Tag Archive: Pain

2:36 AM

Pain is swallowing my body. Walking 250 steps or more brings extreme tightness in the groins both of both legs and lower calves. To that, former WGN radio host Al Lerner would commically retort, ‘a groin is a terrible thing to pull.’ Spasms crept into my right bicep, forearm, through to my fingers, and radiates significant pain when lifting anything above the shoulder. Through it all, I keep reading previous posts on ‘What’s a good life’ and asking myself, “Am I living it?” That exchange is often followed by remembering something from my past, usually negative, and trying to mentally reconcile that person looking back through the mirror.

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We Don’t Know

“We don’t know” comes in many forms. For example, the car mechanic quizzed about a part failure often states they don’t know why it failed. The heater-air conditioner technician told me two weeks ago that he did not know why the blower motor was leaking oil. “It’s old.” Children who spray-painted the car are asked why often retort with “I don’t know.” Then there are medical doctors.

“Doctor, I was cutting vegetables. My right wrist, elbow, and shoulder hurt painfully with each cut. So much so that I had to stop.” The doctor looked at his computer, “That’s a great question.” The comment ‘that’s a great question’ is like, “We don’t know.” Of course, the pain could be tendinitis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or “You sleepwalk and play drums all night.” A lot of times, doctors don’t know.

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Setbacks are hard. Post-COVID has been annoying, with one day being good and the next being bad. For instance, Sunday was great. I experienced a bountiful amount energy I hadn’t had for weeks. Mentally, I was clear. And lastly, I experienced little to no residual pain. In fact, I was damn well ready to call COVID a day, “I am so done with this. Good riddance.” Then Tuesday arrived.

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When COVID struck, marking the calendar and tracking symptoms, fever, and oxygen levels were critical. On day 1, COVID presented me with only a hoarse voice and scratchy throat. On days 2 and 3, COVID struck back by battering my body with severe muscle aches, joint pains, and abdominal pain, which no medication could counter. No position was comfortable. Sitting, standing, or lying brought no relief to the constant pain. It was debilitating as extreme fatigue gifted more fatigue.

Most patients recover in about a week. However, around day 5, a significant minority of patients enter “a very nasty second wave” of illness. Upon waking on day 5, my lungs felt extremely heavy, and my voice was hoarse. Being overweight and having left ventricular hypertrophy (thickened heart), Parkinson’s, and tumor surgery (pre-COVID), I intuitively knew underlying conditions, including high blood pressure, obesity, or diabetes, could significantly impact the body’s inability to overcome COVID. Still, by the end of day 5, I felt better. Internally though, I keep debating whether COVID is over.

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So, I had my first cancer screen test. One was PSA, and the other was CEA. PSA (a Prostate-specific antigen) is made by the prostate and is usually found in semen, with a small amount also detected in the blood. CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) is a protein usually found in high levels of colorectal cancer patients. Most men without prostate cancer have PSA levels under four ng/mL. CEA is generally one or lower.

My PSA was .65 (should be less than <4 ng/mL) and the CEA was 1.0 (should be less than <2.5 ng/mL) “We don’t believe the problem you are experiencing (the improper manufacturing of red blood cells) is likely to be either colorectal cancer or prostate cancer,” the doctor informed. “So, something else is causing your problem. That problem might be multiple myeloma, but we’ll need to perform some further testing.”

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My bones ache. No, it is not muscles. It feels like bones. I first noticed the condition in August. I awoke mid-August and felt an unusual symptom: the bones (tibia and fibula) ached in the lower part of my right leg. I couldn’t classify it as pain. Instead, it was ‘moan.’ Maybe it was ‘moaning.’ Sure, I have sleep disturbances from back pain and sometimes radiculopathy (pinched nerve in the spine), but this was a ‘moan.’

