Learning About Pain

Most of us probably think we get more pain as we age. I feel we get stiffer, but I am not convinced we have more pain necessarily. Living in this nursing home for so long has allowed me time to study myself in different pain situations. Since I am not able to move very much on my own, I have learned to deal with a certain amount of discomfort. I can still feel everything so I know when I am hurting. But I am good at ignoring it when I have something to do.

My eye-opening pain tale occurred during the first two years I was here. One morning I had a headache. Before breakfast I thought it was a hunger headache but afterwards I decided I needed something for it. I put my call light on and asked the aide if she would have the nurse bring two acetaminophen. Then I went back to working on the computer. Two hours later the headache was gone. I was glad that the acetaminophen did the trick. Then a few minutes later I remembered I had not taken any medicine. For whatever reason, the nurse had not brought them. She gave me a surprised look on her next round when I laughed about how well the pills she did not give me helped. That is when I learned that pain is a control issue. I sought a solution for a headache, trusted that medicine would arrive soon, and the pain went away. I also use prayer, meditation, or positive thinking to relax.

I have noticed that many new residents are very anxious about their medicine. Many were probably comfortable with their medication routine at home. When they come here, they are no longer in charge of their medicines and their routine changes. Most get upset when meds are late or when other residents with greater needs take precedence over them. Then the resident’s anxiety can escalate beyond their ability to cope. We are all taught patience but practicing it in a nursing home environment is difficult.

I think diversion and activity are very important to each resident regardless of their level of function. When I go out for a day, I seldom have a headache. I also feel better and more upbeat when I have a visitor. My parents taught me that doing something, no matter how I felt, usually resulted in me feeling better. That philosophy serves me well.

A friend recently suggested that I should write about cabin fever. Winter is difficult for my friends with fibromyalgia. One takes medication and still says life is painful. Another has a hot tub and uses it religiously. I think a hot tub would be great anytime, but most especially so if you have chronic pain. If we use the law of physics, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” We can find a way to deal with pain, anxiety, and restlessness.

We need to get away from what we are doing and do something different. In the throes of an Ohio January that can be difficult. A recent e-mail on Ohio’s winter’s put it so correctly. One day it is 60, the next 40, and the next 10. We never know quite what to expect.

I started paying attention to pains that go away. I injured my sciatic nerve in my 20s. After that I was not able to sit very long in one position without moving. It was difficult when I came here because my left leg fell asleep and became numb. Through the years it worsened. I have blamed it on everything from the mattresses, to my weight, to my wheelchair cushion. I am sure all of them had some blame in the whole thing.

I was just about at my wit’s end. I made sure I was positioned correctly. I learned to do isometrics and deep breathing exercises to take my mind off of it. My left leg hurt worse when I sat in bed in the late afternoon watching TV. I had the aides make sure that my bed clothes were not wrinkled under me. Lumps in bed sheets may not sound that dire but they are if you cannot move. Recently my hip stopped hurting as much. I cannot cite one particular thing as the cause. But I am very grateful that it eased up. I continue to make sure that nothing is bunched up under me in bed. Maybe I made someone aware who had not been before and that little extra bit of carefulness helped my pain.

I try very hard not to say negative things after I awaken in the morning. I have found it makes the rest of my day worse. No matter how badly I feel, as long as I do not say it out loud, I have a better day. I also do not tell others if I think they look ill. I just try to keep an eye on them and see how they behave.

My family believed that tea and sympathy were beneficial. A cup of tea or hot cocoa allows us to concentrate on something more positive. We need to remember what makes us feel good and try to re-create those feelings. Music is one thing that elevates my mood and takes my mind off myself. Environment can affect pain positively or negatively. Though some facilities are developing spa elements, it would be better if we could all learn how to think ourselves there on our own.

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