#17 One Day at a Time
During one of my hospital stays, I was getting ready for bed. I had flossed and brushed my teeth. I had moisturized my nose (I was having frequent nose bleeds if I wasn’t constantly taking care of it). As I laid down, I noticed what felt like a knot in my back. If you’ve ever had a crick in your neck then you know the feeling. This weird specific tightness that just didn’t seem to go away. As I lay there, rolling around trying to find a comfortable position to get into, the knot started to grow and spread across my back. As the knot seemingly got larger, it started to hurt. It started to grow hot and that pain spread across my middle and upper back. I got out of bed and tried to move around a little. I started pacing as that was the only thing that brought me a little relief. Still the pain continued to build.
Throughout my life I’ve been very fortunate to have never broken a bone. Most of my injuries have been relatively short lived. I partially tore my hamstring one summer while deadlifting. That took the longest to recover from but during that time I could find a reasonable position to alleviate some of the pain and allow me to sleep. Even after hernia surgery, my abdominal muscles had been stretched to the point of looking like I was nine-months pregnant, or at least as I was told by the doctors and nurses. They had to expand my insides enough to implant a mesh to repair my hernia. Again though, I was able to find a comfortable position in which to sleep.
This pain on this night was to the same level of my hamstring tear or the pain that I felt coming out of hernia surgery, only there was no relief. I pressed the call button for my room and told the nurse that I was in pain and thought that I would need something for the pain shortly. I struggled to breath but kept pacing in this hunched over gorilla walk. I was rounded over at the shoulders to give the muscles some stretch but not so rounded to really stretch them. If I tried to stand up straight, the contraction of the muscles only made it worse. All I could do was just walk and concentrate on my breathing.
The nurse came in to check on me and immediately knew something was wrong. During this particular stay my jaw had swollen up and my gums had puffed up and over my teeth. Chewing was out of the question and opening my mouth was painful. Several of the muscles that controlled my jaw were swollen and painful to the touch. Moving my jaw was an exercise in patience. Eating a small meal took me an hour or more due to the pain and time it took for me to open my mouth. During this time, I rarely complained of the pain to the nurses or doctors. They knew my symptoms and had even done a CT scan of my jaw to make sure nothing else was wrong. They had offered me pain meds but the meds dulled my appetite more than the pain did and definitely didn’t help with digestion, often causing constipation or nausea. I didn’t take pain meds often but only when the pain was so great to keep me from eating.
On this particular night, I was begging for pain meds. The nurses were immediately concerned because I wasn’t in the habit of asking for pain meds. Of course they needed to know where the pain was coming from and what was causing it. The nurses checked me out. When they couldn’t find anything they started with some oxycontin to at least start to dull the pain. I don’t remember it having any effect at all. I was still pacing. The doctors came in to try and determine what was going on. There was just no determining what was causing the pain. There were no other physical signs and if I hadn’t been so adamant against pain meds prior to this episode, they definitely would have had a hard time believing me.
I don’t know how long the pain lasted, but I know it wasn’t all night. I eventually was able to go to sleep but only after they had given me more pain meds and even moved to Dilaudid. Thankfully when I awoke, the pain had subsided but I was sore and still tender for days. Unfortunately we never found out what caused the whole episode but at least it never happened again. The doctors think that it had something to do with a combination of some of the meds and the fever. I was on a particular antibiotic and after looking at some of the other meds, there might have been an interaction but if it were medically related and not fever related it was a very rare side effect.
Like I said, prior to this instance, I had never been in prolonged pain. Before cancer I had never needed pain meds for anything. Even after having my hernia surgery, I was prescribed pain meds but found they didn’t do much other than just give me a sense of detachment. I knew I was in pain but was just more sedated and less likely to move. This was my first real experience with high amounts of pain over a prolonged time. This was the first time I truly wanted something to get rid of the pain.
My lesson here is one day at a time. However, in this particular example, it was one second at a time. When you live in the moment, you don’t think about the future. I didn’t want to think about this pain lasting. If I could last one second, I could last another. So the idea was to simply grind it out. Either one of two things were going to happen. I’d either outlast the pain or I’d pass out due to exhaustion. Moving one second to one second, finally both probably happened at one time. I had outlasted the pain but when the pain subsided enough, I was too exhausted to do anything but sleep. It had been a struggle.
The overarching theme is one day at a time. We like to get caught up in making plans for next month and next year but when the early stages of this hit, it’s one day at a time. There’s either one of two outcomes; 1) you live through it and have a tale to tell, or 2) you don’t make it through. While that seems bleak, that forces you to concentrate on one day at a time. Don’t worry about a bad outcome. Do what you can for today. Don’t worry about how you’ll feel next week. Do the best you can today and make the most of today. A better today yields a likelihood of a better tomorrow. If we get too far ahead of ourselves, we don’t do the things today that we’re supposed to. Tomorrow never comes and it’s always today. Yearning for something has its drawbacks. What if next year doesn’t come? Place more thought on today and make today the building block for making next year possible.
Even post transplant I live day to day. I have to concentrate on doing all the right things. Am I drinking enough water? Have I eaten enough and often enough? Am I exercising and taking care of my body? Those are daily tasks that can’t be ignored. It’s also very fulfilling to be in the moment and watching my daughters grow up. You can see it on a daily basis if you watch closely enough. At the time of writing this, my daughter went up a bike size. She was hesitant at first. Moving from her smaller bike that she was more comfortable with to a larger frame. In the span of thirty minutes she went from her old bike to the new one. That happened so fast. It was the embodiment of the phrase “growing up too fast.”
From sulking on the couch to flourishing with passion, the days hold an infinite potential. As one of my other lessons (make use of the good day/times), don’t let the days pass you by because you were counting on tomorrow. One day at a time.