas tree when I am traveling.
I have taken buckets-full of prescription pain medications and hated every one of them. They made me constipated, dry mouthed and fuzzy-headed. However, at certain times they allowed me to continue to function, as I awaited a surgical procedure or recovered from one. Given what I know, I think I am one of the lucky ones who, as soon as post-operative pain subsided, I was able to simply stop taking these meds without side effects – no withdrawal symptoms. HOWEVER, for me, opioids are a last resort, NOT my first choice, and it is rare that I have to turn to them. But I am grateful for them when needed.
What works for me is comprehensive chronic pain care, which has included opioid therapy. Equally important has been what is referred to as “alternative” therapies. I reject this notion because, frankly, I want it all. So, I choose, as do most of those who work in this space, to refer to them as “complementary” therapies or treatments.
Some of the things I do to control my condition, rather than my pain controlling me:
• I walk five miles every morning before I begin my day.
• I take Ibuprofen and use Tiger Balm (a topical liniment) by the gallons.
• I am mindful that certain foods seem to cause my pain to flare and try to avoid them.
• I regularly see an “acupressurist” for massage that is therapeutic, NOT pleasurable, and from time to time, I go to an acupuncturist for my foot problems.
• I meditate every morning and night to keep a lid on stress associated with work and everyday life.
• I try to keep my weight down, although I’m not as good at that as I want to be.
• I am very active and a fanatic about my sleep regime.
• I soak my feet regularly and keep a heating pad by my bed and an ice pack in the freezer at all times.
Sometimes, I think the most helpful “therapy” for me is that, before I close my eyes, I remember three things that have happened that day for which I am grateful. There are no quick fixes to serious orthopedic problems and chronic pain often associated with it, but I am very grateful for the rich life I lead and those who love and care about me – professionals, friends and family.
For a more detailed description of “complementary chronic pain care,” go to painsproject.org/educational-brief-what-is biopsychosocial-pain-care/
Myra Christopher is the Director of the PAINS Project, a program of the Center for Practical Bioethics dedicated to transforming the way pain is perceived, judged and treated www.practicalbioethics.org