Pain, Pain, Go Away

Photo by Camila Quintero Franco on Unsplash


I am about to try something that I have never tried before. I am about to attempt to write a post while floating painfully around my ceiling in a haze of opioid medication.

I apologize in advance. For the typos, misspellings, random words, and trailing thoughts. I apologize for the lines that will seem completely pointless to you but will have me thinking of myself as both witty and articulate.

Why am I doing this?

Well, obviously, because I am feeling the effects of the medication. I do NOT like this feeling. At all. In fact, I have spent the past 4 days drinking as much water as possible to flush my system and have used nothing other than acetaminophen and ice to manage the discomfort. I thought I was a very rugged old soul, strong and able to manage pain. Thought I was being a good patient and all that. Yay, me.

But I was sent home a week ago on a high dose of a steroid called dexamethasone, which was prescribed to control the inevitable swelling that happens after neurosurgeons dig around in a person’s brain matter for half a day. I knew that the medication was helping to keep my symptoms (ie, pain) under control. In fact, last week before my discharge I met with my nice neurosurgeon, whom I shall henceforth refer to as “Doctor Understatement.” I told him just how great I was feeling, and he cautioned me.

“Remember that once you’re off the steroids, you might get a headache.”

A headache.

A headache?!

I have had headaches my whole life. I brushed him off. I am Nonni. I ain’t afraid of no headache.

Sure, my head, and most of the rest of me, was uncomfortable all week. But it wasn’t interfering with anything. I was fine. All was well until around noon yesterday when the pounding and aching started up in earnest. Ice. Heat. Acetominophen. Repeat. The pain kept slowly creeping up. Stretch, walk, deep breaths, ice, heat, acetaminophen.

It kept on creeping, bit by bit, a little stronger with time.

I tried to sleep last night, but couldn’t find any way to be comfortable. By midnight, I felt terrible.

You see, a regular old headache is that bad pain on the inside of your skull. You feel like your brain is swollen and throbbing. Like a stubbed toe. I had that. I had a LOT of that pain.

A more unusual headache is the pain that you get after the outside of your skull has experienced some kind of trauma or accident. I had that, too. I had a TON of that pain.

And then there is tinnitus, also known as ringing, buzzing, whizzing, fizzing, roaring sounds in a person’s head that aren’t really there. I had a boatload of that shit going on.

I lay there for a while with my stubbed brain throbbing, wondering why my sleeping husband sounded like an entire Roman army marching across the rocks. My stitches itched and pinched. My bonks throbbed. Every eyeblink hurt and every heartbeat sounded like a distant bomb going off.

So I got up and made a bagel. I ate it sitting up in bed, with an ice pack on my neck and a lavendar hot pack on my eyes.

By 1AM, I gave in. I took the stupid little pill. I curled up like a shriveled worm and slowly drifted off into pounding, hissing, dinging achy sleep for about 4 hours.

So what is my point?

(Wait. Give me a minute.)

Oh. Right.

My point is this: when you have a way out of a tough situation, for goodness sake, take it. I should never have let the pain get that bad. Instead of staying ahead of it, I wanted to be some sort of warrior woman and I put myself through a lot of unpleasantness that I didn’t have to go through.

My point is that even in the most deserving of times, too many of us (me, I mean) continue to judge ourselves and to put pressure on ourselves. Nobody cared if I took my medicine. It was only me and Paul in that bedroom. I don’t know what I was hoping to prove to myself.

So this morning, after I finally pried open my sticky eyes and took a hot shower with peppermint soap to wake me up, I was determined to stay ahead of things. I sat outside, had a good breakfast, walked around the house, stretched. I felt the pain coming back. So of course, I went to my routine: ice, heat, acetaminophen. A couple of hours later, it was rising again like a tide. What a strange sensation. I should have immediately taken that pill, but I hesitated.

I reached out to my support team, Paul, and our kids. I asked for advice. And you know what they said, more or less?

“What the hell are you waiting for? You do not need to spend all day with a stubbed, traumatized, buzzing skull. Take the pill.”

I listened. I took it.

Well. I thought this was going to be funny. Lesson learned. Sometimes the post simply writes itself.

My Get Rich Scheme


I spend a lot of time at home now that I’m retired.  And for a fair amount of that time, I’m lounging in my recliner with a sleeping baby on my chest.

Which means, of course, that I watch way too much daytime TV.

This can be bad.  Especially on days with marathons of “Houston Animal Cops” or “Haunted Amish”.

But sometimes watching endless hours of TV can be inspirational, too.

For example, I think I have finally found my Get Rich Scheme.

I am going to invent and market some kind of medicine!

I’ve figured out the whole medical marketing thing, and let me tell you, it is pretty damn predictable.

