Monday, March 22, 2010

Back Pain and "Health Care Reform"

I have been a bad blogger lately, but at least I have something of an excuse for the past week or so-- that excuse being we've had company to entertain us-- Thorbjörn and Jocke visiting from Sweden-- and I've been struck (since last Saturday evening) with a bout of mysterious back pain.

(Note:  I probably ought to warn you right away that this isn't likely to be a happy or interesting post.  I'm up late with more of the same pain, and I don't really have anything fun to write about.  This is mostly a "venting" entry and a way to remember a few specifics in case the need to remember them should ever arise.  Once I'm feeling better, I'll try to write something other than a grumble.  Really.  My tender, delicate feelings will not be hurt-- at all-- if you choose to skip this.  In fact, I recommend it.  (g)  Again, really.)

The only reasons I can think of for the pain are one of these:

1)  Saturday, I spent a lot of time standing around and sitting at tables.  When I sit at tables, I probably tend to not have the best posture. . . and maybe somehow that triggered something.  (?)

2)  Possibly during cleaning on Tuesday and Wednesday I strained my back somehow.  I know that it sometimes takes a day or so for pain to begin after a strain, but how likely it is to take three or four days, I'm not sure. . .

3)  Something else that completely slips my mind-- possibly something that I'd never expect to cause back pain.  Or I was just a ticking time bomb of back pain waiting to go off at the worst possible moment.  ;o)

I feel like a little of a sissy-baby for making such a big deal about it, but it's just so frustrating.  I've probably been lucky, but for years and years, I practically never took pain pills, and in more recent years, when I have started taking them for the occasional headache or abdominal cramp, they've tended to work.  Sometimes they work better than others, but I can usually tell a difference, at least, even if I find I need to take the bigger recommended dose.  This time, though, nothing I've taken seems to reliably put a dent in the pain.  (Unless I'm simply a very poor judge of it. . .)

(For future reference:)
The pain tends to sneak up on me in the middle of the evening (though tonight it came earlier).  By the time I'm ready to think about sleep, it's bad enough that I feel that sleep is impossible, so I end up sitting up most (if not all) of the night, possibly able to drift off to sleep on the couch at 2 to 3 a.m. When I wake, the pain is noticeably lessened-- sometimes no longer even perceptible.  I can usually go through the rest of the day (sometimes with some naps to make up for missed sleep) without any recurrence of the pain.  There may be an occasional light "don't forget me yet" twinge or numbness in the general area, but that's about it.

Saturday and Sunday night were two bad nights in a row.  (I think Sunday wasn't as bad, though.)  Monday, I was able to go to sleep at a normal hour, but on Tuesday night, the pain returned.  For the rest of the week, there seemed to be a pattern of a good night followed by a bad night.  (So, as far as I can recall, Wed. = good, Thurs. = bad, Fri. = good, Sat. = bad.)  Until tonight, since I'm "enjoying" my second bad night in a row.  (Which is what happened last weekend, too, whatever that means, if anything. . .)

I should probably try to describe the pain itself, if I'm writing this complain-a-thon under the pretense of keeping a record for future reference, but I'm bad at describing pain. . .  I'll try anyway.

The pain starts out focused in mostly the middle back (maybe lower middle?), more on the right side than the left.  As it progresses (when it progresses), it seems to gradually spread to the sides and front-- pretty much the same area, only on my front as well as my back.  I'm pretty sure this is just a sign that I'm tensing or putting extra stress on other muscles as a result of the back pain, since it seems only to happen after the back pain has been around a little while.  The lower and upper back can sometimes hurt a little, too, but all this other pain tends to fade earlier in the night than the middle-back pain, and it all seems to originate with that middle-back pain, more to the right side than the left. 

When the pain is at its worst, I feel a little queasy, but I'm almost positive this is just a reaction to the pain itself, not a symptom of whatever's causing the pain.  I've never "been sick" from it-- just felt unsettled, like a mild case of indigestion. 

. . .What else?
As for what kind of pain it is. . . I don't know how to describe it.  It can be fairly sharp at the worst times, but mostly it's not generally at that jabby, "take your breath away" level, just steady, persistent discomfort-- enough to keep me from getting to sleep at a normal hour. 

I've tried a few types of pain killers (ibuprofen, Advil, Tylenol), including some with sleep aids.  The first "good" night after this all started, I had taken some type of generic Tylenol PM as a precautionary measure, so I thought I'd found my miracle drug.  Oops-- not so fast.  I eventually learned that it doesn't seem to make a big difference.  Some nights I took it, I'd sleep fine.  Other nights, I'd never get to sleep until 2 or 3.  Instead, I'd just be groggier as I sat up with the pain.

(Ah, the Pain.  My nightly companion.  Many's the time I'd look at my [nonexistent] watch and op' my mouth with every intention of saying, "Well, look at the time!  I guess I'd better be going off to bed now.  And you!  You must be exhausted after all that work!" only to find myself instantly hushed up.  "No sleep for you yet, silly girl.  Oh, no.  I have other plans for you. . ."  . . .Sorry.  I blame the lack of sleep.)

