Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Great Baby Ban

Today I laid my hands on another person’s child…actually, I could have easily walked off with said child and, except for the fact that he and I were of widely divergent colour, nobody would have blinked…not even his so-inattentive parent that s/he didn’t object to my manhandling the child, probably because s/he never saw it happen.

There is a movement afoot these days to ban children from…or at least limit their access to…certain venues where, for the last couple of decades, they have been increasingly allowed to behave like uncivilized, unrestrained wild animals. This child today was a case in point: no more than six years old, he was hanging around the bottom of an up-escalator, playing with the device and blocking access for people who wished to use it. Shopper after shopper stepped around the child, gaining precarious access to the moving stairway while the boy obliviously continued to treat the device and its moving rails like his own exclusive amusement device.

I’m old. I’m cranky when it comes to the ill-mannered of any age. I also have a bad back which causes me balance issues. There was no way I was stepping onto that escalator without having unimpeded access to both the steps and the handrail the child was using for his personal playtoy. First I stopped in front of him and stared at him. Most young children, when glared at by an adult, particularly a grumpy-faced old woman, will have second thoughts about whatever it is they are doing. Not this kid. Obviously so poorly reared that he did not even recognize this common social cue, he looked at me and, with no change in his expression whatsoever, kept right on blocking access to the escalator, clinging to the moving guardrail with his hands until it transported his upper body upward a bit, then letting go, standing up straight, and then repeating the process.

I found myself wondering what kind of parent allows a child this small to 1) wander loose and unsupervised in a busy mall; 2) allow the child to play on something as potentially dangerous as an escalator (people have been caught and died on them!); 3) fail to teach a child about such things as blocking the access of others; 4) fail to teach a child the most basic of social cues; and 5) pay so little attention to their child in this busy environment that s/he could easily be stolen by an ill-meaning stranger. But wondering wasn’t getting me up the escalator, so I reached down and firmly grasped the child’s upper arm and removed him from in front of the escalator to give myself access…dragged might be a better term, since he was reluctant to remove himself from his command post.

My first surprise was that he did not scream bloody murder when I grabbed him. I fully expected an outraged parent or irate security guard to accost me and demand an explanation for me putting my hands on a child clearly not my own. The second surprise was that no parent arrived, indignant and ready to give me a faceful of invective for manhandling little Johnny. In fact, nothing happened at all, except that the child was temporarily moved, like a gate, to allow me and my husband access to the escalator and then he resumed his amusement, playing on the escalator and hindering the access of all those who came after me, not a parent in sight.

It is winter here and it is cold outside…very cold…cold enough that some of our outlying suburbs reported snow flurries in the last few days. The sky was a brilliant, crisp, cloudless blue…the kind of sky that truly frigid days are made of, with no cloud cover to keep even a modicum of heat trapped to the earth. And so instead of outdoor activities, everybody went shopping…the mall was crowded. And crowded malls can be noisy, a combination of the various shops broadcasting their music into the walkways, people talking to each other, the rattle and clatter of bags, high heels on the tiled floors and, of course, the inevitable screaming child having a meltdown while Mama continues to shop, Junior’s eardrum splitting wails conveniently shut out. The older I become, the less inclined I am to suffer these indignities silently. As I passed one toddler shrieking his displeasure from his stroller (pram) while his mother obliviously chatted with a friend, I said to my husband in a voice designed to carry to the oblivious mother “My, it sounds like somebody needs to go home and have a nap.” I have little hope that she heard me, though, because if she could tune out the hellacious racket her little darling was broadcasting, it is unlikely she was able to hear my none-too-subtle suggestion that she take her noisy brat out of the earshot of the rest of us.

Then there was the kid, barely two, I would guess, whose mother just abandoned him in the queue for the cashiers when it became her turn to pay. I don’t know…maybe today was the day for other people’s children to act as impediments to still other people’s progress. Anyway, the kid started snatching candies from the impulse-buy displays and, instead of putting them back, Mama instructed the cashier to ring them up, meanwhile leave her little man standing at the head of the queue, blocking the rest of us from getting to cashiers as they became available. Who, after all, wants to trip over a little toddler with her arms full of crockery or shoes or a stack of pre-season sale summer dresses? We gingerly skirted the child…whose mother’s back was to him the whole time, making him fair game for the kind of monsters who steal and abuse children…and while my husband paid for the purchases, I was treated to an example of what becomes of children whose parents teach them that they are the centre of the universe and respect is something other people are supposed to give them.

