Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chronic Pain Rears Its Ugly Head

Sand, meet ostrich.

Yep, I can be an ostrich when it comes to my husband’s chronic pain.

Dinner in Rome
Before I go any further, though, let me be clear about a few things:

1.       I love my husband;
2.       I had a fantastic vacation of a lifetime (of which I hope there are many more!);
3.       Husband (also known as Richard) has given his permission for me to discuss this;
4.       I’m going to be brutally open and honest;

I usually write about caring for Robert or about epilepsy or being a working caregiver.  Occasionally, I’ve mentioned Richard’s chronic pain. 

When we married fifteen years ago, we combined his daughter and son and my daughter into one unified family and the back pain came along for the ride.  Between surgeries, treatments, medications (some hits, some horrific misses), it has been a part of everything.

Almost from the get-go, Richard had to stop working, we filed bankruptcy, medication misses kept him from driving for a while (a real challenge with three active kids!) and, of course, he was in constant pain.

The intrathecal pump installed several years ago, in combination with prescription painkillers, has been a life-saver.  We are back on our feet financially, Richard is able to drive again and while his pain is constant it is more manageable.  We have settled into a routine where he knows when he pushes himself he allows himself a few days to recover. I’ve learned not to nag him about what he should or should not do (okay, okay, I said I’d be open and honest: I still occasionally shake my head at him when he’s doing something he shouldn’t). 

Coping with this for so many years and developing routines has allowed me to almost forget how we have made so many adjustments in our day to day life in order to manage his pain and keep it at a minimum.

I can be such an ostrich but it is a comforting place to be sometimes.

However, it was also my downfall on our Most Wonderful Vacation Ever (enjoy the gratuitous vacation photo). J

While I was madly preparing for our vacation by making sure Robert was well cared for and my absence from work was covered, preparation for a long, overseas trip with someone who has relentless, unforgiving, chronic pain consisted of a passing thought of “if Richard is tired or in pain, he will rest.”

Worst. Idea. Ever.

Some things we would do differently next time:

1.       Do not have three legs to an already long flight.  There were too many times we rushed to catch our next flight and too many opportunities for luggage to be lost.  Which it was.

2.       Ask for assistance!  We both thought running (or walking very fast) to the next gate was acceptable.  It isn’t.  Richard was already in pain from a long flight and one of us (probably me since I wasn’t in extreme pain and theoretically should have been thinking clearly), should have just asked the flight attendant to arrange to have a cart or wheelchair pick us up upon landing or sucked it up and made arrangements to make the next flight.  Oh, the benefit of hindsight!

3.       We will never, ever put Richard’s pain medication in our checked luggage.  Richard’s bag was lost for two full days once we made it into Rome and his minimal extra medication he had with him had already been taken to help alleviate the pain from the close to 24 hour flight.  The decision to put the medication in the checked bag was made innocently enough (Richard’s pump delays him through security already and he didn’t want additional delays because of medication).  Next time: it’s going in our carry-on just like my shoes did (you don’t think I’d risk losing my shoes, do you?).

A few things we did right (most, by accident):

1.       Since we were with our two daughters and one of their boyfriend’s, it was actually more economical to book a private tour at various destinations than if we had a group tour through the cruise ship (our vacation was both on land and by cruise).  This worked out because when Richard is in pain he is cranky, irritable, and not pleasant to be around and awful in crowds.  It was best we did the private tours since seeing the inside of an Italian jail for assault was not on our bucket list this trip.

2.       We relaxed.  Yes, there was the usual sight-seeing and rush to pack in as many activities as possible but there was also a lot of time to relax by drinking cappuccinos and enjoying gelato and the occasional daily glass of wine.  It took us several days of being told by Italians to “just relax” to realize how high-strung us Californian’s really are (who knew?).

3.       Richard took breaks.  Not as often as I think he should have but I have to give him credit that he at least did take breaks.  Our visit to Cannes (yes! That’s where the famous film festival is held!), was particularly difficult for him.  The kids were exploring the beaches ahead of us and Richard finally had to stop and sit.  We left the kids (I use that term loosely since they’re in their early twenties) to explore the beautiful seaside town and Richard and I took a more leisurely pace in our exploits.

Now that we’ve been back for a week or two, I can clearly see what we should have done differently to make Richard’s pain more manageable.  Of course, in the throes of his pain and the lashing out verbally at the nearest person (usually me), I was ready to never go on vacation again.  At least, not together. 

However, I really think with more preparation, more built-in relaxation times and a little less lost luggage, we can manage the pain better.  Whether we are traveling or going about our daily lives, unforeseen crap is going to happen.  The reality is that being in pain makes it extremely difficult to deal with that extra crap.  A person with chronic pain has zero extra reserves to deal with anything except their pain. 

As with so much in caregiving, preparation is critical. I won’t stick my head in the sand again, though, by being delusional and thinking the next time we travel will be all roses and sunshine and butterflies.  Both us of will have to prepare more and hope that Richard’s pain management will benefit from that preparation.

I’d love to write more about chronic pain in order to help others dealing with it.  If you have a story about chronic pain and how to manage it, please share in the comment section here. 

In the meantime, I need to test my theory about preparation helping with the pain and start planning our next Most Amazing Vacation Ever.



Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing
my husband of 35 years and I had long planned a retirement full of wandering the US & the world
his herniated disks have left him with chronic pain, not well controlled by meds, and your advice is quite useful

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

I'm sorry to hear about your husband's pain. It's so disappointing when life takes a turn like that and your plans are delayed. I hope he can find some pain relief - is he seeing a pain specialist? Have they suggested any other treatment plans (aside from meds)?