Better Living Through Chemistry

6 09 2010

A few years ago, I made a remarkably simple (and stupid) mistake, and it cost me a career and left me in constant pain. The Navy was nice enough to give me severance pay, but they couldn’t justify keeping a sailor who can barely walk. If you can’t go to sea, you can’t stay in the Big Blue Machine.

I still work for the Navy as a civilian, but my entire life was turned upside down by a moment’s inattention to detail. I used to be fairly fit (for a sailor). I ran every day, worked out in the gym, practiced one or two martial arts, and generally had an abundance of good health as a result. I can do none of those things any more, and my general health has suffered for it. All the muscle mass I had turned into mush, and now I look like a potato.

Then there is the pain. If you go to a doctor’s office, they usually have a little chart on the wall to help you describe what level of pain you are feeling. A normal person should be at zero (on a scale of zero to ten). “Normal”, for me, is between four and five. Every day. Every night. Any activity beyond a short walk usually sends me up into the seven-to-eight range. Some of my work requires that I spend a considerable time on my feet. I plan my work routine to cover as much territory as possible in the shortest amount of time (a comedian once said, “If you want to know the easiest way to get somewhere, ask a cripple- they know ALL the shortcuts“), then grit my teeth and get the job done. I also tend to use large quantities of pharmaceuticals to keep the pain to a more-or-less manageable level.

I hate drugs. Always have. Being in the service only reinforced this opinion, since Navy Medicine generally consists of band-aids and “vitamin M” (Motrin™). Ibuprofen, the active chemical in several brand-name pain relievers (including Motrin™), does a fair job on aches and pains, but tends to tear up your stomach in large doses (the military routinely hands out “vitamin M” in 800 mg doses- to the point where it’s called “Ranger Candy” by the Army). There are also significant side effects from long-term use- including damage to the liver and kidneys. The problem is, ibuprofen works best when there’s a reasonably consistent level of the drug in your bloodstream all the time, so there are a lot of ex-military people out there with damaged livers and kidneys from long-term ibuprofen use.

Ibuprofen doesn’t work very well for me, so I’m kind of stuck with more potent meds. Did I mention I dislike drugs? I truly loathe narcotics. Narcotics like codeine often reduce the pain to tolerable levels, but they make me dumb as a post. Worse, the dumb-as-a-post effect outlasts the pain relief by at least a factor of three. I’ll get four to six hours of surcease from pain, at the cost of blithering idiocy for a couple of days. This can cause some problems at work, where only sheer force of will keeps me from expressing my heartfelt disgust with stupidity. If I’m in dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks mode, the vitriol tends to spill forth unbidden. Since I work in a customer-service-intensive field, this causes extra work for my boss and co-worker- neither of whom deserve it.

In between ibuprofen and narcotics are a few drugs which take a notch or two off the pain, but generally leave me more-or-less coherent and mostly in control of my faculties. They all tend to make me sleepy, so I try not to take them at work. After a particularly arduous day, I often take one just before I leave for home. The soporific effect doesn’t kick in until I’m safely at home, and pain level will be slowly reducing through the course of my drive to the point where I can manage to get into the house without terrifying neighborhood children with my facial expressions. I cannot take them constantly, but these drugs do make it possible for me to have a reasonable facsimile of a normal existence.

Then there is beer. I never used to be a big fan of beer, although I had a few favorites. My tastes ran more to single-malt scotch. I discovered by accident that a favorite beer of mine had a marvelous pain relieving effect. This apparent analgesic effect required further study, so I experimented. I found that several beers and ales did wonders for relieving my pain, but far too many of those tasted like malted battery acid. If I couldn’t stand to drink them, they wouldn’t do me much good. I was left with a handful of beers and ales which were both good-tasting and worked well as painkillers. let me assure all and sundry that I am talking about drinking a single beer, and getting the same analgesic effect as one of the make-me-sleepy painkillers. Getting blotto would probably help with the pain, but I’d be back in dim-as-five-feet-up-a-pig’s-ass territory, and I hate that.

Believe it or not, my beloved wife approves of this means of pain control. She frequently tells me to stop at the store and pick up a couple of bottles. She can’t stand the stuff, but likes the fact that it keeps my pain manageable. I can’t believe I married someone with such good judgement. Better still, the cat likes it, too. She loves drinking the foam and the corks make wonderful cat toys.

So, despite my infirmities, I have managed to scratch out a rude approximation of a normal life. I eagerly await the invention of a painkiller with no side effects, but in the meantime, I will make do with the combinations of chemicals and lifestyle changes which I have developed over the past few years.

Current status: Bored

Current music: The High Road by Broken Bells



3 responses

6 09 2010

With chronic pain I’ve never heard anything that really helps universally and doesn’t have side effects, or builds up tolerance (like opiate based medicines) that can cause issues down the road, but…

After reading the post I don’t see mention that you’ve tried (or have available) medicinal pot (not an opiate). There are reports that it (in very small, sub “stoned” doses, assuming you can take it like a pill not like smoking it) can help with certain types of chronic pain.

I’ve also heard that vitamin B12 shots (these can be self administered?) can help relieve pain (and are not narcotics).

Anyway, there are a *lot* of options when it comes to pain management, and if your doctor(s) just keep upping dosages and don’t seem to be getting too “creative”, try to find someone that is willing to try to find a drug/combination of drugs that will mediate the pain as best as possible. This search might take years of trial and error, but hopefully you can come across what works for you. Even with some of the more “out there” treatments (acupuncture is still pretty far “out there” in the West) you won’t know until you try them if it will help.

I wish you the best of luck.

6 09 2010

bredstik: Thanks for the input.

I’m afraid pot is out of the question, since I work for the Navy. I’m not sure medicinal marijuana is even available here in the Shallow South. If it does become available- and I qualify- I would much more interested in pill form than in anything I have to smoke.

I haven’t tried acupuncture yet, either, but I’m getting there.

I do take large doses of B12 in pill form, and that does help slightly. Sadly, all the literature seems to indicate that most of it is wasted- your system just washes it out before it has a chance to take effect.

Most of the doctors just seem content to prescribe codeine derivatives in ever-larger doses, despite my complete lack of interest or desire. The Navy has no problem with me taking codeine, oddly enough.

Thanks again for the advice, and thanks for reading.

21 03 2011
Mexico 66 Lauta

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