Thursday, August 9, 2012

Being acutely ill while chronically in pain

Me holding a black & grey cat perched on my shoulder.
Me & a friend's cat Mao
The beginning of this week I had a rough 36 hours of life.  I'm usually someone that doesn't get sick very often (something I'm thankful for because of my congenital health problems), but when I do I'm usually really sick.

I was starting to feel a bit under the weather on Sunday night with some vision issues and a headache that was creeping up.  I managed to get it pushed back for a while with some strong coffee and water at my favorite Irish pub with friends that evening, so I didn't think much of it until I had trouble sleeping that night.  I was also becoming increasingly unable to deal with light & noise, and by 6am I thought I had an alien trying to break out of my skull through my left eye (the eye I have functional vision in).  I'd been laying on the couch with an ice pack on my forehead hoping this bugger would subside, partially because the position my head was tolerating was causing my spine to protest loudly.  I was in a tug-of-war with my own nerves.

By 8am, I was delusional from pain, nausea, and sleep deprivation and thought that I could try to go to work even though I could barely manage to get my teeth brushed.  My SO woke up when my second alarm went off, noticed that I was in agony, and told me that I needed to call in sick to work.  I started crying, partially because I hate calling in, partially because that would leave my boss alone all day, and partially because the necessary movements to make a phone call were all excruciating.  I finally manage to send an email to my boss on my cell phone because the small amount of light hurt less than calling then conversing.

Fast forward to Monday evening and I was finally feeling well enough to talk to my SO.  I find out that I've had a migraine.  It's not my first, but it's the first one that I've recognized as such.  I had a migraine on top of some pretty bad spine pain.  I think the worst part of the whole experience was honestly the nausea as I wasn't able to take any pain medication to either get the migraine or the spine pain knocked down to something more manageable.  I felt completely powerless, completely attacked by my own physiology, and I was completely bed-ridden (well, couch-ridden as the living room is the darkest room in my home).

This was one of those times where pain scales can be completely useless for folks with chronic pain.  I have a friend that has chronic intractable migraines on top of other health concerns.  Another friend has had issues with cluster headaches.  I've had discussions with them and all sort of other people about how pain scales really do not properly represent the global impact that chronic pain has on a person.  The usual doctor's office pain scale is damn near useless with its stupid smiley-to-frowny faces (pro tip: some days the more I'm smiling, the worse I am).  Some scales, like the Kip Scale (thanks to my friend Mir for showing me this scale) do a better job of inserting one's ability to cope at a moment in time.  Even the wordy scales like the Comparative Pain Scale can't capture the whole picture.  If you're going to saddle me with a chart, I may start bringing this chart from Hyperbole and a Half as these seem to be the best "I'm in pain" stick figures I've ever seen.

Pardon the pain-scale rant/tangent.  I'm glad that the nausea passed to I could actually get fluids, food, & medication in my body.  I'm glad that I was able to go back to work (although office lighting the day after a migraine is definitely not happiness).  It was a very scary place to be in though, mainly because of my complete inability to do anything about any of the pain, whether the acute migraine or the chronic spine malarkey.

Thank goodness this happened before the start of the semester, and thank goodness this happened before my vacation to GenCon!

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