A short time earlier I had been in the shoe department of the store, trying on bedroom slippers as my 10-year-old Walmart specials have popped a big hole in the sole. I found a pair to try on but, with the back issue giving me balance problems, I opted to go to the other side of the department and sit down to try the slippers on rather than drop them on the floor and stick my foot into one to see how it fit. Now, mind you, this is not an elegant, up-scale department store…this is Ackerman’s, the housewares and clothing equivalent of Safeway…and the shoes and slippers hang on racks by little plastic hangers. The aisles between the rows of shoes are narrow, not wide enough for two super models to pass each other, not even if they sucked in their tummies.

The slippers fit and my husband, thoughtful man that he is (and aware that I have been trying to find replacements for the Walmart specials for several months) offered to buy two pair, an offer I readily accepted. Unfortunately, when we returned to the rack, we were greeted with an enormous bum…bigger than mine, even!...bent over and blocking access to the one display of slippers I needed. This woman was not trying on a pair of flats or sandals she could drop on the ground and just quickly stick a foot into to check for size, no…she was bent over assiduously buckling one of a gazillion buckles on a particularly hideous pair of “gladiator”-styled demi boots. I waited politely for her to finish.

When she removed the boot and began looking again at the rack, still blocking my access to the rack behind her, I said “Excuse me, can I get in here?” She ignored me! I tried again: “Excuse me…” She flicked her eyes in my direction so I know she wasn’t deaf…but she didn’t move an inch. So, I just stepped forward, bent down, and reached into the size section I wanted and retrieved a pair of slippers. Did my shoulder inadvertently graze some unnamed portion of her anatomy? Yes. Did I acknowledge or apologize? No. Did I ignore her just as diligently as she had ignored me? Yup—there was nothing else to do if I didn’t want to start a row over her rudeness, which would have been rude in and of itself.

But the story of this self-absorbed adult brat doesn’t end here. I walked away from the rude cow and went to the tills, was treated to the candy-pilfering toddler and eventually got to a till myself. As I was observing the toddler while my husband paid the cashier, who should wander up to the cashiers but Shoe Cow herself, with a plastic basket full of shoes and boots. I kid you not…one of those baskets, like you pick up at the supermarket when you don’t need a whole trolley, and it had no fewer than six…and it looked more like ten…pair of shoes and boots in it. And, true to her oblivious behaviour in the shoe department, when one of the cashiers called “next!” this rude, selfish, inconsiderate cow simply skipped the queue of half a dozen people patiently and politely waiting their turn and marched straight up to the open cashier, plunked down her basket and began rummaging around in her handbag for her wallet. The woman who was supposed to be next was half way to the till when Rude Cow stepped in front of her and put her basket down and if she even saw the woman, she did not acknowledge her any more than she acknowledged me in the shoe department.

This woman was a young adult, young enough to have been brought up after the concept of teaching your children manners and respect for the rights of others had begun to decline. Obviously she had learned her lessons well: spoiled and entitled, she could not courteously share space in the shoe department and neither could she take her turn in the queue like everyone else. What she wanted is what she got and to hell with the rest of us.

This is the attitude I see parents actually teaching their children today…screw everybody else. Don’t like the grades on your child’s report card? Blame the teacher for “giving” your kid a bad grade, don’t blame the kid for earning a poor mark. Don’t feel like taking the time or making the effort to teach your kid some manners? Make excuses for your kid’s behaviour (“kids will be kids”), inflict them on other people in places they shouldn’t be in the first place (like five star restaurants, evening screenings of movies, supermarkets at 10 pm), then blame others when they get testy about your brat stealing morsels off their plates, talking over the screen dialog, or screaming with fatigue when they should be home in bed. Do you know what kind of adults these kids become? Rude cows. Selfish, disrespectful, inconsiderate cows who have no sense of propriety, no sense of respect for others, no sense of anything outside their own immediate wants…and who raise brats and bullies just like themselves.

So it is no surprise that restaurants, movie theatres, even airlines are beginning to listen to grumpy old people like me…there are so many of us fed up with the world becoming dominated by obnoxious children!! we complain about unrestrained children allowed to run amok, turning what could be a pleasant excursion into an Excedrin moment. Kids will behave like kids, it’s true, but that has only become a problem since parents have stopped behaving like parents.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Chronic Pain 101: Insights for the unafflicted.

