In a rare moment the other morning I experienced something which I seldom do anymore at age 63. For but a few moments I was out of physical pain and I felt fully rested. I’m not sure exactly what all came together in this brief reprieve from aches and soreness, but something let the endorphin dogs out. I’ve not felt anything like this for years, even decades.
Through the miracle of pharmaceuticals, a prescription sleeping pill allowed me to sleep soundly for nearly 8 hours the night before. Yet by mid-morning, having done nothing more physically exhaustive than my usual early morning 30-minute walk, I felt so sleepy that I could hardly keep my eyes open. So I went in, laid down in bed and rested for about an hour.
As I started to rouse from that nap I became aware of how fully energized and remarkably pain-free I was feeling. It was as if some fairy-godmother who has been listening from afar about my physical complaints all these years finally decided to grant me a single wish and allowed me to experience something I haven’t since I was a healthy teenager.
I endure pain to some degree 24-7. Nothing incapacitating but none-the-less aggravating and discomforting. There’s the constant ringing in my ears from tinnitus. An annoyance that is most pronounced in the quite hours when your body wants to rest or sleep. Joint pain is becoming more pronounced in the ankles, wrist and shoulders and deteriorating discs in the spinal column in my lower back and at the nape of my neck is perhaps the most agonizing.
And then there’s the headaches. Since I turned 40 I have become familiar with what migraine headaches are all about. True, debilitative migraines have been few and far a part thank God, but their pestering, milder side kicks remain on an almost daily basis. I hate to sound like a company spokesman but the only sure non-prescription pain reliever that battles this pain for me has been Excedrin.
A product recall back in January of this year pulled Excedrin from the shelves of stores with no notice of what was at issue or when the pain relief product would return. Initially I panicked, but fortunately my local CVS pharmacy stocked a generic substitute. I have since learned that Novartis, the global corporation that owns manufacturing rights issued a massive recall of Excedrin, No-Doz, Bufferin, and other products. It appears that there were complaints of chipped and broken pills and quality control issues at the packaging line resulting in mixed tablets. The good news for people like me is that the problem has been resolved and the stores should be stocking my pain relief antidote by October of this year.
Though the Excedrin has served my headache pain needs, it has a big drawback to it that effects my ability to sleep. The ingredients of Excedrin are aspirin, acetamenophin and caffeine. Yes, caffeine. The chemical we all pursue in the early morning to give us a lift. Fortunately (if such a thing can be seen as good fortune) my headaches occur in the morning rather than at night before I go to bed. Unfortunately, the headaches can begin too early, like 1am or 2am, and thus I am up the rest of the night time after taking this pain killer. Sadly too, frequent use of aspirin is believed to contribute to tinnitus. The need to relieve one ailment is a likely causal factor in creating two others.
Here’s my dilemma today. Since forced into retirement back in October 2009, I no longer fall asleep easily from working all day. In the past my mind was always running a marathon but my exhausted body was often able to overcome bothering thoughts that might keep me awake. Today that’s not true. Other than my morning walk I am seldom doing physical things, spending much of my time instead reading or writing material for my blog.
With physical exhaustion no longer a factor, I have a multitude of thoughts that are constantly competing for my attention that simply won’t allow me to doze off and remain asleep for the required 6-8 hours specialists say we need to re-energize our bodies and minds. I have to drug myself every other night with a prescription-strength sleeping pill to avoid the mental distractions along with the multiple pains I mentioned above in order to get at least one full night of restorative sleep. Those other nights will have me awake until midnight or later only to finally doze off soundly about 3 or 4am. I discipline myself to not take a sleeping pill every night to prevent a possible addiction to them.
The affect all of this has on an aging body with some atrophied muscles and excessive weight leaves one longing for those days when we thought we would live forever. Kids today, as they did in my time and every other generation before, never think of losing their good health because, well, for the most part, it is something they have plenty of. Pain is short-lived because the younger body heals itself quicker when accidents occur. As we age though, bones, muscles and connective tissue deteriorate, allowing pain to become a by-product of this degeneration. Pain pills offer only temporary relief and can lead to addiction if a dependency develops as our pain threshold increases.
I have resolved that pain is something I am going to have to endure until I die. I’ll continue to stay as physically active as I can but I have succumbed to the adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks so starting any substantial exercise regime is unappealing. I paid the price years ago for thinking I was invincible and avoided taking better care of my body.
Too much booze, some illicit drugs when I was younger, partying too late, eating and drinking junk food and spending too much time in front of the boob tube have taken their toll on me. So fair warning for those young enough who may be reading this and thinking you have plenty of time to change from this type of lifestyle. Your body is capable of repairing itself to normal levels only so long. Once you go past the point of no return – usually by your late twenties – you will fight an up hill battle for the rest of your life to stave off the pain that comes with age. And if you expect there to be some miracle treatment or pill to overcome the inevitable, be prepared to have the best (and most costly) insurance in the world or a healthy savings account to offset the expense that such treatments or pills will cost. But I have learned that such hopes are mere wishful thinking; one which keeps pharmaceutical companies and health organizations in constant pursuit of fulfilling the perennial human desire to live healthier, longer lives.
I think too that there will be few people who want to live beyond 80, 90 or 100 because life’s gifts and surprises have pretty much been revealed by then and everything after that is redundant. I think Solomon, the alleged wisest man of his time got it right centuries ago when, late in his life, he noted that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Nope, for me it’s “let’s get past this one” and see if indeed there is something on the other side of human existence. I am not an overly religious person but I do like to believe that death is only a transitional stage to an ongoing life of some form. It would be nice though that if at the next level, we find ourselves absent of much if not all of the pain that comes from living too long.