Step 1: Identify some kind of physical ailment.  It can be anything from chronic diarrhea to heart disease to a fading libido.

Step 2: Give that ailment a name that you can immediately turn into an acronym or a set of catchy initials.  Have you noticed this trend on the medicine ads?  “I have IBS; ED; Low T; OBS; DNV”    I don’t know when sickness became the Alphabet Game, but its part of the pattern, so I’m gonna use it.

Step 3: Come up with a drug to treat the ailment. (OK, this part might be hard, but I’m a good cook, and vodka seems like a cure all to me. I can do this!)

Step 4: Name the drug.  You MUST create a name that sounds both encouraging and serious.  The name should definitely include at least one of these letters: x, z, j.   Even better if you can include more than one. (Right? Zyprexa, Xarelto, Xeljanz).  These names inspire confidence in the patient! “Wow, my doctor must be a genius if she can pronounce that name…….”

Step 5: Film your commercial.  You must film it someplace that looks like Pleasantville USA, with wide tree lined streets, impeccable homes and manicured lawns.  There should be children on bikes, smiling and lifting their sweet faces to the gentle breezes.  Your main focus should be on your patient, who has to be an attractive, vibrant middle aged man or woman with perfect teeth and just enough smiley wrinkles to look convincing.  This person has to move in slow motion through Pleasantville, smiling, eating, going to the park, kayaking, dancing or doing yoga very very gracefully.  You must include a voice-over in which your patient refers to the disease as “MY CSR” or “MY OBS”.

I am not at all sure why these beautiful slow motion patients all seem to have such loving relationships with their diseases, but they do.  They all use the pronoun “my” as if the disease is a dear dear friend who has become a very part of their soul.

Personally, I refer to my illnesses as “the goddamn fibromyalgia”  or “the f’in arthritis”. I do NOT want to make them any more comfortable in my body than they already are. They are not welcome. They are not “mine”.

But I digress.

Now that I have laid out the five steps to fame and fortune, its time to brainstorm a bit. I’ll be right back.


Eureka!  I’ve got it!

The commercial opens with a tall, slender, middle aged woman looking into the distance. Close up on her face. Her blue eyes are warm and gentle.  There are a few small crinkle lines near her eyes.  She brushes back her chin length hair, and hooks it over one ear. Her hair is thick and shiny, a dark blonde delicately laced with silver.

As the camera pulls back, we see that the woman is looking into a gorgeous flower garden, where all kinds of things are in bloom at the same time, even though in real life, they would all appear in different months.  The woman is holding a pretty straw hat in one hand and a rake in the other.

A rich alto voice begins to speak as we watch the woman moving in slow motion around the fantastic garden.

“Before my AOA, I used to garden all day from dawn to dusk. But when I started to experience fatigue, pain and an overwhelming desire to lie down and pull a blanket over my face, I lost my will to prune.

Luckily, my doctor diagnosed my symptoms as an acute case of Achy Old Ass, or AOA.  He prescribed Jazubax, and now I am back to drowning slugs in beer.”

We see the woman laughing in slow motion and elegantly placing the straw hat on her lovely head.

A man’s voice comes on next. “If you are one of the millions of Americans who is living with AOA, ask your doctor of Jazubax is right for you.”

Close up on the woman, leaning in to smell a rose.

“Thanks to Jazubax, I haven’t napped in weeks.”

The image fades and the same man’s voice comes in, speaking at a rate that would put Alvin and the Chipmunks to shame.

“Jazubax is not intended for use by those who have arrhythmia, nervous tics or anxiety. Side effects may include rapid heart rate, increased rate of speech, a compulsion to clean under the bathroom sink at 2 AM or sudden heart attack.  Do not use Jazubax if you are allergic to caffeine, Red Bull or vodka shots.”


I think I’m onto something.  If you don’t believe me, just watch a little daytime TV.

Payoff time.

I have had a rough few weeks, I have to be honest.

My class of fifth graders this year is very, very challenging.  It isn’t that they are defiant or badly behaved.  It isn’t that. It’s that they are incredibly needy, and every one of them spends all day pulling on my heart, my patience, my courage, my loving support. When I finally get to four o’clock, I am way past drained and exhausted.

Then there is the fact that my daughter and her fiance have moved in with us for a few weeks.  She is my beloved girl, my darling, my pride and joy, the sweet, tangy macintosh apple of my eye. He is calm, and funny and smart and gentle. He loves her to pieces.  And its great to watch.

Still, we have gone from one adult couple in the house to two.  It has been fun and challenging and interesting and stressful and rewarding and hard.  The fridge has different foods, the basement exercise room has become a home office, the garage has gone from finally-a-little-bit-organized to every-inch-is-packed-full. People are walking around the house at 1AM, and we are just not used to it anymore!

