Manifesto of Pain: Winding Down a Season of Trauma

I was wondering why I had one outbreak after another for five weeks. I couldn’t seem to stop them. Every time I thought I was well, a new rash developed. As a result, I wasn’t sleeping properly because of the constant pain I was experiencing. Another interesting detail I noticed, and could not initially interpret, was the odor of my body. I found it acrid, even after a shower. I believe that cortisol and adrenaline were to blame. Like an injured animal, I was in high-stress alert. Stress was prolonging my shingles, causing me more pain. Here’s what I now understand:

Real pain needs real medicine.

It is time to take a look at the body’s Central Nervous System (CNS). Our bodies have a dual nervous system, the CNS and the PNS or Peripheral Nervous System. The Chickenpox virus lives in the spinal cord, the CNS. The rash itself attacks along the PNS on the body and skin. Neuralgia, associated with shingles is a consequence of nerve damage on the PNS. The PNS system contains the nerve cells that travel to the CNS. Nerve cells, unfortunately have a kind of binary functionality; they’re either on for off. After weeks of being on, nerve cells may no longer know how to shut off. In a sense, they atrophy in an “on” position, which is why a very common side effect of shingles is the chronic pain caused by nerve damage, known as neuralgia. Some unfortunate souls experience neuralgia for upwards of six months post-shingles! Poor dears.

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It was only while talking to a friend of mine who lives with chronic pain that I understood that my pain had not been addressed by my medical provider. Even though the doctor herself told me to expect pain, she never prescribed a pain medication beyond Motrin, and even with Motrin, I was not prescribed the maximum dose available. My gynecologist gives me a higher dose of Motrin for menstrual cramps. At any rate, after trying to “bite through a nail” for another week, I crawled back to the doctor, balled myself up on the examination table, and wept openly. I managed to finally get the lowest dose of Vicodine available. It didn’t help much, but I stopped sweating. My offensive B.O.? Gone by morning! Also, the doctor doubled my dose a day later. I finally slept the entire night. The next day, I had a smile on a face. I knew my body could finally begin the healing process.

 

I’m fascinated that while in my doctor’s office, writhing in pain, she was trying to give me antibiotics. Surely I had something else, she thought. This was not a normal shingles outbreak. Well, what if one’s skin is brown and one has had about four consecutive outbreaks in a five-week period? How will that look? Through my pain I had the presence of mind to reject the antibiotics, which were in part responsible for my weakened immune system, leading to my original outbreak. At home, while awake in the early morning hours, I looked at pictures of shingles rash. They, in fact, looked exactly like what I had, only on brown skin, no big surprises. But, was my skin color playing a leading role in my treatment? I think so. An additional powerful realization of how lucky I really am, knowing things were bad for me, was seeing that I’ve had a relatively mild case of shingles. My heart goes out to people who are suffering with severe cases. That pain must be unforgiving. I pray that those people had proper opiate pain medicine. I’m convinced that untreated pain will prolong shingles. This is a compounded travesty. Let no one who reads this allow anyone you know to go without the appropriate pain medicine during shingles.

 

I have had some comforts, one of which is laugh therapy—did you even know that there’s such a thing as Humor Therapy? Well there you have it. We all need a good friend, or ten, to make us laugh, let us cry and miss us when we’re down and out. One friend in particular has seen me through this crisis with sheer exuberance. Somehow, just at the moment when we are both about to cry, Robyn will say something that brings tears of laughter to my face, sending me running to the bathroom to void my bladder and avoid an accident. I don’t know how we manage it, but this unexpected joy has brought me back from the brink of darkness numerous times over the past five weeks. I know it has been the same for her. Even when we are laughing at ourselves, we look through a lens of compassion, understanding and childishness, touching the innocence in ourselves. We get silly people! And, it heals us deep down where the hurt curls itself up. Laughter is one of the few ways I know to naturally get high, elevate your mood, and stay in your body.

 

 

I don’t have all the answers or even fully understand this episode in my life, yet. What I do know is that talking to friends has helped. They have led me to alternative care. Their advice has translated into self-advocacy. Friends have driven me to the doctor’s office. Friends have let me cry when I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Friends have made me laugh my head off. Mostly, I don’t feel alone in my suffering. This has changed everything. I know I can’t rush ahead blindly. I must be mindful and manage my stress, avoiding extremes. I get to start over. Tea, anyone?

