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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Debilitation of Chronic Pain

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The most intense physical pain I have ever known came following my cancer surgery five years ago. The operation was huge and it was followed by an endless series of infections that debilitated me for six weeks. Since then I have developed a new sensitivity for, appreciation of, and empathy with those who suffer pain chronically.

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Before my surgery, the hospital conducted a complete bone scan and I learned that I had the beginnings of arthritis in my right foot. It did not bother me so I forgot about it until four years later when suddenly, my foot began to ache intensely. I walk four miles at a time four or five times weekly at a fairly strong pace, and I first assumed that the pain was the consequence of getting older and over-use of my foot.

My foot hurt, however, not only while I was walking. I could be sitting still, driving my car, or sleeping soundly when suddenly, without warning, I would feel a sharp pain in my foot as if someone was sticking needles in it.

The pain came and went at first, and soon it was there all the time. My wife kept telling me to call a doctor.

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I didn’t, and tried treating it with Tylenol; didn’t help. Advil; didn’t help either. Aleve; it helped a little. I used three kinds of creams that promised to reduce inflammation; one or two helped temporarily. I soaked my foot nightly in warm Epson salt baths; it sort of helped reduce the swelling.

I took my shoe off whenever I could, in my office, at meetings, in movie theaters, in restaurants, in the car, and at home to relieve the pressure.

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At last, I called a doctor. She took X-rays of both my right and left feet because the left also was sore now and again. The X-ray showed that I had no cartilage left between my big toe and the connecting bone and that I had two bone spurs as well in my right foot, and the beginnings of arthritis in my left, similar to what the X-ray showed in the other foot five years ago. The only treatment possibilities were shots of cortisone to give me with each treatment three to six months of relief, or surgery to fuse the bone and remove the spurs.

I took the shot, and within hours I felt dramatically better. I know that surgery is in my future.

Chronic pain is a debilitating experience, and my heart goes out to everyone who so suffers. What I learned from this experience is how negative the impact of chronic pain is upon us physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. It impacts our mood, memory, and overall quality of life. The negative emotions can make the pain feel worse and stimulate an onset of depression. It can diminish our job performance, lower our motivation to exercise, cause us to eat more, and gain weight. It can affect how we manage our household and finances, whether we are able to run errands, and take care properly of our children and pets.

Chronic pain affects our relationships. It can impact our sexuality and the frequency of emotional intimacy with family and friends. It makes us feel more vulnerable to anger, resentment, irritation, impatience, and hard-heartedness. It exhausts us and leaves us without  pleasure.

If you are chronically in pain or someone dear to you is suffering, I advise that you get professional help. First, see a doctor and learn what you can do medically and/or behaviorally to help yourself.

Meditation, therapeutic massage, and positive thinking are proven to lower stress, reduce anxiety and depression, and help us to feel less victimized, less demoralized and more hopeful.

Do not try and bear up under the pain alone. There are people who can help you.

I wish I had acted earlier as I now realize how much wasted time and energy I expended unsuccessfully trying to help myself.

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