This last Saturday I got up early, took a leisurely shower, washed and conditioned my hair and then set off with my husband for our local warehouse store for the monthly bulk purchase of staple goods. After the store, we took the purchases home and put the 9 lbs of butter that was on sale into the freezer, then headed out for a late breakfast and our weekly grocery shopping. After unloading the groceries we again headed out, this time to a hobby shop he’s been dying to go to, then a stop for a late lunch, then on to the supermarket-sized plastics store where I was finally able to find the food storage containers I have been needing and even the kitchen scale that was, surprisingly, not stocked by the warehouse store. From there we went home for a little TV and R&R.

Unremarkable? Maybe for you, but it has been more than a year since I have been able to take on such a day without being sidelined half way through it with crippling, unrelenting back pain. The day was more like a miracle for me because only one week before, I had been unable to take on even half that without resorting to opiate pain meds and stops to rest and release the muscle spasms in my back every ten minutes or so. Then, a week before this remarkable day, I was treated by a neurosurgeon with massive injections of corticosteroids in my lower back. Within hours my stamina had improved and within a week my ability to stand and to walk had reached near normal.

But it was a long road to this juncture, this point where I was able to return to near-normal functioning (I still have to wear a back brace and lose some weight), a road fraught with scepticism, doubt, dismissal and frank disbelief on the part of people around me, doctors included. I had had several x-rays that disclosed arthritic damage to my lumbar spine, but it was decided, by those who did not share my pain, that the damage was not sufficient to induce the kind of debilitating pain I was complaining of, and so it was dismissed with the trivializing “lose some weight.” Nobody wanted to hear that the back pain pre-dated the weight gain…everybody, friends and family included, simply decided if I was thin, my back wouldn’t hurt. As a result, I not only did not receive adequate medical intervention, people treated me as if the pain did not exist (it’s my fault, therefore I deserve no sympathy, therefore they can expect me to perform as if the pain did not exist). Worse, I took to dismissing it myself. Finding no avenue of relief other than spending as much time as possible sitting, the weight didn’t shift but the back pain slowly grew into a monster that controlled my life.

You cannot explain to a person what a pain feels like. It is simply not possible. And chronic pain is in a class by itself, even if it is not high level. People whose experience with pain is brief and acute…a prolonged labour is brief and acute compared with months and years of daily, hourly, every-waking (and sometimes sleeping)-minute pain…simply cannot relate to the chronic pain sufferer and how it shapes virtually every choice in their lives. Without the empathy that sharing the pain can bring, people can easily judge the chronic pain sufferer or, simply, over time, become exasperated with him/her and lose all patience…and perspective. We, the pain sufferers, learn to shut up, to stuff our feelings, to attempt to do more than we should in an effort to not alienate family and friends, to not get fired for being a malingerer, to get through the day. And still, even with superhuman effort, we must fall short of our goal to “live normally” because the pain makes choices for us, choices we would not make outside it’s pernicious influence.

“Wanna go on a 5k run with me Saturday?” a friend might ask then, remembering you have back pain, amend it with “you can walk…” No, friend, I can’t walk 5k…I can’t even walk to the other end of the house some days without having to sit down.

“I’ve got vouchers for this great food and wine fair…wanna go with?” Does the venue have lots and lots of seating scattered about? Will there be non-alcoholic drinks because I can’t mix booze with my pain meds. Is the parking close to the venue? Because unless the answers to all three questions are “yes,” my back won’t let me go.

Chronic pain, regardless of where it resides, can influence virtually every decision a person makes. Drive to the market and find the parking lot crowded…drive home because there is no way you will have the stamina to walk from the furthest reaches of the parking lot, do the shopping in a store that provides no benches to rest on, and then walk back to the car…never mind having to unload the car and unbag and store the groceries. Grocery shopping can be an overwhelming task for those of us whose pain only waxes and wanes but never subsides.

The worst part is living with the eventual impatience and lack of empathy from close friends and family members, the resentment that your limitations imposes on others. Recently my husband and I went to a resort. He had to partake in some of the resort’s activities solo because I just couldn’t walk that far, participate, and then walk back. One excursion had my back exhausted when we had walked only half way to the venue.

But worst of all is dealing with doctors, particularly those who dismiss the pain. “Lose some weight” a rheumatologist once told me, and refused to treat me until I did. What part of “I cannot exercise…I cannot even walk for a single city block…with this pain,” did he not hear? Or how about the doctor who read the x-rays and decided that his interpretation of the x-rays told him more accurately about my pain than my personal experience and therefore no procedure or pain-mitigating drug was warranted.

