It started off as a twinge, and then, the Wednesday night before last, all hell broke loose. I didn’t know that teeth could cause that kind of pain. I took the extra strength generic ibuprofen that I had in the house, but it didn’t make a dent in it. I cried. I called a friend to distract me. I called my dentist the next morning, but he couldn’t see me until Monday.
I lasted until Saturday night before I went to the ER looking for meds. They gave me *lovely sigh* something with codeine in it. Which worked wonderfully, but made me feel like I was going to have a seizure every time I took it. My conversation with my dental hygienist on Monday, however, shows how much I value good pain relief:
Me: The codeine that they they gave me at the hospital makes me feel like I'm going to have a seizure, so I've been a bit unsteady.
Jessica: Seizure! No more codeine for you! He'll write you a prescription for something without codeine for you.
Me: (Pause) But the codeine works *so* well...
My dentist established that I need a root canal and prescribed me something called Naproxen (which doesn't work as well as the stuff with codeine in it, but I've survived). But all of this has made me think about how I would have handled my health issues if I’d had to deal with pain on top of everything.
So What if There *Had* Been Pain?The first stroke, the one that I had in British Columbia, came with a terrible headache, and pain that started in my neck and moved down my body. The initial pain was definitely the worst in my head that I'd ever experienced, and the worst generally that I could remember. It took two weeks before both kinds of pain completely went away. Apart from that, and some severe headaches right after the brain surgery (which one would expect), I haven’t experienced any pain. Sometimes one of plusses of stroke is that you don't experience pain. I fell on my left hand two years ago, went to the hospital for X-rays a couple of days later because my thumb hurt, and found out that I'd broken my little finger and didn't realize it
(As you can imagine, having that little sensation in a finger or limb can also be very dangerous. I've heard horror stories about people with very little sensation in their affected hand or limb setting it down on a hot burner, or cutting it badly, and not realizing it until some other signal of skin damage made it obvious. Because people are less aware of a side that's been affected by stroke, they tend to "neglect" it, or not pay attention to things like where a limb ends up resting.)
But I digress. My stokes didn't inherently cause any long-term pain, and I didn't realize until much later that I'd dodged a bullet. A young man named Martin showed me how much worse it could have been.
Post-Stroke PainMartin was also a stroke survivor. Just a bit older than me, he'd had a stroke after being in a terrible car accident. Among many other health issues unrelated to the stroke, he had something called “post-stroke pain”, or “neurogenic pain”. The brain damage caused by his particular stroke caused his brain to feel pain when there was nothing there to cause it. He didn't talk about it much, but he once told me that it was excruciating. His mother told me later his post-stroke pain felt like his fingernails were being ripped out for several hours a day, every day.
I don’t know how I would deal with that now. I certainly don’t know how I would have dealt with it as I was earlier stages in recovery.
Counting My BlessingsI know for sure that I would have found it much, much more difficult to stay positive and to get on with the work of recovery if I’d been dealing with any sort of chronic physical pain. Emotional pain – I can work around that (well, up to a point, but it’s got to be pretty intense before it interferes with my functioning). It's been my experience that physical pain gets much more in-your-face much more quickly, and I’ve got no end of admiration for people who seem to thrive in spite of it.
I know that I couldn’t do it.
So I count my blessings. A lot of people out there have got it a lot worse than I ever did.
For more information about post-stroke pain: http://www.emiliemcmahon.ca/englishmrp.html