Heating pad-- sometimes it seems to help, sometimes it just makes me feel like my trunk is burning while my hands and feet are freezing, which makes me feel really queasy and "Ohmygoshwhat'swrongwithme?!"-ish.

Stretching-- It feels at the worst times like if I could just stretch hard/far enough, it might feel better, but it really doesn't seem to make much immediate difference.  

Massage-- Seemed to help for a little while, one time-- but only very temporarily.  The next time, it didn't really seem to make even a temporary difference, maybe because I was in the worst part of the pain the second time, so it was harder to relax.

Tonight, upon some advice from others who have experience with back pain, I tried lying for a while (probably about 45 minutes one of the times) with my back flat on the floor and my legs up (in the seat of a chair).  The idea is that this position takes all the stress off your back.  (Or is it just the lower back?)  Both times, it was not comfortable at first, but gradually became somewhat better.  The pain never went away entirely (not sure if it was even "supposed" to, or if it just gives your back muscles a break), and I didn't notice any marked improvement once I got up again.  It may be that this is meant to make more of a difference over the long term.

I can't tell if this pain is muscle-based or if it's caused by some sort of issue with nerves, but I lean toward muscle-based.  (This is probably immediately obvious to people with more anatomical/pain management knowledge than I have.)

The biggest thing that helps is time, I guess.  Sitting up and waiting, trying to find a decently comfortable position and just doing something to take my mind off it.  Crocheting & listening to music, for instance, or complaining about my lamentable situation on "the Twitter".  Writing long, detailed, and excruciatingly boring medical entries in my blog seems to work, too.  I mean, yes, the pain's still there (Don't panic, my friend.  I feel you, loud and clear.  Calm yourself!), but it's much less. . . well, painful now than it was an hour or however long ago it was when I gave up hope of falling straight asleep and came out here instead.  I might even be able to go to sleep soon, if I try.  (For some reason, I think it's easier for me to fall asleep on the couch than in bed, with this back pain.  I don't know why.  Maybe it's all psychological. . . Anyway, it does seem easier to drift off through a little remnant of pain when I'm in this room.)

In short (ha ha ha, I'm hiLARious), if I had experienced this pain for one night-- maybe even two nights-- I would have been uncomfortable, but would have just shrugged my shoulders and been grateful when it was over.  When it comes and goes for a week, I start getting more anxious and irritated.  I begin to make mental lists of what I might be willing to do to get the pain to just - go - away.  (Forever.)  I find myself wondering how much longer it will stay-- and what I did to trigger it in the first place.  (And how I can arrange to NEVER, EVER do that again, so long as I may live.)

I also question how bad this pain really is, comparatively speaking.  Do I have a low threshold for pain?  I'd always hoped and even been told once or twice that the opposite was true.  After all, I took only half of one of the prescribed pain pills the dentist gave me after removing-- cutting out, in spots-- my wisdom teeth.  And the women at the orthodontist's office were so impressed by my ability to bite those metal bands into place.  (No, seriously.  They seemed quite impressed.  Maybe they were just surprised I could bite so hard? (g))  Then there was the pain associated with having braces in general.  It definitely hurt, sometimes, but I don't recall taking pain killers.  Somehow it was just manageable without anything.  (Or maybe my terror of swallowing pills had something to do with that. (g)  Hm. . .)  In any case, now I wonder about that. . . Maybe I just have (had?) a high tolerance for mouth-related pain.  Or maybe my threshold has lowered with (ever-increasing) age.  It's troubling.  One of those things you don't often think about until Pain comes around to pay a call and keeps you up at night. 

(And then I also can't help but think of people facing horrible diseases and syndromes and infections.  You wonder how much pain they might be in, all the time, and feel guilty for whining about what you have every reason to hope and believe will be a temporary discomfort.  . . . Of course, it's easier to do that when the worst of your own pain has faded a little. . .)

Anyway, enough on that subject.

In other news, "health care reform" passed tonight.  I have heard so many horribly discouraging things about this bill and where it may take us that that might be enough to keep me up at night even without this back pain.  I'm infuriated, I'm discouraged, I'm. . . frightened-- fearful of what this might mean for myself, my family and the whole country.  I feel powerless.  I cast my vote in 2008, and it didn't do any good.  I'll be voting again, every chance I get, to try to reverse some of what I see as damaging policies, but so many people (who are so much better informed than I am on these issues) seem to think that reversal will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible-- and unless more of my fellow voters have woken up by the next election, I don't have faith that my vote will be of any use whatsoever.  This is why I probably shouldn't follow politics.  (It depresses me.)  This is also why it is so important that more everyday, common-sense Americans do follow politics!  If more had paid attention and acted in previous elections, we might be in a better position today.

I guess there's not much to do now but pray (or keep praying), pay attention (even if it gives heartburn), and wait for November. . . and try not to lash out at those voters who have contributed to the tearing down of our country (brick by brick-- or in this case, wall by wall), because so many of them seem to be clueless as to what they're doing, and it's wrong (not to mention fruitless) to be unkind to dumb animals.  ;oP

The End.