I recognize that recreational drug-seekers make it tough on people who have legitimate pain, but that doesn’t excuse dismissing someone with long-standing chronic pain. How do you tell them apart? Well, maybe you can’t, but is it better to send someone in crippling pain away untreated or to mistakenly treat someone who is faking? The dismissive attitudes I have encountered with regard to my pain have, over the years, driven me to conceal it, to “suffer in silence” as it were, and to live my life increasingly homebound. When someone rolls his eyes or exhales a huge puff of exasperated air because I can’t walk “that far,” it used to irritate me…how insensitive can a person be, for mercy’s sake, I am hurting here. Now I feel hurt…and guilty…that I get no empathy and that I cannot just make a wish and the pain will disappear.

This neurosurgeon was a breath of fresh air. A couple of weeks after seeing him, I was being interviewed by a physician as I was joining a diabetic clinic. I put my meds bag in front of her so she could see what I was taking on a regular basis and when she pulled out the pain meds from the neurosurgeon, her eyebrows rose. “DF 118?” she said, her voice surprised. “You must be in some serious pain.” Yes…serious pain…and after more than a dozen years of suffering with it, I finally found a doctor who takes my serious pain seriously…although the clinic doctor probably did not until she saw the degree of pain relief the specialist had prescribed for me.

If you must interact with a person who suffers chronic pain, here are some things you need to know, understand and practice.

1. They aren’t doing it on purpose. Chronic pain has a mind of its own. Depending on the condition, the person can be relatively OK one day and barely able to move another. This does not mean that s/he is using the pain to excuse her from what she does not want to do. Some days I could bend over and pick up a pin from the floor…other days I was doing well just to touch my knees.

2. Losing weight is not a panacea. Yes, it may be helpful to some people with some conditions, but you simply cannot dismiss chronic pain in a person as the result of excess weight. Some of us got the pain first and the immobility dictated by the pain helped the weight to add up. Even it the pain is caused by excess weight, telling the person to lose weight neither ameliorates the pain nor makes exercise a feasible suggestion. Have some compassion—and if you can’t, then keep your mouth shut.

3. Come up with compromises: rather than expect the person with the pain to come up to your level, throttle back your expectations to theirs. Instead of a day walking around the mall followed by walking around a museum or aquarium or outdoor market, plan a day that includes frequent rest stops…sitting on a bench to look at a display window, stopping at a café for some coffee, breaking up the day with a movie. Don’t wait for your friend to expire with pain and be forced to beg a rest…offer a rest periodically…it will do both of you good.

4. Never dismiss someone’s pain, not even with your facial expressions. No eye-rolling (“oh no, not again!”), no “are you sure it’s that bad?” no “Oh, c’mon, it’s just another block…” Trust me, by the time the chronic pain sufferer brings it up, it is already at the unbearable stage. I have walked in malls until my back hurt so badly I could barely move my legs. This, of course, slowed me down, which slowed my companions down…do you think being annoyed with me would have made it any better?? Being impatient or dismissive or exasperated is unproductive both for you and for your friend in pain, and it actually adds to the pain with feelings of guilt. Believe me, if your friend could wave a wand and take the pain away, she would, in a heartbeat, and then run circles around you.

5. Don’t offer a host of non-traditional remedies, if you must make suggestions, stick to conventional medicine. Why? Because the time for non-traditional treatments is after the conventional workups are done and such things as tumours, bone spurs, infections, ruptured disks, broken bones and other things that could be causing the pain are ruled out. My grandmother had an infection in her spinal column that kept her bedridden and on antibiotics for weeks until it cleared up. Had she opted for some non-conventional treatment instead of the investigation that found the infection and the drugs that cured it, she may well not have made it to her 84th birthday…she could have died of encephalitis, had the infection remained untreated and it migrated to her brain.

6. Don’t tell the person to “ignore it and it will go away.” Pain is a symptom that something is wrong. It is like shouting: the worse the problem, the louder the shouting (the more pronounced the pain). Too often well-meaning people use this phrase in a misguided effort to help but believe me, if the pain is truly chronic…which means it has existed over an extended period of time…the sufferer has already exhausted his ability to ignore it and the pain has broken through that barrier. Don’t suggest hypnosis, either…the only thing to suggest is to see a doctor and if the sufferer has done that and gotten nowhere, then suggest different doctors or simply shut up and empathize. I quit trying to find a doctor to treat the pain for years simply because the doctors I did see were so dismissive…if they gave me drugs at all, they wouldn’t kill a headache, let alone chronic lower back pain. It was not until it got so bad I couldn’t stand long enough for a proper shower that I started going to doctors again…and this time I got lucky.

