I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Living with pain

Smiling in spite of the pain
This picture was taken this past Thursday when I and sixteen Senior Trailblazers headed up to Skyline Divide, my second hike in one week. With only a day in between, for a total distance of 16-17 miles, I was hurting. My lower back was on fire with pain, and I almost decided not to go on the hike because of it.

This particular pain happens to me occasionally, and it's usually exacerbated by moving in a certain way that causes the sacroiliac (SI) joint to get inflamed. It's almost always in the right section of the sacrum that was damaged in my accident in 2000. As I sit here early on Sunday morning, I can feel the pain, but it's much, much better than it was earlier in the week. I remembered that the last time this happened to me, I wrote about it on my other blog. I was so happy to have found that a chiropractic adjustment would help with the pain. It was a year ago, and the funny thing is, I had forgotten about how much the adjustment helped until I read what I wrote.

The main thing I wanted to write about this morning is how much physical pain alters my experience of daily life. Giving birth to my son many long years ago, I experienced considerable pain and suffering, but I don't recall any of it. Every woman knows that we forget pain when the result is such a reward as our beloved infant. But what do we do with the inevitable pain and suffering that comes with age? Some of us move through it, and others simply get grumpy and crotchety. I had to make several pain-related decisions this past week.

The weather this week couldn't have been better, after a wet and unsettled day last Monday, so the Trailblazers had an extra hike on Tuesday instead. I didn't mention to anybody that my back was bothering me, because someone might suggest that I stay behind. I noticed that because of the trekking poles, I was able to relieve some of the discomfort by leaning rather heavily on them during the downhill sections. By the time we reached the car, I was in serious pain, not only in my back, but spasms were coming and going above my waist. As we drove to the pizza joint for food, I finally complained about the pain and was given some ibuprofen, which helped a great deal.

The next morning, Wednesday, I walked the usual half-mile to the bus stop to take my regular morning class, an hour-long aerobic session that always makes me feel better afterwards. I noticed I was having trouble walking normally and could have used a cane. I slowed down and adjusted my stride to keep my hip from seizing up. The pain in my lower back radiated down into my hip, and I was heading to an exercise class! What was I doing?

Not knowing how to do anything else, I went to class and worked out as usual, and you know what? I did feel better and was in much less pain than before. But we were intending to go on another hike the following day, and I was in a quandary. Any sensible person would not have gone but would have rested instead. But no, I was afraid to stay behind because my friends might have fun without me, and then I would be in a considerable amount of psychic, as well as physical, pain.

So I went on the hike in spite of myself. Again, I noticed that the uphill was not much problem, but the downhill! Ouch! At least it was a shorter hike, but my back pain was a constant companion the entire time. I know I shouldn't have gone, but I did notice that my back didn't bother me quite as much as it had earlier in the week. I also knew I was scheduled for a massage on Friday. I hobbled home on Thursday and climbed into bed very early.

I told my massage therapist about the situation and she spent a long time working those muscles surrounding the source of the pain, which have a tendency to tighten up. When I walked out of her office I felt better than I had in a week. Okay, I'm on the mend, I told myself, and now I need to make a decision about Saturday. I had told my friend Linny that I would join her in a skydiving day.

Well, you probably already know what decision I made: of COURSE I went skydiving yesterday! It was another beautiful day, and if I was in too much pain, I would just turn around and come home. But how would I know if I didn't at least try? I made four skydives in all and found that the only part that hurt at all was packing my chute. After the first jump and the resulting discomfort in packing, I hired a packer, a nice young woman named Katie, and she did the hard work for me. I could get used to this; instead of wrestling my parachute into the bag, I lounged around and chatted with my friends. And these were such good skydives and I had such an excellent time that I couldn't imagine having stayed home and missed the fun.

So here I am now, early Sunday morning, sitting in bed with my laptop as the sun comes up, another sunny day. Yes, I can feel the pain is still there, but I made the decision to live with it, move through it rather than let it dictate my activities. And these were all good activities, ones I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on.

I remember years ago when I got sick with Hepatitis A. I was really, really sick, and the doctor told me in no uncertain terms that I must not try to move through the pain and discomfort, because it would only cause me to end up with chronic hepatic failure. I was forced to lie around and allow my liver to heal. For ten weeks the only exercise I got was walking up eight stairs from my bedroom to the living room, once a day. I couldn't go to work, I couldn't do anything but read, nap and rest.

Our bodies are resilient, but listening to the right way to deal with our pain is completely individual. My stubbornness and unwillingness to miss out on the last week's activities was correct for me, for this week, but it's just not always the case. I hope I have the wisdom to know the difference when the time comes. Because it will come, again and again, as long as I'm alive and kicking.


June said...

I am nothing like you in that determination to forge onward, ever onward. I do, however, fear coddling myself and becoming ever less mobile. It's all a head game with me. I head out for my little bitty walks and tell myself over and over that I am doing this by CHOICE, that this is something I WANT to do, not something somebody's telling me I HAVE to do. I have a little contrary streak, y'see.

Rubye Jack said...

I think when we're in pain we need to listen to it but it seems our bodies know when too much will be such. I've only recently found that when my knee acts up that it helps immensely to take a walk. I think the exercise eases the swelling.

Crazy Life of a Writing Mom said...

I hope you're feeling so much better. Back pain is some of the worst pain I've ever experienced.

Have a great Sunday,

Sally Wessely said...

I hear what you are saying. It is the hardest thing I have ever had to learn how to do: pacing myself. Living with pain is not an easy thing to do, and it is not understood by those who don't have to do it.

