by Wendy Keller, former journalist, current mom and entrepreneur
I’ve had a little health issue lately that’s causing daily pain. It reminds me of the three plus years after the car accident. First flat on my back for months, finally working my way up through a wheelchair to a walker with wheels. I got pregnant with my daughter when I was still on a walker! I worked up to just crutches and a terrible limp during the pregnancy. I was in extreme pain until one more corrective surgery when she was nearly 2 years old.
The person I was before that last operation was exhausted, grouchy, touchy, weepy, angry, tired and ornery. The dawn after the surgery, I awoke, yanked out my IV, got myself dressed and walked out of the hospital to wait on a bench outside until my husband picked me up! The nurses never even noticed me escape at 6 AM! Much later, my doctor called and asked where I’d gone to – he warned me I had just had major surgery and I’d be in excruciating pain when the morphine wore off. Ha ha! When the morphine finally DID wear off, I was in less pain than I had been all the years preceding that surgery!
I tell you that not to make my story into the focus, but to tell you that I get it. I’ve BEEN the person in chronic pain and I’ve LIVED with a person in chronic pain (my former husband). Here’s what is known for certain about chronic pain: Pain distorts personality.
If you’re caring for someone in pain:
You can’t be who you are at your best when your body is hurting badly. If you’re a caretaker for someone who is hurting, you probably already see how it distorts the mind and behavior of the person you love (to say nothing of the effects of any medication!) Here’s what you can do as a caretaker: Take great care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually, no matter the cost. Find a friend to sit with the sufferer for a few hours while you go lay in the grass in the park or get your nails done or something. It’s an exhausting job! And also, set limits. Misbehaving, rude, grouchy people in chronic pain CAN modify their behavior and be slightly less misbehaving, rude and grouchy. Get right back in their face and tell them it is unacceptable. Don’t let guilt or false pity or the suffering person’s manipulations work on your mind. You have the right to be treated compassionately, as much as the person who is suffering.
If you’re the one in pain:
Here’s a news flash: people are pussy-footing around you to try to not make your situation any worse. The least we can do is try to be pleasant to them. Some people in pain get tyrannical. Don’t. Some people in pain become martyrs. Don’t. As much as you can, try to be a reasonable, kind, agreeable person to be around. Even if you’re flat on your back! As my mom says, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” If you’re dependent on others, be as nice as you can to your caretakers – paid and unpaid – and anyone who is good enough to visit you.
The other thing I’ve seen people who are in chronic pain do is give up. I know several physical therapists who say many patients just don’t do their exercises in between sessions and they wait for something magical to happen so they feel better. For gosh sakes, medicine has come a long way since they stuck leeches and pomanders of herbs on sick people! Do what they tell you! It may hurt more in the short term, but if it’s good for you, it’s going to give you more benefit in the long run. They talked about amputating my dead left leg for a while. Then after about a month of excruciating PT sessions, I got pins and needles for about three weeks straight, 24 hours a day. But you know what? At the end of it, the nerves in my leg came back to life. Even if you’re depressed (and most people in chronic physical pain fight depression hourly) do the exercises and whatever else they tell you. You don’t want to live like this forever, do you? Maybe it can get only 10% better, but that’s better than it is now. Give yourself a shot. You got nothing to lose!
I know personally being in constant pain is an incredible drain on you in every way. I truly hope you feel better one day, and maybe can even get back to being your “old self” if that’s in your cards. In the meantime, be nice to yourself and those around you. Give yourself a time out from people if you need to, so you can deal with them graciously when you let them back into your space. Let yourself cry or scream over your pain – expressing emotion about how helpless you feel is healthy. No matter how bad things are, there’s always a smidgen of something in your power to make it a little bit easier. Do it!
Here’s hoping these simple tips help you have a better day tomorrow.
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