7. Try to up your own empathy and patience quotient. It will not only be helpful in dealing with a friend or family member who suffers chronic pain, it will help you in many other areas of your life as well. People who hurt can be depressed, angry, impatient, despondent, and difficult in other ways as well. They need compassion (not pity) and patience (not long-suffering on your part) and a willingness to accommodate their limitations without rancour.

Life without pain is preferable, but for some of us, it is an elusive goal. If there is someone in your life who suffers chronic pain, try to remember that it is not a chosen way of life and most of us are simply doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Give us some encouragement…and a break.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The snake in the garden…

I nearly laughed out loud when I saw the headline “No religious freedom in SA.” In fact, I found it so amusing, I had to click on it and see just what this person was on about.
You see, South Africa is just about the most free country, with respect to religion (and many other things) I have ever heard of. Women walk down the streets in burquas, Hindu festivals are public affairs attended by everyone, Christian churches dot the landscape like freckles on a sun-exposed arm. Christian observances are marked by the government in the form of public holidays (two days off for Christmas [Christmas and Boxing Day], and Easter [Good Friday and Easter Monday]). Animist religions and sangomas coexist peacefully with better-known faiths and their leaders, and nobody tells my local supermarket it cannot have a kosher meat gondola or eggs my in-laws’ homes for their colourful statues of Hindu deities and other publicly-displayed artefacts of their faith.

OK, there is a wee fly in the ointment, a snake in the garden, if you will, and it probably won’t surprise you that the disruptive element in this country’s otherwise peaceful religious landscape are fundamentalist Christians. In a place where equality (including gender equality) is enshrined in the Constitution and the government provides a free court for people to bring their equality issues to, I see these people—very small numbers of them, mind you—picketing a women’s clinic that provides, among other things, abortion services. Never mind that it is none of their business, nobody is asking (or forcing) them to avail themselves of services, and that a woman’s right to her control over her body is, in this country, absolute. No, these busybodys, who make up a tiny minority of the population and would appear to have entirely too much time on their hands, have made it their mission to exercise their freedoms under the Constitution by attempting to frighten women away from exercising theirs.

The religious right wingnuts aren’t as powerful or visible here as they are in America, nor as numerous. Our media doesn’t find their antics newsworthy, so they have little clout. And that, apparently, is what the author of the whinging polemic referenced above is unhappy about: his lack of clout in bending the country’s educational system to his whim and forcing it into the consciousness of all of the children in this land, be they Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, or even more enlightened, evolved Christians. No, according to him, his exercise of his religious freedoms requires the violation of the religious freedoms of everyone else in the country, most specifically those who have children in the government school system. In other words, if the local school doesn’t teach all of the children his own personal religious view on matters otherwise considered scientific, then his religious freedom is being violated. I know—HUH??

There are, of course, private schools that will pander to this man’s religious delusions and, for the life of me, I don’t understand why he just doesn’t whisk his kids off to one if he finds the government schools not to his liking. Parents who insist on high academic standards for their children have been doing this for aeons, all over the world. And, unlike America where the schools are “free” because they are funded through taxation, South Africa schools are funded by the parents who pay school fees each term. Rather than hand this money over to the local government school and then whinge about the curriculum, why doesn’t this parent simply take the money to a school with a curriculum that better agrees with his view of science? Consider a school with a student body of 500 children, each of whom has two parents who think that because they pay out of their own pockets for the operation of the school, each individual parent has a right to dictate curriculum for the entire school. Imagine the chaos! Imagine the din! Imagine the education not imparted to the students? Unlike American parents who have to dig deep into their pockets to provide the kind of misinformation masquerading as education that this man wants for his children, South African parents can simply direct their education funds to alternatives that suit their personal prejudices and fantasies better than the government schools.

If I didn’t know better, I might be tempted to think this was a disingenuous attempt to stir the social pot a bit, a troll’s attempt to get a little controversy boiling, some sparks flying. But unfortunately, the rant has the unmistakeable stench of the mindset of one who cannot seem to grasp the point that to give him his way would be to trample the freedoms of the rest of the citizens. He cannot seem to grasp that government, which is answerable to more than just him and his own narrow little über-Christian mentality, must provide services to all in such a way that respects us all, and that failing to favour him is not, in any way, depriving him of his rights. His rights, after all, do not include being given preference over everyone else in the country.

