Friday, June 08, 2007

Posting on Perkoset

from Jacqueline

I know, I should have called James G. again this week to sub for me, because the business of wrangling the keyboard is not a pleasant one at the moment. Oh, don’t those best laid plans gang aft awry? A couple of weeks ago I managed to pull my right arm, or overuse it, or do something that resulted in a series of severe muscle spasms. Who would have thought muscle spasms could be so painful, as in cry yourself to sleep painful. I finally went along to the emergency room – and don’t you see it all in an emergency room? They gave me painkillers and told me to see my orthopedic surgeon, as the arm in question was the one broken several years ago in a riding accident. Had a great recovery after that accident, managed to get 100% of my range of motion back and wrote my first novel while recovering – but in all that time I never had pain like this.

So now I’m having physical therapy and typing with one hand again, and actually taking the painkillers. I come from a family where it’s considered poor form to take meds, to even need to take meds, which is why we are having so much trouble with my mother, who’s saying she can do without the cocktail of statins, blood-thinners and anti-cholesterol drugs she’s been prescribed since she suffered a mild stroke eighteen months ago. Mum, just take the [blank] meds, would you, so we can all sleep at night?

The physical therapist says that the good news is that the really bad muscle spasms like mine (“Haven’t seen one this bad for a long time.”) tend to improve faster. Oh deep joy. But in all of this, I remember that it will go, that it is small in the grand scheme of things, and as I clutch my arm in agony, which I have to do every now and again, I can hear my mother saying, “Think of the people far worse off than you!” I am sure she even said that to my brother when he had a really bad stomach ache that turned out to be peritonitis!

So, I’ve been thinking of all the people I know who are struggling with pain, and many of those I don’t know, but whom I think about nevertheless. And I don’t want this to be the doom and gloom blog, but there are many, many truly courageous people out there, ordinary folk beset with pain, discomfort and ill health. And having just a slice of that experience for a few weeks brings it home even more.

I remember when I broke my arm in 2001, I had this sort of large, bulky padded sling thing I had to wear (I called it “the structure”). It was interesting to me that, when we were out, people – in stores, restaurants and the like – would sometimes refer questions to my husband rather than me, as in, “What would she like to drink.” To which, by that stage, I would chime in with: “She didn’t break her voice or her mind, and she’d like a gin and tonic, please!” I’d heard of people in wheelchairs having to deal with such behavior, but not people like me, with a broken arm.

In the midst of my recent malaise, Newsweek carried a cover feature on pain, how much pain there is out there, and what is being done about it. I have been thinking about the wounded coming back from Iraq, or Afghanistan – remember Afghanistan, it’s where we were successfully chasing down the terrorists before resources were diverted to a war in Iraq, the one that makes no sense whatsoever. There are thousands of young men and women coming back from war with injuries from the minor to the profound, and all of them with even deeper wounds to the soul. Experts on PTSD believe this phenomenon is a disaster waiting to happen, that we have no idea how the numbers of wounded might affect society in years to come. Remember the time when it seemed that not a week went by without a Vietnam vet going mad with a gun in a MacDonald’s? Pain – in the body and mind – is at the root of such violence.

Being in pain made me think of my behavior. I became less than patient, snapping at those closest to me. I put the ‘phone down on an unhelpful appointment clerk, whereas normally, I would have stuck to my “wear them down with kindness” motto. There have been times when I just had to shut myself away or I would snap. And this is a little old muscle spasm – how do we comfort people who are coming back from war?

History informs us that, post-war, we like our heroes in one piece, not missing bits of body. When I first came here to live in the U.S., I wondered why there were so many men just a bit older than me, amputees begging on the streets, with signs saying, “Starving Vet.” Of course, veterans of the Vietnam war had a different cross to bear, but what will happen to the veterans of our current wars, in time, when they are not fresh-faced and young, but older, stooped, with their experiences writ large on their faces? How will their pain be eased, even if they are up to their eyes in Vicodin?

Right now, I’m feeling fortunate that, even if it takes a month or two or three, this pain will be gone. I will be back to my usual active, happy self. I’m something of a fatalist, and believe that nothing happens without good reason. One of my friends asked if I’d had any great ideas for new novels, knowing that my accident six years ago effectively changed my life. Trust me, on Perkoset, you are having good ideas all the time! But the fact is, that this current experience has done something for me. It’s reminded me again, how fortunate I am to have so much in life, and most important - my health.

Sorry, no pics this week – that left hand can’t run to cut, paste, and the fingerobatics required for such special effects.

PS: And I should add that I am my mother's daughter - being on painkillers scares the heck out of me, so I am only taking about a quarter of the dose I should be taking, cutting up the pills in case I get addicted!

Have a lovely weekend, and if you want to pass on this post, there's the envelope icon below.


  1. Hi Jacqueline,

    I've been adding to my body of work review on you, and some of it covers the injured returned soldiers problems you mentioned in this post. Sorry it isn't finished yet, but I'm getting there. :-D

    I'm so sorry about your shoulder. I hope the pain goes away soon. I'm like you when it comes to meds: take the absolute smallest dose you can get away with. :-) Maybe it was the upbringing...

    Anyway, I hope you feel better soon. And if you aren't going to take your full painkillers, then think about relaxation meditation. When we are tense, the muscles bunch up - this type of thing aggravates my migraine problem - so meditation to relax is good. Think of it as your own personal therapy workout. :-D


  2. from Jacqueline

    Hi Marianne, and thanks for the good wishes. You know, before I had my surgery for that broken arm, I meditated with the intention of having no pain whatsoever. I'd already been doing research for Maisie Dobbs, and discovered that, in WW1, the US Army had looked carefully at the type of wounds suffered by the Allied soldiers and the fact that many wounded would lay waiting for hours and hours until stretcher bearers reached them. So, in anticipation of eventually having to join the fray, they began experimenting with self-hypnosis, so that the US soldiers would be able to self-medicate with their minds when wounded. So, I tried it, and it was really interesting - I didn't need so much as a Tylenol following my surgery, and the nurses wanted to give me morphine because they couldn't believe that someone could have orthopedic surgery and not be in pain. I've been trying to go back to that meditation, but it's hard ot do once the pain has taken hold. Interesting though!