I hope you go get an adjustment. They do help. I have the same problems at times; in fact, my hip pain is flared up at the moment. This is not a fun thing. I find adjustments, massage, Pilates, and rest help. You may want to mix up your exercise and do more Pilates and yoga to stretch those places that hurt. In the end, you may have to injections. I am a candidate for surgery, but I refuse to have it yet.

My husband had hep A. It leveled him for four months. There are some things that just must be given time and patience. Listen to your body.

Get better. Exercise. Rest. Don't push yourself.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I hope you feel better today. You know missing one hike so you could do many more wouldn't be such a bad trade off..but you are a big girl and can make up your own mind:)

Dee said...

Dear DJan, thanks for the link to the August posting of last year on your other blog. I'm glad for you that you've found a chiropractor who empathic and can truly help you. I'm relieved that you are feeling better today.

Before Meniere's I always ignored pain, expecting it to go away if I paid it no attention. But in the past six years, I've learned to truly pay attention to and honor my body. So now, mostly, I at least think to take some over-the-counter medication--like aspirin--when pain enters my life. Peace.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Yoga and Pilates help my SI joint, and ibuprofen seems to reduce inflammation of most muscles, joints, etc. I'm not nearly as active as you, and I take a day off if I'm really hurting, but I think you are wise to be as active as possible. Look how healthy and happy you are!

Bragger said...

I too am more likely to keep going through pain. I'm glad you have some options for alleviating (or at least ameliorating) it, like massage and chiropractic. I hope you continue to do all the things you enjoy so much.

Red said...

That's what you call sucking it up! You're right we have to listen to our bodies and know when to rest and when we can carry on. I think too many people lay off and in the end they lose.

Linda Reeder said...

I ended up walking 5.5 miles this morning, which is much more that I usually can do comfortably, but I was in a new area and had to go that far to get back to my car. Now I hurt. but I will get up in the morning and take a more moderate walk, because moving makes it better.
My hands hurt all of the time now - arthritis- so I just keep on doing what I do and try not to bump my bad joints.
You are right. We must learn how to deal with pain, because the alternative is not to age, and there's only one way to do that.

The Broad said...

First of all, DJan I must thank you for your support while I have been unable to go online the past 6 weeks or so. I really appreciate it and am so happy to be able to read your blog once again.

You have my great admiration for your ability to tackle and overcome pain. I am not nearly so brave as you -- as soon as my back plays up I head for the ibuprofen! I do feel fortunate that my problems are generally so manageable -- but I do have to be careful not to move in certain ways as then my back 'goes' and it's painful spasms for 24 to 36 hours. The more I walk, the better -- but it is important for me to 'pace' myself and to work up to greater levels of activity. When I've been in the States for a few weeks or France for a few months the problems are increased because I don't walk as much as when in the UK and living in a town centre where walking is an absoute must. I must say you are the most fantastic role model!

Friko said...

No way would I do what you did. It may have worked for you - I am glad it did, of course - but pain is the body's signal to you and your brain that something is wrong and needs fixing.

Of course, I am not talking about a bit of a headache or something else trivial, but real pain needs attention. If you know what it is, fine, deal with it in your own way; if you don't, get it looked at.

Sandi said...

I sure could relate to this "painful post"! I have been working through my pain for so long, but sometimes it does get me down. I've decided to keep walking my 2-3 miles every day, as it doesn't seem to make my knee pain any worse . . . no better either!

You are right in that it is a totally individual decision. It depends on the circumstances and our own experience whether we can push through the pain or not.

You know yourself very well, so pushing through was the right decision for you!

I wouldn't have hiked as many miles as you, but I haven't let my knee pain stop me from walking!

Trish said...

You're a true Sadge! Onward, onward...and pain, you can just take a back seat to what I want to do!

Stella Jones said...

Hmm I've had that back pain recently too, damn it! I lifted Dylan up to post a letter in the letter-box a few weeks ago and I've been in pain ever since - just as you described it. It is easing now, but it makes me mad because years ago I lifted children with no problem and now I just can't do it. So what's changed? I've got older. I hope you don't overdo it D-Jan. My doctor once told me that if something hurts, rest it and if it doesn't, excercise it and I think that's good advice.

Anonymous said...

Pain is your brain telling you something is wrong. You should see a doctor to find out what it is. David had excruciating pain in his back and when bed rest did not alleviate it, he underwent surgery. Pain-free after that. Now he has pain in his knees and hip and is undergoing treatment for that. It never ends, does it!

Rita said...

You know your body better than anyone else and are used to a lot of physical activity. I think you will know, or your body will decide in no uncertain terms--LOL!

I was used to pushing through the pain and was very good at using meditation and stretching techniques to loosen tight muscles, etc. I think that is the most frustrating thing about fibro for me--the more you do the more the pain will overwhelm you. There's no pushing through it. I tried and tried. And I'd end up incapacitated, crying in a blubbering heap of knife pain...sometimes having to crawl from room to room because I couldn't even stand anymore. I have learned to walk a pain tightrope as well as I can. I had to learn to listen very closely to what my body was telling me (bossy thing!).

Your body will let you know. You are tuned in to your body and know it so well and listen to it. I believe you will know. Just like you knew to hire somebody to deal with packing your parachute. You'll know how to adjust and adapt. :) :)

Nancy said...

You are one tough cookie! I often think about people in pain when they are grumpy or out of sorts. As for back pain - try Aleve. I talke one at night and one 12 hours later and it almost always takes away the pain. It is an anti-inflamatory.

CrazyCris said...

"I was afraid to stay behind because my friends might have fun without me" lol! That has pushed me into doing many things I hesitated on doing for one reason or another! But you sure are way more determined than I am! With back pain like that I would have skipped the second hike and tried and anti-inflamatory and muscle relaxant a couple of nights in a row hoping to be well for the weekend activities. You went ahead with EVERYTHING! Wow.