No, this smacks of being the real deal, the dunder-headed thickie who thinks, like a small, spoilt child, that not getting his own way means that he is somehow being deprived of something to which he is entitled. Perhaps he is just too lazy to teach his children the phantasmagorical nonsense he prefers to believe over science and wants the school to do it for him; perhaps he is too lazy to take his kids to church and Sunday School where they can be taught their mythology as truth. Certainly he does not want his kids exposed to the religious-neutral concepts of science that are taught in schools today—perhaps he, himself, is too poorly educated and ignorant to effectively counter those insidious little facts and keep his kids on the fatuous straight and narrow.

I find it very interesting that neither the Muslim community nor the Jewish community, which both share the same creation story with Christians, have not come to support this push for substituting Genesis for genetics. And what about the Hindus, whose creation stories predate Genesis by a millennia or more? Why aren’t they out there, lobbying the schools and the government to substitute their traditions for the discoveries of science? Could it be they not only have a better grasp of reality, they understand the concept of respect for others in a way that is simply outside the ken of fundamentalist Christians?

Whatever it is, this guy needs to get a grip and realize that favouritism is not a right, religious or otherwise.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dear Google Mail:

I have been a loyal user for more than five years now, and during that time we have happily...and effectively...shared the bond of English as our common tongue.

It appears, however, that you have begun taking language lessons, a la our erstwhile symbologist and musician, the singer formerly and presently (with a hiatus in between as a symbol) known as Prince. It didn't help his image or communication to become something unpronounceable that people had to stumble around to understand and/or articulate and, trust me, it's not helping yours, either.

There used to be a button with actual words on it...words that informed me of its purpose...that took me back to the inbox from an open email. There was no question in my mind when I wanted to go to the next mail which button to click. But recently I have found that button missing and in its place is a symbol that looks like the arrow on my enter key. How am I supposed to intuit the meaning of this symbol? I do not want to enter something, I just want to go back to the list of emails, ya know?

I may be a little late to the party here, since the first substitution I noticed was a replacement of the word "refresh" with the browser symbol for same. OK, a little more straightforward than the bent arrow, I must admit, but still not English...and still overlooked by the eye hunting for the button written in English that has been so clear and serviceable all these years.

I am sure that if you respond, it will be to tell me that you are changing this to make a single symbol-laden mail page for people of all languages, that making the interface in twenty gazillion languages is an unnecessary and undue burden on your resources. But when your attention goes to your bottom line at the expense of engaging your customers, you leave them little choice but to "vote with their feet" when the next latest and greatest alternative comes around. And it will--look what happened to MySpace when FaceBook reared its ugly head.

Facebook is digging itself a grave, one unwelcome change at a time and perhaps you should take notice of the dissatisfaction of its users...oh, you have--that's what Google+ is all about? Well, apparently you have missed the motivation for the customer dissatisfaction that will drive them out of Facebook's arms and into yours: gratuitous changes to the interface that the users don't like. It's not enough that the change somehow benefits the site, it must also be either explained to the users in terms that makes the change to their benefit or convenience or the benefit/convenience must be immediately apparent to the user. When a change renders an interface inconvenient, annoying, or cumbersome to the user, the user grumbles. When enough cavalier, grumble-worthy changes occur, the user begins looking for alternatives. Facebook opened its arms to those dissatisfied with MySpace but has committed an endless string of offenses in the eyes of its users and those people will migrate, without conscience, to Google+ if they perceive it to be more friendly to them and their concerns.

So, Google, let's not queer the deal before it even gets off the ground. Stop behaving like Facebook and changing things willy-nilly, putting your corporate objectives ahead of the preferences of your users. We don't like things that work to be changed unless the change is an improvement...and a symbol I cannot read and must ponder to decipher is not an improvement over a button clearly labelled in my mother-tongue.


