Enter the ‘painstorm’. Sigh.
If you have persistent pain this will probably be very familiar. After a while of living with pain – in spite of trying to do all the right things: moving well, eating and sleeping well, managing stress, day after day after day after day – sometimes the pain just breaks that magic threshold between ‘coping’ level and ‘not coping oh my god what’s happening?’ level.
For me this is how I define the difference between pain level 8 and pain level 9 on the 1-10 numerical pain rating scale. At level 8 I feel pretty miserable but I can function, albeit not nearly as well as I could normally, and battling nausea and dizziness. At level 9 it’s all over, red rover; time to throw away any concept of normal life and Assume Invalid Position.
Yesterday I hit pain level 8 at around 10 am. Any amount of standing, moving around, stretching, moderate exercise, heat, deep breathing, distraction and Panadeine would not shift it.
Sometimes I can manage this until the pain gets back down to its usual 5-6 again. Sometimes I can’t.
This is what happened yesterday. I had a physiotherapy appointment after work and by the time I got there pain levels hit 9. I nearly fainted in his office and then burst into tears. Not my finest moment.
Being a perfect professional, my physio was kind and sympathetic, gave me a wonderful, wonderful ultrasonic treatment (seriously, that machine could be responsible for world peace if we let it), and packed me off home with permission to take my finest painkillers and lie down with a hot water bottle.
You really know it’s serious when you get permission to lie down and clock out of the pain for a bit! Normally it’s the last thing medical types want you to do for chronic pain, and especially for back pain. It’s usually move-move-move, keep functioning normally, and decent painkillers are strongly discouraged. But this was an acute flare and frankly, I was walking into walls by that point.
The physio referred to it as a ‘painstorm’. Best description I’ve ever heard. It’s when your whole central nervous system becomes overloaded from too much pain, for too long. It felt like I was in shock: everything happening in slow motion, and my vision dark and far-away.
A quiet evening followed, and an early night – which was pointless because I couldn’t get to sleep. In spite of bone-crushing exhaustion (or most likely, because of it), my nerve pain flared up and I spent the night lying in the dark with a neck pain that defied my best painkillers, and my skin crawling, fluttering, zinging, prickling, buzzing, itching, occasionally going numb – all punctuated by those blasted pinpricks that hurt enough to make me jump and curse.
And that’s how I’ve ended up writing this at home instead of being at work. I’m taking today and half of tomorrow off. I had a minor panic attack last night thinking of my work, which I love, and how I was letting my colleagues down. Today after a talk with my wonderful supervisor I can accept that work just doesn’t happen when you are dizzy, sour of stomach, fatigued and with pain that keeps threatening to grow out of control (but I won’t let it, I’m writing in bursts between changing my position, doing other things and making more tea).
But this is the most grumpifying thing about pain. It forces life to happen without you while you’re microwaving another heat pack.