On Pain – Listen Up Kiddos

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”    A reflection of one enduring the ongoing pain that develops from aging?

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.

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15 responses to “On Pain – Listen Up Kiddos

  1. It’s funny. I watch the difference in my mom and mother-in-law. My mother-in-law sadly is almost an invalid and her mind is fading too. One year younger at age 80 is my mom, who exercised each day and lived a healthier lifestyle and she still works out 3 x a week and jumps up and down her stairs as if she were 16. Aches and pains, yes she has them, but I do see how lifestyle definitely plays an important role. As for the migraines, I can commiserate. I took Imitrex for years but that made my blood pressure escalate, so I tried Excedrin which helped but not like Imitrex. I am glad Excedrin is coming back on the market. I saw Bayer has a new migraine med out? And if they could come up with an anti-aging pill, I would support that research!

    • I had to take Imitrex a few times Donna when I was experiencing severe migraine symptoms, but they were not always effective and you could only use them sparingly because, as you noted, they can create heart problems. And without insurance coverage their costs are prohibitive for most of us.

  2. “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.”
    I expect that a significant amount of extra weight will add to the aches and pains of aging–I’m thinking of feet, in particular. But, as far as I know, there is no evidence that maintaining a constantly healthy diet and regular exercise precludes the general aches, pains, sleep problems, etc. that come with aging. I know some folks who were quite thin who have had knee transplants–too much exercise?

    • “But, as far as I know, there is no evidence that maintaining a constantly healthy diet and regular exercise precludes the general aches, pains, sleep problems, etc. that come with aging.”

      Like most things, one size doesn’t fit all. No doubt pain is simply a factor of aging but there have been studies that do indicate that by preventing excessive weight gain through proper diet and exercise some people can minimize and inhibit the onset of certain body aches and pains. An article on WebMD noted that “Maintaining an ideal weight or losing excess weight may help prevent osteoarthritis of the knees, hips, and back. Weight loss can also decrease OAs rate of progression once the disease is established.”

  3. LB- I have suffered from migraines for over 30 yrs….I offered up my kingdom for a cure. i have tried the traditional Western Medicine approach all the way to the far East of medicinal cures.
    These suckers were as annoying up to 4 times a month. I changed my diet, have exercised since birth, tried herbal remedies, acupuncture, cupping, massage, yoga, biofeedback, pain meds, I consume so much water that I float on a rainy day,.. I cut caffeine, tried crysanthimum drops from a witch doctor, a prescribed DHE injection from a neurologist, Imitrex nasal inhalent ( when insurance will cover), and finally a hysterectomy as suggested by my sister who suffered from the same affliction and is now headache free…..

    NOTHING WORKED…until I found Excedrin Migraine…

    I will tell you I was in an auto accident a yr ago, with neck issues, I refused any meds, went to physical therapy, which did nothing, except I noticed the ointment he used when massaging my neck called BIOFREEZE. A $10 tube. Was a miracle for me, plus I ingest daily vitamins of : C, Fish Oil, Resveritrol, and Hyaluronic Acid.

    You’ve seen my picture, I have had no work done(yet!)…….I turn 60 in January. ( You let that out……I’ll send someone after you…)

    i have had a history of a back injury & I empathize with you & your pain management..been there. Please keep up the mobility….increase your walk & water intake.
    (O.K. that’ll be fifty bucks for the consult….LOL)

    • I too would give my kingdom (what little there is of it) to find a cure all for the debilitating effects of migraines, when they occur. As I mentioned Charly they don’t happen often but when they do, they are whoppers.

      Last time it occurred I was at home working on a plumbing leak that went bad. My repair under the kitchen sink began to leak and threatened my new wood floors in the adjoining room. As I was outside trying to locate the shutoff valve (covered up by years of dirt) I was hit hard with a migraine. Even the Excedrin didn’t help with this one. I had to physically force myself to finish the repair to make sure it wouldn’t leak again but once I did I had to call my wife to come home and help me get to the hospital.

      By the time we got there I was almost rigid from the pain. I couldn’t open my eyes and didn’t want to move an inch for fear that either would elevate the pain. An hour later by the time the ER doctor was able to see me and evaluate a solution I was so tense that I could hardly speak. The pain killing shot he gave me took about 30 minutes to gradually kill the pain. There was a moment during all this that I thought I would die.

      I am sad to see that you have experienced so much worse so frequently. It’s good to know that the Excedrin works most of the time with you too. Thanks for the tip on the BioFreeze ointment. I’m assuming that’s it’s an otc drug. I’ll see if my local pharmacy has it or if I can get it on line.

