Day 193. A Zero Day, Skipping Stones

This will be a short one, skipping topics like skipping stones across the surface of a pond.  It’s about yesterday and what it did to my body, about what I did for an art project, and what I need to do for homework.

Yesterday I had a to-do list of seven items.  I accomplished an amazing one-seventh of them when the Comcast man came and went.  As for the rest, well, I scratched through them in red pen: incomplete.

Here is why:  when I awoke, I wasn’t sure about how I felt.  In an iffy situation like that, I try to put makeup on and dress as though I am about to go somewhere, so that I will create a sense of momentum (and sometimes propel myself out of a funk).  I didn’t realize until after the Comcast guy had left that I had applied the eyebrow pencil a trifle dark.

Old Lady Eyebrows

People, this makeup mistake is a definitive crazy old lady marker.  There is no pussyfooting around it.  I looked in the mirror and laughed at myself.

Trouble was, I just felt all wrong.  My body was on fire.  To give a simple example, I wear soft, fleecy socks all the time around the house because they are warm and protect my feet, from which the fat pads the rest of you have, have disappeared (making walking on them feel…well, like walking on sharp bones).  Yesterday, though, the little nubbies on my regular soft socks felt like they were razors across my toes.  I kept telling myself to ignore it.  You know, like, “Hey, stupid.  You have too much time on your hands.  If you were driving railroad spikes someplace, your stupid foot pain would not come to mind.”  Trouble was, this stupid food pain was starting to feel like railroad spikes driven into my toes.  Finally, I had to dig through the various pairs I have to find the very newest and softest pair of soft socks on which the little nubs are still perfectly squishy.  That was only one part of my body that felt like it was being poked, prodded or twisted.  There were the ankles, the wrists, the knees, the hips….WTF?  I thought this was all going to resolve itself once the PT was over!

Since I was no good for the concentration involved in doing the kind of writing I am doing now, I found some Zentangles to work on.  I posted one last time; I worked on the one here most of the day yesterday, until my hands hurt so much I had to stop, and then I slept for a while.  Then I started again.  They are fun to do when I need to stay in bed because no paints are required, just a pencil, eraser, pen, and a ruler.

I tried meditating before working on my art, just as I am making sure to meditate before I write each time, so that I stay on task and feel the work flow out of me.  I’ve been trying to work on doing that, as something I have been discussing with my therapist.

My therapist, Dr. A., who specializes in working with people to deal with chronic pain and grave illness (rather than “how do you feel about your parents” kind of stuff) does cool things like help with meditation and things like that.

This week, though, he has me stumped.  He gave me an assignment to think about what I need to work on, in therapy. To him, that means what I need to improve, discuss, or problem solve as it relates to dealing with my illness or the situations around it.

I am drawing a complete blank.

It isn’t that I feel cured or resolved by any means.  I just feel a great blank when I try to think of the answer, because I often draw a great  blank when I try to think deeply. Now, I need to come up with something by Monday. Help a sistah out. What do you guys think?  I  thought it would be cool for my brilliant readers to opine (since I am so blind to my own situation).  This means you!

Have you been given similar therapeutic assignments? How has it worked for you? What am I missing?

Day 347. Pretty in PEMF

So my mom and Nathan watch the local FOX station evening news, and I happen to admit that because they called me the other night to say that Dr. Oz had been on to promote the next day’s show.  The topic was to be a patient-controlled device that seems to be quite successful in treating a number of health concerns, but particularly chronic pain such as headache, backache, and nerve pain.  Yes, please.

So, that was one Dr. Oz episode I TIVOed.  I was so excited about the topic that as I watched the show, I did more internet research than pay attention to the commentators.  Do you ever do that, and wake up from your internet dream only to discover that the whole show is over?  If you have a DVR, you can rewind it, but the time you set aside to watch it has passed and there you were, foiled by the time suck on your lap.

Well.  So, I learned that PEMF, or Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy, has actually been around since the 70s, and received its FDA approval in 1979.  (To be clear, this has nothing to do with the ordinary refrigerator type of magnets sold fallaciously as headache and arthritis cures; it’s a different type of magnet.)  The device is frequently used in the field of orthopedics for things like broken bones that won’t knit and arthritic pain.  Also some rheumatologists and physiatrists (pain doctors) are experienced in treating soft-tissue wounds as well as suppressing inflammatory responses at the cell membrane level to alleviate pain and increasing range of motion.

The device(s) (by various makers) seem to have been studied extensively over thirty-odd years — although I did note among the 40 and 50 abstracts I read that none seems to have investigated in a large study group of beyond, say, 50 subjects.  But studies seem to prove in small groups that PEMF Therapy can treat acute pain dramatically well, and chronic pain as well, but somewhat slower.  This has been my experience so far exactly.