But worst of all, I pulled a muscle in the middle of my upper back last week.  I have no idea how it happened, but it may have been when I lugged a 20 pound curriculum box upstairs to my classroom. Or it may have been when I carried 15 pounds of professional development books and 24 science notebooks home in my workbag.  It could have happened as I tried to do the last weeding chores of the season, or when I was walking 175 pounds worth of big dogs.

Who knows.

All I can tell you is that I woke up last Saturday morning with a sharp pain just below my left shoulder blade. It hurt to breathe deeply, it hurt to raise my arm, and in the ultimate bizarre symptom category: It really, really hurt to burp.

I waited a few days, sure that it would just go way,  but the pain got worse and began to radiate from my shoulder blade to my rib cage and up into my left arm.  It was painful to brush my teeth, to drive, to reach into the fridge.  And I still couldn’t burp without feeling that knife blade between my ribs.

Finally, after two nights of tossing, turning and moaning in my sleep, I followed Paul’s advice and went to see my doctor.

Visions of medical disaster were dancing in my head the whole day before the appointment.  What if I had a blood clot in my lung???!!!  What if it was a blocked coronary artery???!?  A cracked rib?!? A TUMOR, for God’s sake!!!  Every indrawn breath brought a new twinge and a new surge of panic.

I burped more that day than I had in the past month.  And they all hurt.  A lot.

Finally, I was there in front of the doctor, johnny robe open in the back.  He poked, he prodded, and the pain surged like a bolt of lightning to my waistline and right around to my left hip.  He nodded his head, murmured, and sent me for some X Rays. By the time I had lain on the ice cold metal table  and returned to my doctor’s office, I was throbbing from waist to shoulder.

I sat in front of the doctor, waiting for the verdict.

He clicked some keys on his computer, looked up and said, “It looks like a muscle strain.  You should take ibuprofin and use this arthritis cream.” I felt relieved, but I waited for what else he’d have to say.

“You also need to apply moist heat for at least an hour a day.”

Moist heat?  What, like really hot water?

“OK”, I said, like the good patient that I am, “We, um, we have a hot tub…..?”

“Perfect!”, declared the best doctor ever. “You need to get in there at least twice a day, and really soak that sore muscle.”

Well, OhKay then!

It isn’t my heart. I don’t have a blood clot, or a broken bone, or a blocked artery.  All I have is the world’s best excuse to lay back, close my eyes and let those little jets work their magic.

I like to think of this prescription as the payoff for my slightly difficult last month.

You should be so lucky!

Trying to be thankful

Dentist with PatientI recently read an article in a woman’s magazine about fostering a more positive attitude.  I was sitting in a clammy waiting room before a  doctor’s appointment when I found the magazine, so I needed the little boost of positivity.  I’m pretty sure that I was gritting my teeth and tapping my foot by the time I turned to the story.

Anyway, the writer talked about having an “attitude of gratitude” and how you should really make it a point to write down three things, every single day, that made you feel grateful. It could be anything, she wrote, anything from a delicious sandwich for lunch to a negative cancer test.  The point was just to open yourself up to the little things in life for which we really should feel grateful, instead of always focusing on the negative.

It struck a chord with me, for sure! Lately I have found myself becoming somewhat mired in the world of negativity, and it seemed like a relatively easy way to pull myself back up into a happier mindset.

So I started a little journal.  Some days are really easy: “The sunrise was absolutely spectacular this morning as I headed into work.  A glorious column of gold and orange rising into the slate blue of the morning sky.”  (I was feeling very literary that particular day).  Or something more prosaic, like this: “Both boys sent me messages today to tell me that they love me.”  Yeah.  Easy!

But yesterday I had a root canal. The whole gratitude thing wasn’t quite so easy yesterday.

First of all, I had a bad reaction to the local anesthesia given before the procedure, so the whole thing took almost 4 hours.  (And this was only visit number one out of three.)

I wasn’t sure I would be able to find my gratitude when I finally got home.

The thing is, I knew before I went in to the office that I have a history of bad reactions to too much novocaine.  The nice endodontist explained to me that local anesthesia contains a high percentage of epinephrine, which no doubt explains my racing heart, sweaty hands and shaking muscles after only one shot.  For a root canal, I had to have four shots in my jaw.  I was shaking so badly after that last one that I looked like a marrionette.  My cell phone rang at one point, while I was waiting for the last shot to take effect; I pulled it out, but my hands were shaking so violently that I couldn’t manage to complete a text message. All I got was ‘blblkkkk’ before I finally gave up and put it back in my pocket. Man, was I ever reacting!!

Speed will never be my drug of choice…..

The doc finally realized that he would have to use a different local anesthetic around the tooth whose canal was being rooted, telling me somewhat curtly that “it might wear off before we are done.”