      I am shocked you are turning 60. You don’t show it at all. But no one will ever know … except of course for the 20-30 people who will likely read this post today. Oh well. :-)

  4. Good post, Larry. I too have issues with pain but mine is from a fall I took after Katrina that shattered my leg in many places……that forced me into retirement….my problem is that the one drug that keeps me almost pain free is expensive and my insurance company will not let me take it because I will meet my co-pay in 2 months and they cannot have that…so I am having to take a drug that is less effective but cheaper….I wish I could find an over the counter drug that would let me do such exer4cises as walk, sit or sleep…..

  5. I’m doing so much better than I was a few years ago, in my late 50’s. Since moving here to NM, I walk 6 days a week for nearly an hour and swim twice a week. During the day, I’m moving a fair amount as well. I sleep better and my back issues seem better. I think the swimming has the best effect since it is easy on joints while exercising virtually all the muscles of the body. I would swim more but it gets a bit expensive with the gas and the fees. Not exorbitant, but enough that I don’t want to do it every day. If you can swim try it. I know a woman at the pool who said that she was nearly bent over from arthritis and now is much more supple–she does water aerobics like 5 days a week.

    But I agree with you that as a young woman, I knew I was not doing good things for my body and would pay for it. I am with mostly arthritis issues. But like I said, any exercise seems to help that a lot. I hope you find better maintenance from some of the comments!

    • I did swim for a while Sherry at a public pool that we paid $100 a year for services. Unfortunately there were too many other events going on and the pool was often crowded at the times most convenient for my wife and I to use. So, I quit going and started walking the 2 plus miles each day.

      Along with this I do eat healthier food that is not processed. These efforts have been able to stabilize my weight but I still can’t get it down to an ideal level. Not sure if my pain threshold would be any lower if I didn’t do all of this but I’d like to think so.

      Thanks for your input

  6. Pain is gonna be with us tiil the day we die. For sleep, I’d recommend Melatonin, which is a more natural sleep aid. Of course, moving to New Mexico may help as far a pain relievers are concerned :)

    • Sorry Hans. I’ve tried Melatonin and Valerian Root (god, that stuff stinks). “Nature’s way” just doesn’t seem to be picking up hitchhikers like me. New Mexico is still a possibility down the road.

  7. I know what you mean about the walking and weight. Mine has changed very little which was a disappointment. Still I feel better and my clothes fit better so maybe I”m converting fat to muscle. As to the pool, it cost $1.60 per visit for an hour. Usually it’s not too crowded in the morning. Still I’d rather go 3 times a week (we get passes for 3o visits for $48. But its about 10 miles to the pool and the gas gets expensive when I go to town 3 days a week instead of only twice. We shall see how it goes as we adjust our new lifestyle to our new income. If I can, I might go to 3 days. I find it helps me more than the walking. I have eliminated my shoulder and ankle arthritic pain so far.

  8. I can empathize with some of your pain issues. When in my mid-twenties I was diagnosed with migraines that were truly debilitating. I was given increasingly expensive medications, none of which helped. Five years or so later, following a move to the Southwest, I consulted my infant daughter’s new family practice dr. when I developed more severe debilitating problems than I had ever had. He knew immediately the problem which involved the eustachian tube middle ear function accounting for my vertigo, other symptoms and pain, also associated with low level (sometimes high level) middle ear infection — I have since concluded can sometimes be viral which may turn into bacterial.

    Dr. said he recognized my problem as a consequence of his Air Force medical experience during Cuban Missile Crisis and medical problems military men experienced with constant radar monitoring. Inexpensive meds and continued monitoring with my awareness has minimized my problems with this potentially recurring prob. — not all medical doctors understand (since I’ve had to change with moves through the years) despite my explanations, so I have to take responsibility myself pressing for resolution when the prob., fortunately, rarely surfaces — but nipping it in the bud early — doing whatever it takes to pressure Dr. or go to urgent care facilities.

    Years ago I coped with cervical disc neck pain for a time, but won’t go into that as it’s resolved. My recently deceased husband ultimately had 24/7 back pain — never fully getting relief despite pain meds, epidurals — was not a surgery candidate, though I know a man in his sixties who had become completely bent over, had surgery and has achieved considerable benefit. Husband placed on steroids for quite a few years which made his weight loss efforts negligible. He had to resort to sleeping pills which could impact memory. He was in mid-60’s to 70’s with problems gradually becoming more challenging. He wasn’t that much overweight, but had heart problems, ultimately respiratory issues (not on oxygen but had apnea, used C-Pap.)

    Absolutely, lose weight if at all possible, walk, find a way to resume swimming — all for future quality of life and life extension. Consider pain management intervention if you haven’t already so maybe you can get off sleeping pills. Explore, if you haven’t, relaxation ex., visualization techniques — one wife’s view who did not want to be a widow when she became one..

    • Thanks joared. I found your comments very informative.

      I wasn’t aware that sleeping p[ills could have negative consequences on memory. I’m glad I don’t use them every night but I’ll have to check with my physician to see what she thinks the risks are for my continued use of them every other night.

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