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Eighty percent (80%) of those impacted by osteoarthritis experience pain. The most common symptom is acute pain – often deep-searing pain. For the longest time, it was hard to relate. Sure, my muscles exploded in pain, frequently from the simplest of movement. The most extreme form of osteoarthritis pain I experience comes from walking when the pain becomes so significant that the body stops whatever it is doing and says, “F*** it. We’re done. I am done until everything calms down.” I have always been grateful my body has down in the middle of a New York City crosswalk during rush hour, running from an avalanche, or just as a tsunami approaches. (Although sitting on a toilet during a Los Angeles earthquake was my biggest fear). I always presumed I experienced ‘maxed out.’ I was wrong.

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There are times I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up. Not that I overtly want death, but rather, some days I am so tired to get up. Many days are rarely the same. I feel great by day. By night, my knee and Sigmoid Colon ache, and a rush of blood oozes forth that’s accompanied by a continuous backache. All of which forces surrender by 8:30 PM with a silent scream, “Fuck it.” Yet, the weird or odd timing of statements between friends compound these endless cycles. 

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A week has phased since my last blog post. I could have generated a few excuses, but none fit. I awoke Thursday morning stiff. Friday through Saturday, my neck felt like a volcano near eruption. I couldn’t hold a thing, had a hard time moving, and every muscle in my body regurgitated at the thought of moving, anything. Staying awake was difficult. Awake one moment, drowsy the next, then awake again.

Sleeping provided respite. I slept ten hours from Friday night through Saturday morning. Saturday to Sunday, thirteen hours. I felt comfortable enough not to use the restroom, though I did. When the act of laying down caused more grief than getting up, I nudged to the bed’s edge and stood. Shuffling over the cold hardwood floor provided momentary relief as I stood under a hot shower and wondered, “What the f***?”

I debated whether the Parkinson’s or osteoarthritis was the cause. Rigidity is seen in many Parkinson’s patients. Though not entirely understood, researchers believe stiffness is associated with the reduction of dopamine. If that is the case, then my Carbidopa-Levodopa failed and I should demand a refund. However, osteoarthritis pain can occur at either rest or night. In my case, nearly every part of my body was on fire, and more than once, I wished a ‘water scooper’ (aircraft that drops water on a forest fire) would drown me in Aquafina (purified water). Having inside knowledge of medical science, I know osteoarthritis usually does not affect the wrists, elbows, or shoulders. In the end, neither argument won.

Like many suffering in major illness, I am left with daily challenges. Whatever body part that’s inflamed today may not be tomorrow. Others experience it differently. Buddhists believe suffering is part of life. Pain is expected. Therefore, if a person experiences pain calmly, he can attain higher states of being without becoming emotionally distressed. At 2:26 AM, not sure I can buy Into that argument while every limb screams, “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” A pancreatic cancer patient once described abdominal and back pain, “I had woken up in the middle of the night screaming because of the pain, terrified to move because each time I did, it hurt more. It felt as if someone was stabbing my lung over and over again.” Such stories are not uncommon, and it’s hard to neatly fit spirituality when nature Is gnawing upon the body.

Even though I didn’t complain, the prospect of living under this type of pain is hard to fathom. I know pain is part of our human living experience. There is no way to escape and we often feel victimized. Being in pain also makes one anticipate further discomfort in the future and reminds us how finite our life is and of our fragility. Therefore, I chose my pain to be ‘teacher.’

My educator will help me to prepare for the pain that might be present as I die. Given a chance, I will try to explore whatever lessons that bring my life into greater focus and meaning, teaching me strength, patience, and giving me compassion and humility. Of course, I will take whatever medication is prescribed. Yet, maybe this pain level will allow me insights to endure, make me more mindful, and see the road ahead. Like others, I might even view it as a gift, like many of those dying realized their pain and suffering made their relationships more valuable and helped them reorder priorities.