Longtime user

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chronic pain: the unwelcome life’s companion

Until it starts to abate, I don’t think even the suffers realize how much long-term chronic pain can diminish their lives. It does more than limit activities that exacerbate the pain, it affects and informs virtually every aspect of life, from mood and sense of well-being to sleep to willingness to go and do and simply experience life. It limits not only motion, but endurance as well, both physical and mental. Chronic pain, even with palliative treatment, can be exhausting.
And that’s where I have been over the last weeks: an unwilling and increasingly debilitated subject of acute and chronic lower back pain, a legacy of too many unwitting injuries coupled arthritis in the lower spine. I had reached a point that nothing I did…from buying a new mattress to loading up on OTC codeine meds…gave me any appreciable relief. I would awaken dreading the activities of the coming day, knowing that the only question regarding my pain would be “how bad?” and “how soon?” There was no pain-free day or even time of day…it was all a matter of degree.

On a good day, fortified with pain medication, I could make it through the supermarket without bending over and leaning on the trolley to take some pressure off my lower spine. Most days, however, were not good days. Walking through the mall became an exercise in bench-spotting: if my back got so bad my legs were starting to give out, where were the benches? Pain even dictated where to park the car: if we couldn’t find a space close to the business we wished to patronize, Hubby would drop me at the entrance to begin the shopping (or find a bench) while he found parking.

Pain circumscribed and dictated my world. I could not participate in any activity that required walking more than five minutes; I could not participate in anything that required prolonged (more than five minutes) standing. Queues at supermarkets, banks, even waiting lines at restaurants, were daunting as standing in one place was even more painful than walking. The pain awakened me at night when I tried to roll over in bed. I began sleeping with a pain tablet and drink on the nightstand next to the bed.

My doctor knew of my back pain but I had not discussed its steady increase in intensity with her. My husband was sick and my focus, medically, was more on helping him. But the day came that I could not prepare dinner…not even peel and chop an onion…without sitting down to “rest” my back. I could not put it off any longer.

Doc started with x-rays, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxers, and more potent pain killers—and a prescription for physiotherapy. Six weeks later, I was not improved…in fact, despite treatment, it was slightly worse. The x-rays revealed some lumbar facet joint arthritis, likely the source of my pain, but the treatment she prescribed had had no effect. She renewed my prescriptions to try to keep the situation from deteriorating further, and referred me to a neurosurgeon for a more detailed workup and treatment.

Have you ever had an MRI? If you have even the slightest tendency towards claustrophobia, I recommend against it! It took only twenty minutes—and my eyes were closed the whole time—but it was one of the more unnerving experiences of my entire life. And God forbid you should have an itch or a cramp or some other compulsion to move because you have to lay as still as the dead while inside what feels like a coffin, the upper portion of the machine literally inches from your nose! Then it shakes, vibrates and quivers while making the most horrific noises, everything from a deep rhythmic thrumming to an eerie space shipish sound. I endured, of course, as many before me have done, but the experience would not be on my list of things I’d enjoy doing again!

The result of the MRI was pretty much as expected: degenerative stuff due to aging and repeated injuries (accidents with horses, motorcycles, cars, stairs), slightly bulging disks, but nothing worthy of surgical intervention, a mixed blessing because it spared me another trip under the knife but limited the treatment options. He gave me some new prescriptions, this one for a high-level pain killer and a nerve-stabilizing pain reliever, prescribed a back brace and scheduled me for a procedure to have steroids injected into my back.

I left his office with mixed emotions: on the one hand, I was looking forward to the pain becoming just an unpleasant memory; on the other hand, anything involving needles and tender parts of my anatomy (my back was even tender to the touch) did not inspire great waves of enthusiastic anticipation!

The new drugs were an improvement over the old but still not able to adequately mask the pain. I hurt less, definitely, but my ability to go and do was not appreciably improved. The relieved the intensity of the pain but didn’t make it go away so, despite my trepidations, I was almost looking forward to the procedure.

It was amazing. Within hours my stamina had tripled: where before I had to sit down about every ten minutes while out on an excursion, two hours after the procedure I was walking around an antiques show and only had to sit down three times in an hour. The very next day I was able to take a shower and wash my hair without taking a break to sit down and rest my back and within days I was doing the grocery shopping without having to lean on the handle of the trolley for support. Before the week was out, I noticed my outlook was improving, that I felt more energized, less immobile, more willing to go out and about, looking forward to excursions rather than fearing them.

The back brace is a miserably uncomfortable thing, but it works synergistically with the continuing pain meds and the injections. I am returning to physical therapy and soon I shall see a biokeneticist to create an exercise plan to strengthen my back without risking the fragile progress we have made against the pain.

I’m feeling so much better, in fact, I’m beginning to feel like writing again…