 

A Visit to the Medicine Man: My Introduction to Chinese Medicinal Herbs

On my odyssey of healing from shingles, I’ve stepped into the world of the ancients: the Art of Chinese Medicinal Herbs. I know nothing about Chinese Herbal Medicine except what I’m experiencing with Dr. Kang, O.M.D., in San Francisco. So far, I’m loving it.

To me Chinese Medicine means acupuncture needles. Because of this association, I was nervous about receiving an acupuncture treatment as my past experiences with acupuncture have all led to intense physical and psychological reactions. The needles stimulate me in profound way. More than once my head and feet have been on fire with enough vivid sensation to make the doctors react with haste to remove the offending needles. My first visit resulted in a nearly psychotropic trip in which I could not walk properly because I had no depth perception. The world was flat as I held my hands out in front of me, feeling for objects jutting into my space and patted at the ground with a foot that extended into the nothingness before me. Needless to say, I’m apprehensive to undergo acupuncture treatments, so it was only because it was recommended several times within an hour that I agreed to make the journey to see Dr. Kang.

To my delight, I was not treated with needles. Dr. Kang is all kindness and compassion. This is really important since shingles is traumatic enough without one having injury done by practitioners. I found him to be intuitive and a deep listener. He warned me to avoid stress, admonishing me to not repeat such a dreadful experience. To this wisdom I could only nod my head in agreement. He seemed to understand my pain so well that my friend, who took me to see Dr. Kang and sat with me during the examination, and who has been under Dr. Kang’s care for about five months, wondered if he hasn’t endured shingles himself. I personally doubt that such a calm man could work himself into such a place, but I’m the patient here, not he, so it shall remain a mystery.

After a consultation with Dr. Kang in which he asked me questions about my situation, he prescribed medicinal herbs. Dr. Kang measured my pulse on both wrists for an extended time, making notes all the while. He examined my tongue, too, which even I will admit looks scary. (More on the tongue in a future post, I promise!) What’s fascinating about this process is that I know nothing of what I’m ingesting in this steamy cup of root slivers and flower petals. It’s a faith walk. But isn’t this what we often do with Western medicine, as well? A doctor looks at us for five minutes, maybe he looks us in the eye, maybe not, and depending on your skin color, gender and age, a range of possible treatments will result. Dr. Kang, unlike some, is prescribing the medicine for the illness and the person without such a filter of services—you’ll get the herbs you need for your ailment. He’s treating human beings with human kindness. Lest you think that was all, he also gave me a list of food restrictions, which means that I can’t eat anything in my refrigerator. What a hoot! I don’t even mind, especially if it means that I’ll be well again, soon, and fully recovered. I’ll give up just about anything for my health. I’ve already given up so much.

His diagnosis of my situation confirmed my own insights and inspired my trust. The real threat to my health is permanent nerve damage, also known as neuralgia. My impressions during meditations are that my pain is manifesting in my body often without any corresponding tissue damage. Dr. Kang seemed to think that the rain exacerbates the symptoms of pain. I wasn’t sure, but the three days prior to my visit had been hellish, and there was rain a foot in San Francisco. Everything he said meshed with my understanding of my own situation or of my visualizations from Reiki sessions. In the end, Dr. Kang felt that acupuncture would not help me. I actually breathed a sigh of relief because I was secretly terrified of my entire body catching fire this time. Thank God for small favors! This gave me the opportunity to look at my healing through a new lens.

I took my herbs home and boiled them down to a concentrated brown liquid. The first sip was interesting, bold and pungent with a bitter aftertaste. At this point, I’ve stopped trying to taste the stuff and simply give thanks for the medicine I believe can heal me. Cut to the chase, Edissa. Drink your medicine! I downed the remaining elixir in three gulps and struggled to catch my breath, relax and hold it down.

I survived! I rewarded myself with a grape. Let’s see what the doctor says next week. Better yet, pay him a visit if you’re in need of care. I don’t think you’ll regret being seen by the Medicine Man on Clement. photo