There are numerous spiritual and psychological approaches to pain management. Medications make it possible to manage pain without diminishing awareness and provide one time to strengthen practice, be with others, and not have pain or be of an unclear mind. In such ways, I often say to myself: “I am in pain, but I am not suffering.” I say this to remind myself not to amplify the pain by building Some grand story. Rather, I can become ‘friend’ to my pain. Reach out to it. See what it needs. I may not know what to do, but the pain might. I can give it latitude, and try to see what it may teach. Therefore, I can use the experience of suffering to develop compassion for the lives of others who have pain like me.

Over several weeks, many have queried about why I haven’t sought additional treatment. It’s a fair question that often has nuanced answers. Probably the best answer I heard comes from Andrew Luck.

Having worked in the medical field, many patients have chosen the quality of life over treatment. That choice can be hard for family and friends, but for the most part, people who can make decisions for themselves have the right to refuse any treatment. The reasons vary. For some, there are associated health problems with treatment. For others, it’s age. Others, it’s a moral decision. And so on.

Coming to the end of life, I had one goal: die in the least objectionable way. Of course, doctors have arsenals loaded with weapons against infirmities of the body. Unfortunately, medicine focuses on longevity, not quality. Need an example? Me. I take 13 different drugs daily, three are required before I’m able to get up change clothes. The rest are ingested via a carefully crafted schedule. As I told my mother, medical technology is terrific, but sooner or later, the body wins.

I’ve often said to my physicians, “We all know I’m going to die. Help me die in dignity.” Therein lay the truth; everyone knows I’m going dying. It’s just a matter of when not if.

During a recent walk with my parent’s dog, Skip trotted ahead. He looked back with sympathetic eyes that could only say, “. . . you look like shit.” Sometimes in my humorous way, I reflect upon Doc Holliday’s witty quip (Wyatt Earp 1994), “I wake up every morning looking in the face of Death, and you know what? He ain’t half bad.”

Why am I deciding now?

During the past 35 years, I’ve not known a day without pain. What I learned from the military, from football, and my ol’ man was to suck it up, take the pain, sacrifice the body for the good of the team, and if required, for the good of the country. I’m aware of the physical toll of that profession as well as the traveling of my business. Throughout years of travel, I fought through pain and injury while simultaneously remaining stoic. I felt breaking through the pain helped proved myself. I accumulated significant damage.

Like many sitting behind their desk right now, I silently “self-medicate” to keep fighting at peak performance. Pills hide the pain from 8 partial ligament tears in my left knee, with 6 in my right. I was partially paralyzed from a spinal injury nearly forty years ago; had bone chips removed from my spine; feet suffer from severe arthritis that sometimes the left foot locks; experienced two concussions; one eardrum tear that requires hearing aids; had a silent heart attack; cracked some ribs; fractured a wrist; suffered a shoulder separation; have cervical stenosis; lumbar osteoarthritis; and now a cervical spinal tumor, and multiple sclerosis.

Andrew Luck, the former first overall draft pick and one of the NFL’s league’s brightest stars, eloquently summarized my thoughts. When questioned this past Saturday about his surprise retirement, Luck stated he could no longer take the years of pain and rehabilitation from a host of injuries.

It was not the first time a professional athlete stepped away during the prime of their career, but Luck was one of the more vivid examples of a player weighing the consequences of continuing a career. His decision to retire didn’t occur in the limelight, in front of a cheering crowd. “I’ve been stuck in this process,” Luck said during his retirement press conference. “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game. It’s the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me.”

I echo the same thought; it’s a hard decision, but it’s the right decision. Thus, that’s where I’m at, stuck for thirty-five years. In truth, I have not lived the way I wanted to live. The decision to choose a treatment or not to choose treatment isn’t easy. My body is tired, and I’m tired. Eventually, technology loses – the body wins. The body always wins. Pain has devoured my body, my mind, and my soul.

All of us, at some time or another, will be at a similar crossroad. At some point, one will have to prioritize their health or personal well-being rather than the good of a team or a company. We have to learn to invest in ourselves.

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