Say, WHAT? The anesthesia might WEAR OFF?

The fear that followed that comment only added to my tremors, and by the time he was ready to begin the big dig, I was vibrating like a guitar string.

He put my chair back to get me in the proper position.  And by “back”, I mean that my feet were in the air, my head was two inches above the floor, and my hands were engaged in a death grip on the arm rests. Where they shook and vibrated at about 1000 cycles a second.  Sort of in time with the drill that was boring a hole in my skull.  I closed my eyes and tried to breathe deep as my thighs and calves shook and shivered.  What a weird sensation!  I couldn’t tell if I was freezing, scared to death or having a drug reaction.  Or all of the above.

If you have ever had a root canal, you will no doubt be familiar with the “rubber dam”.  This is a device that is designed to isolate the tooth being treated, to make it easier on the doctor who is drilling within a centimeter of your brain.  (For obvious reasons, you don’t want to complain about anything while this drilling is going on.)

In my case, the rubber dam was somewhat disconcerting.  It smelled like a latex balloon, and it stretched so tightly over my entire mouth that I felt like I couldn’t take in a good breath.  This is because….well….because there was a big old piece of rubber over my airway. I actually couldn’t take in a good breath. To make matters worse, that little spit sucking hook thingy was wedged in the corner of my mouth, right under the rubber. I had to concentrate to keep my tongue from being sucked right out into oblivion.

I tried hard to relax, really. I did!  I began to engage in a series of mental exercises designed to distract myself from the shakes, the freezing, the upside down position, the rubber dam covering my entire mouth and the drill digging into my cranium.  I pictured my students, one by one, seeing each sweet face in my mind’s eye. I thought about the births of my babies (OK, now THAT was pain, right? This is nothing!).  I tried to envision my best beach day ever.  I counted backwards from a thousand. I dreamed up new recipes including vodka and limes.

It was all going great for the first couple of hours. Especially if by “great” you mean that I didn’t actually shiver my way out of the dentist chair and onto the floor on my head.  I didn’t feel too much discomfort other than the sensation that my jaw was being dislocated and my right eye was bulging out of its socket.  I kept telling myself, “You’re fine!  This is nothing!  You’re fine….!”

And I was more or less fine.  Until for some reason the doctor decided to readjust the rubber dam.  I don’t know what he actually did because I couldn’t focus on the green piece of latex that was pulled like a drum skin over my lips, which were mashed beyond recognition against my teeth.  I just know that I felt a little stretch and then heard a deep, resonating “twang”! and the rubber was pulled even more tightly over my open mouth.

“OK.  No worries”, I told myself. “It’s cool”.

Then I swallowed.

Instantly, something inside my mouth, some structure or other (tongue? palate? tonsils? what the HELL?) was sucked up to the roof of my mouth where it started to helplessly flap up and down a mile a minute.  I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t stop the suction.

“Brrrrlllllppp!” I pulled with every tongue muscle I possessed, and I managed to unglue whatever the hell it was.  Oh, sweet sassy molassy, I can breathe again!!

The next hour was spent like this: “Don’t swallow, don’t swallow…oh, crap, I feel tooth chips in my throat, I gotta swallow….Brrrrlllllppppp!!”  And I’d wrench whatever it was back down and the whole process would start again.

Breathe.  Swallow. Brrrrlllllpppppp!!!

Breathe.  Swallow. Brrrrlllllpppppp!!!

After the fourth or fifth time it happened, I just couldn’t help myself. I started to laugh.  Head down, mouth open, shaking like a freakin’ leaf, I just started to laugh.  Which made my stomach lurch. Which made the doctor jump a mile and ask, “Are you going to be sick?!” with absolute horror in his voice.

Which made me laugh some more. Brrrllllllpppppp!!!

“Guh, nuh, huhuhuhuh!”  That was me trying to explain my hysteria through a rubber dam, with a spit sucking hook in my mouth.  The more I tried to restrain myself, the more I wanted to laugh. And the more I tried to hold in that laughter, the more my legs shook. Which, of course, made me laugh.

Luckily for me, the doctor in question has an amazing sense of focus. He never wavered as he bored holes in my jaw bone, dug out the canals and jammed a bunch of packing peanuts into the empty spaces. I managed to keep on breathing and to restrain the giggles and the swallows long enough for him to finish the job.

Unfortunately, the procedure lasted a bit longer than the anesthesia, so the last twenty minutes were way less fun than eating a frosted brownie, but what the hell.

At least on the way home I found my three reasons to be grateful.

1) I didn’t inhale the rubber dam and block my lungs forever

2) I managed to dig my nails into the arm rests, so I didn’t slide out of that damn chair

3) You just have to be grateful for a good belly laugh, no matter how inconveniently timed.