Here’s what it looks like:

These machines have one major disadvantage, and that is cost: at present, insurance doesn’t cover treatment, so there’s no $25 copay/visit, and even if there were, at the very least one should be treated three times weekly.  Ideally one would be treated twice daily.  At $25 a pop for copay, the cost would immediately be out of most of our reach (and who pays a $25 copay anymore?).  If there is any good news, it is that some of the machines are now made for home use. Thus, rather than costing $25,000, they cost between $3000 and $5000, which still puts them outside of most of our reach. We can gather, though, if the insurance won’t cover a copay, they certainly won’t cover the purchase price of the machine.

One company, iMRS, figured out a way to let desperate people try the machines.  They rent a brand-new machine for $500/month (with a refundable $1000 deposit on the credit card).  We can rent as long as we like, and if we decide to keep it, all the rent (and deposit) will go toward the purchase price (which is close to $4000).  The cost is still outrageous, but for someone who is desperate (and potentially has only 347 days left on the planet), all money starts to look like the gold-colored five hundreds in Monopoly:  imaginary.

That last argument not holding any water, my Mom and Nathan helped me rent it for a month.  Let’s see how it goes.

Here are a couple of other parts of the machine:

So far, it hasn’t afforded the miracle cure I’ve been hoping for.  I would say, though, that it is fairly miraculous on acute pain, like the headache I wake up with three times weekly that I mention in the probe video, a feeling like someone is cracking open the bridge of my nose and then chopping it up in pieces.  If I run the probe over the offending areas for the prescribed 16 minutes, the headache will be gone afterwards (rather than taking a day, or more, of extra narcotics to try to treat it).   Similarly, it can help sometimes with arthritic pain that pops up as well.

Karma is sweet, though.  Nathan has had a shoulder injury for many years from parachuting from a plane.  He’s a tough guy and doesn’t take any painkillers or complain, but he says he hasn’t slept well for as long as he can remember, and putting on coats and things have been impeded from his range of motion.  I put Nathan on for one eight-minute treatment for chronic pain.  He didn’t feel much different immediately afterwards–and he was pretty skeptical about the device. However, he called me the next day to say that he slept better the night before than he had in as long as he could remember.  And even more compelling was that he had just about 100% range of motion back, which he hasn’t had in lo these many years–since a few years after the injury.  It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, frankly.  He deserves it!  (He’s coming back for regular treatments now, to make sure the treatment “sticks.”)

Now, here is the controller:

There are so many settings–and I have just as many ailments–I have had some trouble choosing the proper setting to use.  My brother suggested choosing the most painful thing for me, the neuropathy, and empirically pursuing that for the next month. That sounded reasonable, so that is what I mainly do, for 1-2 hours daily (except when I need to treat acute pain). I’ll let you know what I find out.

Any lower back sufferers out there?  $20 a pop; meet me in my guest room!  (By appointment only)

Day 351. Paint Your Pain

Heidi's Pain

It’s not arts-and-crafts day at the loonie bin.  Rather, Dr. A. Suggested that I paint my pain.  (That sounds a bit like self-contradiction, but just never mind).  He mentioned it before, but I could only conceive of it in abstract terms:  how will I draw pain?  What does my pain, the thing, look like?  I have no idea.

Finally, he showed me a drawing someone else had made for him in his office.  It was terribly disturbing, a person’s body with pain on it, and the dreadful, sad colors that one would expect with pain.  I finally understood (a little dense, I am, since the aneurysm).  The painting could be of me in pain.

I went home and tried to write what I saw in my head:

With closed eyes, I see
     zig-zag lines of electricity
       over my body from above
I’m on my knees, facing
     downward, with my arm back,
like a Thanksgiving turkey,
     with emaciated drumsticks
     and wings that swell up 
              and turn bright red
                   to the horror of the guests

Knowing this of me, you probably are thinking it is better I missed Thanksgiving dinner at Melanie’s.

Well, so then I painted my crazy picture, which is remarkable for a few reasons:  first, it’s a second draft, meaning that before you laugh at it, consider that the first was the really juvenile one!  Second, as I look at it with a few days’ distance, I wonder why I chose those colors.  It seems like I should have chosen dismal, disturbing colors, not bright cheerful colors, as though to say, Hi, peeps, isn’t pain just swell?  Third, if I were to include text, wouldn’t it make sense to write the words large enough to read (it’s easier to see them if you click on the picture and see it in a larger size); safe to say, though, that this is not a piece that reflects the artiste in me.

Still, it was a cool assignment.  Dr. A (as in Dr. Philip Appel) is a killer, amazing psychologist at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, who specializes in patients who are managing chronic pain brought about by chronic illness or disability.  He is so good that you almost should get a chronic illness just so that you can go see him.

Anyway, Dr. A. mentioned that at least part of the strength in painting one’s pain is that it allows us to experience the pain as something outside our body, a step towards stepping outside of the pain.  I like that possibility very much.

I wonder if this means I should take the painting, shred it in little pieces, and burn them in effigy tonight…