  3. We're all hoping for your speedy return to a pain-free life. I'm also thinking that "Percocet" is a grand name for a horse.

  4. Pain makes egocentrics of us all, because when we hurt, that's all we can think about. Dr. Smiley believes in taking the full doze of pain medication and resting. Trust her, she knows about these things...

  5. from Jacqueline

    Ooops, I spelled Percocet incorrectly - and you're right, great name for a horse. I'll keep that one in mind. And Patty, if I didn't have to submit a revised manuscript to my publisher on Monday, I might well be on the full dose of painkillers!

  6. PLEASE don't be a martyr. It's horsepuckey that you could get addicted in such a short time when you need the medication. There are dozens and DOZENS of studies that prove that in a vast majority of cases, people taking pain medication FOR PAIN do not risk addiction. You're in serious pain you're dealing with a very nasty problem (muscle spasms sounds so la-dee-da, don't they? They're vicious and I so understand what you are living with) and you're being - well forgive me, I don't know you, but you're being um, well, dumb. Sorry but there it is. You want your mother to take what will help her but you won't help yourself. Hmmmm??

    I have lived with chronic serious pain for 30 years. I take strong narcotic medication. And most people who know me (including your blogmate, my bestbuddy, secret sister Cornelia) will tell you I am a living breathing, functioning, non-addicted person.

    Pain is exhausting and you will heal slower if you don't take care of it because it's a tax on your entire system. You need to lower your stress, you need to let things calm, and you have to get a decent night's sleep so you can heal right? Pain medication will go a long way towards accomplishing that.

    I don't mean to berate you, honestly, but you're being silly. You ARE NOT going to get addicted to percoset because you take it for a few days for serious pain. Why people still believe that in spite of a raft of evidence to the contrary baffles me. I can probably point you to a study or 12 that will back me up but please take my word for it for now instead? Legit
    doctors do not prescribe percoset if they think addiction is the likely outcome. In 2007, thinking it's "poor form" to take stuff is masochistic, no matter how ingrained it is.

    What you're dealing with is miserable; do what makes it better, okay?

  7. Thanks, Andi, I think I needed that, and it's probably timely, in that I woke up in the night in great pain and thought, "To heck with this," only it wasn't quite that sentence and the word wasn't "heck."

    My husband would be the first to agree with you - he suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, in fact, we left the Bay Area to live in a more stable climate to try to diminish some of the pain he has to live with - and it worked too.

    I guess I read too many of those articles on people becoming addicted, but right now, this thing is making me miserable, and I am not naturally a miserable person. So, thanks for the berating, it worked. I'm off to take another percocet and get rid of this pain. I felt such a wimp at first, because "muscle spasm" does sound so minor, but it really is a very nasty thing.

    Thanks again, Andi.

  8. Oh my dear Our J, I am so sorry to hear that you're hurting so much!! I'm glad Andi stepped in to berate you a bit. PLEASE take good care of yourself and get well soon!

    And just think, if you had a horse named Percoset, they could announce you as you came into the ring "Jacqueline Winspear, on Percoset..." Well, maybe you'd want to give that horse to someone for whom it would be more appropriate an introduction over the loudspeaker.

    We used to make up horse names specifically for that announcement, for different people in our barn. One rather odiously bitchy woman was to have a horse named "The Rag," for instance.

  9. Oh, Cornelia, that made me laugh! I have been looking - only in photos, thus far - at a horse with "Champagne" in his name, and rather like the name Champers - "Jacqueline Winspear on Champers" seems good to me, though I could always name a horse Ginand Tonic. Had a call from my mother a little while ago, just checking up on me. Like many people in the UK, she accesses the web via the TV, and though she can read our blog and the comments, she cannot actually make a comment - for this be grateful. Anyway, her first words to me were, "And you should listen to those people who are telling you to just take the painkillers, my girl." I'm over 50 and I still get the "my girl" when she's miffed at me!

  10. Glad to make you laugh! I like the idea of both Champers and Ginand Tonic. If I were ever to acquire a horse, it should probably be named Awinganda Prayer. Sounds downright Sanskritish.

  11. Hi Jackie,

    On a slightly lighter note (though it may not seem that way to anyone in a wheelchair)....

    I laughed when i read your 'does he take sugar' moment. The same thing had just happened to me, and thankfully i too have no use for a wheelchair.

    My neighbour recently started teaching me the piano, and the two of us were chatting to another neighbour, whose only comment was "can he do any tunes yet?".

    Perhaps people's instinct is always to talk to the person who they sense is 'in charge'!


  12. Sorry, should have added "however erroneosly"!

  13. Cornelia, Awinganda Prayer sounds like a mechanic on NPR's car talk! This will make a great game at the ranch where I keep my horse.

    And Robert, I think you're on the right track, on people talking to the person in charge, however, erroneously, however, it is really downright annoying! My mother-in-law has to use a wheelchair, and earlier in the year we went to a department store so that she could buy a certain type of make-up she likes. The first person we stopped to talk to tried to have the whole conversation with me, so we moved on. The second assistant paid complete attention to everything my mother-in-law said, brought out different things for her to try, and my mother-in-law went away with her card - she'll be getting a lot more business for talking to the person buying. And to talk to her customer, she even knelt down so that she was at eye level, and not peering down from a great height.

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