Thursday 4 April 2019

Dealing with Pain

Back in those terrifyingly warm days in February, I asked for your advice regarding pain remedies and what you found to work in your own pain management.

I was cheating preparing for a talk on pain management from the ‘customer’ angle and suspected that there was a lot I didn’t know. The talk was to take place in March as part of the 2019 Yorkshire Cancer Research conference: Let’s Talk About Cancer.

I say, ‘was’. Alas, due – thankfully – to nothing to do with cancer, but the return of Ménières disease which I thought I’d booted into touch in those heady days of my thirties, I had to cancel my talk. The disease isn’t very pleasant but isn’t life threatening and I find the unpredictably of the attacks of vertigo and sickness it brings, as painful as the attacks themselves because I am forced to become unreliable. I can’t commit to public events knowing that I might be crawling along the floor, or sitting bolt upright staring at the wall with a bowl under my chin, when an audience is waiting for me to speak - or worse, as I'm speaking. Can you imagine!
The good news is that the very lovely, understanding people at Yorkshire Cancer Research (YCR) quickly managed to fill my slot and I have heard from many sources that the conference was a massive success.

Meanwhile, I thought the least I could do would be to cobble together the responses you kind people had bothered to send via the blog, FaceBook and Twitter and post them here. Some I’d forgotten about, and others were new to me, so I hope that this might serve as useful resource if you sadly find yourself in need of something bigger and more enduring than a paracetamol – not that I’m dissing the lonely paracetamol, you understand, paracetamol has saved the day for me on many occasions. I have to say this because I have this slightly disturbing imagination which throws my mind headlong into the family medical box and sees a box of paracetamol sombre, rejected and wondering why on earth it bothers.

I know, it’s a worry.

Before we really start, I’d like to add a note of positivity for anybody with the misfortune to have been recently diagnosed with Menieres disease. It isn’t curable (although does tend to peter out, hopefully never to return) but is often treatable. I am now on a fairly innocuous medication that hasn’t stopped the attacks but has made them much less severe and less frequent. I’m hoping that with continued tweaking I will have enough control over the disease going forward to return to normal life including full attendance at public and social gatherings 😊

And this means that I secretly hope that I will manage to attend the next YCR conference and be able to babble on about pain management without incident, not least because I’d already prepared the talk before I’d cancelled – typical!

Obviously the below isn’t an exhaustive list (and please do let me know your additions) but it is the word - summarised or as a direct quote - from the ground, from the coal face, of making pain slightly easier to bear. Even though there is a bias towards cancer in the responses, much will be relevant whatever the cause of discomfort.

Acupuncture: for mental well-being, aches and pains and hot sweats, and other complementary and alternative therapies.

Distractions: anything with friends and family; colouring, crafting, reading and writing (for mild pain – I knew it was bad when I couldn’t blot out the pain well enough to read or write) and oh, so many other hobbies.

Endorphins: warm, soapy baths (lots of people mentioned hot baths!); Epsom salt baths (with the added bonus of nice, soft skin afterwards) singing and playing instruments; walking, running, swimming and other (gentle) exercising; just being outside - preferably in the sun; dancing on the spot to alleviate restless legs (but it also made me laugh); being active.

Heat pads and hot compresses to soothe sore and tired limbs and muscles, can also help with restless legs.

Infrared sauna: ‘it’s like a sauna that you sit in, but there is no heat. You are baked in infrared light. It heats the blood rather than the skin and improves circulation.'

Mindfulness, meditation and other cognitive therapies.

Reflexology: for general aches and pains and mental well-being.

Reiki: ‘as a Reiki therapist, I’ve helped treat many people undergoing cancer treatments. On a superficial level, it helps to calm their minds from what is such an emotional part of their lives, but does also provide (on many occasions) pain relief as well.’

Soft Toothbrush (!): this had to go in as my pitifully sore mouth is a strong memory of my chemo days. For the ulcers there are stronger topical medicines available on prescription so do visit your doctor, and if the idea of navigating the sores as you clean your teeth is terrifying, try a really soft toothbrush soaked first in hot water. 

Stretching: particularly after Aqua Fit, a hot bath and general exercise.

Steroid cream: for pain in the veins. Also, please note: ‘…I went back to good old fashioned nature - pure aromatherapy lavender oil and hot compresses- working a treat- I'd say take the drugs for sure but don't forget about the healing powers of nature and a good old fashioned positive mental attitude.’

One last thought on pain management.
As a daughter of a nurse, I knew that I’d have to collapse in a heap on the floor and be unable to answer what day of the week it was before I’d be granted a day off school sick. I think this is why I spent my early adulthood with the box of paracetamol – there I go again – being out of date before I opened it, and drinking my body weight in water before I’d even approach the medical box.

But since cancer and a few operations over the years, I've had to retrain my psyche on this. I've had it explained that pain stresses the body with the result that it doesn't function and thus recover as quickly as it might if it were in less pain. I’ve decided that alongside natural boosts of our endorphins, medicines can be our friend and some of the medications to combat the side effects of cancer treatments can be the best buddy ever. Whatever your strategy: medicine, holistic, alternative or a combination, be kind to yourself and use it! Life is too short to stoically suffer in silence...

I wish you a happy and pain-free or pain-eased week 😙

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