Tuesday, August 19, 2003

On chronic pain

What is chronic pain? Throughout my life I have heard of people who have chronic pain, and I just assumed that it was like normal pain, but it didn't go away. This sounds bad enough as it is, but it turns out there is much more to chronic pain, a dimension I didn't even know existed.

I have some sort of nerve damage in my side. The area that hurts has suffered some trauma in my life: a rib was broken by my mother's husband when I was 10, rebroken when I was attacked by a mob in India during my post-graduation "de-stressing" travels (the irony would be killing me, but it has to stand in line at this point), and something horrible-yet-undefined happened in the same area when I had "whooping cough" (this is Latin for "we don't know what it is, and we can't help him, but he sure is coughing alot") and I felt like the coughing was tearing muscles or cracking ribs. The chronic pain started at that point (4 years ago) and has been a big part of my life ever since. I am currently being treated by a pain management clinic (my 2nd) and a doctor (my 9th), who are attempting to get the pain to a manageable level and possibly even fix the problem. Previous doctors ran alot of tests, shrugged, then started giving me the spiel about how some people just need to learn to live with the pain, just as diabetics need to learn to live with their condition. Survey says: *ennhhh*.

In my experience, the thing about chronic pain is that it isn't just the hurt area; there are other pains that are related to the original pain, and there is a systemic effect that I did not expect at all. I sometimes feel like alot of the skin on my body has been scraped off. I almost always feel a pain in my gut that is most comparable to the descriptions my female friends have given me of 'cramps'. My headaches are legendary, often so bad I can't get out of bed, so much pressure behind my eyes that I can't focus them. My side hurts so bad I can't walk sometimes. And there is an overall sense of pain and pressure and dizzyness and suppression and depression and compression that makes me feel like I am going to die from the pain, like my whole system is shutting down.

The pain is at a level that I would have previously described as 'unbearable'. The doc gave me drugs to fight the pain, and they don't work... they make my headache go away a bit, make my toes tingle, and I think they are supposed to distract me from the pain rather than actually remove the pain, but there has never been a time in the last few years where I did not feel this pain, drugs or no. I sometimes cannot drive a car, or even walk up and down stairs, partly from the systemic effects of the pain, partly from the drugs. They now have me on massive doses of nerve damage medication, which so far (six weeks into it) has done nothing but further limit my normal senses and consciousness without touching the pain. Joy joy joy.

My future includes various sorts of physical therapy, more drugs, and more uncertainty. I'll post here when anything changes.