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A Real Pain in the Ass

Sabato, 12 maggio 2007. While sitting on the edge of the bed dressing this morning I was nearly knocked over by a severe muscle spasm or cramp in my left buttock. The pain was very much like a violent thrust with a sharp spear. I tried to walk it off, but the pain was too great. I fell into bed. The only position I could find to relieve the pain was to pull my knees tight up against my chest. It was awful.

I wrote a note asking Nino to help me get some pain medication at the pharmacy, and slowly climbed to the top of the outside stairs to tape it to his door. As I was doing it, my right leg just gave way and I fell on the landing. I slowly got to my feet, went slowly back down the stairs. Since it was the weekend, Nino was probably at his mother's house, so I spent the entire day in bed—twelve solid hours—drifting in and out of consciousness, having bad dreams. I took a hot shower every hour, which was a ridiculous waste of water because I could have just as well filled up a water bottle and used it to apply heat to my muscles.

Around 1700 Nino got home, and I was able to describe my affliction. He went to the pharmacy and came back with a batch of hypodermic needles, two boxes of ampules, and two anti-pain patches. He then called his mother, Nonna, to administer my injection, since it apparently would be inappropriate for Nino to do it, and certainly he would not ask his wife Colomba to do it. Anyway, after the shots I finally felt blessed relief from the intense pain.

Later in the evening Columba showed up with a tray of a bowl of chicken rice soup, a meatball covered in tomato sauce, slices of pepperoni and a mound of soft white cheese of some kind, and a cup of fruit. Then later in the evening I heard Nino’s voice at my bedroom window, inquiring as to how I was doing I told him I was fine, and I asked him to especially thank Columba for the magnificent dinner she’d made for me.

Now, when genial Nonna had prepared the syringe that evening, she smiled and said this was only a “piccolo problemo.” She obviously had seen it before, in her husband and sons. I said it felt more like the approach of death. No, no, no, no. she smiled.

Lunedi, 14 maggio 2007, ore 07:10:12. Seven hours ago, at midnight, I felt the pain returning to my buttock, so I forced myself to get up, load the syringe, and without hesitation I applied the needle to my flesh. This time I decided to spread the medicine around by making multiple punctures, including my upper thigh.

A few hours later I’m still having anxious thoughts, which elevate my pulse rate, which may lead to my blood pressure going to the top of the scale. I worry that I won’t be able to walk all the way to Forio this morning, that maybe my right leg will collapse as it did at the top of Nino’s stairs. I worry that I will no longer be able to walk three, four times a week to get groceries, and will become dependent on Nino or someone else to do my grocery shopping. I worry that I have done permanent damage to myself, and that there’s nothing I can do about it. I worry that I am soon going to be a helpless old man, deserving only disdain and contempt from the healthy people all around me

Anxiety seems to make my heart palpitations more frequent, and as I feel the fluttering in my chest, my anxiety increases, a closed loop. Actually a downward spiral. I’m truly fucked up. And no matter what I do to turn things around, the relief is only temporary.

Well, my single task today will be to walk slowly to the village, get cash from the ATM, and deposit it into my checking account. Best that I not take my heavy satchel that contains my notebook, camera, assorted other stuff. I'll just go without any excess weight. See how it goes. Once I make the deposit, I’ll assess my condition and decide if I can walk further, or rather get a taxi to take me back up the mountain.
While I’m at it I’ll stop by the farmacia and get a fresh package of medication patches called “Flector,” which is a medication designed to handle muscle pain. You peel off a flimsy plastic cover and put the sticky side on where it hurts, and for 12 hours the painkiller migrates through the skin and into the muscle.

I must remind myself that the human body is extraordinarily resilient, and it will, in the process of homeostasis, eventually return to equilibrium and health. Of course when you’re older, it takes longer, a sad fact of life. I must also remind myself that at my core I am impatient.

My pulse rate is 64. I have no fever, no chills. The ache in my leg is more annoying than painful. I’m able to walk to the bedroom, to the end of the bathroom, and back and forth. I don’t feel like my legs are about to collapse. But then my chest feels tight. I know I’m flooded with anxiety. But that low pulse rate contradicts my self-diagnosis.

On TV I saw a guy who got lost in the south African desert, and he went three days without water or protection in the hot sun and almost died of poisoning from drinking the acidic white sap from a cactus, which burned his mouth and throat, and he had to punch a hole through all the phlegm and mucous so he could breathe, and somehow he managed to hang on until he got rescued by some trackers. I am not even close to the dire physical condition that man was in, and yet with this piccolo problemo I feel like my heretofore active life has come to a close, that I’ll soon be helpless and disabled and dependent on the charity of others.

OK, done. Felt sort of wobbly going down the mountain, and also felt a fairly sharp ache from my buttocks and down along my right thigh and leg, but I persisted, slowly. Got money from the ATM, then directly to the bank. Had to wait in line. The ache got more pronounced, and then the line moved and I could sit on a window ledge, which instantly relieved the discomfort. Then finally I got the money deposited, and headed for the grocery store.

Got yoghurt, cheese, bread, salami. But somehow I managed to not put the cheese into my grocery sack, just left it there after having paid for it. Oh, well. A minor little glitch.

Then back up the mountain. Very slowly, one step at a time. There are various flowers blooming, including a type that resembles honeysuckle and the scent is disturbingly sweet and cloying, almost nauseating, and I recalled that dreadful time in the hospital when I was in post-gall-bladder-surgery recovery, and Elizabeth’s mother had sent me a potted plant that had a similar, sickening odor. I’m sure it has to do with the fact that I’m deep into a bad physical and emotional state.

But now I’m back home. I put on one of the Flexor patches and I’ve resisted the urge to take one of those powdered painkillers. Don’t want to over medicate myself. I need to be careful.

Now that my chores are completed, I don’t have to go into Forio for another two, three days. Now, if I don’t recover within that time to my satisfaction I will ask Nino to find me an English speaking physician and get thoroughly checked out, once and for all.

Now I shall lie down.

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This makes me want to go pop a quinine for you.

In times of crisis I revert to cliches. Like, "This, too, shall pass." When that doesn't work, I turn to something more reliable, like asprin, muscle relaxants, or voodoo. I'll try anything!

quinine is good as a muscle relaxant, and for malaria of course, but it is difficult to get anymore (in the states anyway). You might get lucky and a kindly EuroDr will prescribe some for you.

Of course, I also believe that there is nothing that can't be fixed with application of enough Vodka, but that is just me...

*good thoughts*

Sorry, John. You'd call me, I've had the same problems two weeks ago and I had the right solution. I hope you'll be better in the next days, so we'll meet by Elio's. Take care of you.

I feel great improvement, but I think I'll give myself a couple more days. Maybe we can meet some time this weekend.

How about today (Saturday, 19) at 1100 at Elio's?

Sorry, John, I'm just up now (1300 ). Yesterday I went sleep at 3.30 am. If it is ok for you, we can meet at 1830 at Elio's, let me know.

OK, I'll be at Elio's at 1830 today!

Feel better soon, John!


Thanks, I appreciate your thinking of me!

The good news is that your natural function of homeostasis--both mental and physical--will bring you back to a more normal state. The bad news is that recovery always takes longer than we want, and gives us the feeling that the stress & anxiety are permanent. So hang in there.

Sound familiar?

In my case, you were absolutely right. So I offer you the same hope. You'll get through. My best wishes for your prompt & complete healing.

Thanks! Although the hypochondriac deep within me prefers to think that my affliction is WAY more serious than it actually is. I don't at the moment have the energy to think through this absurdity. When I get better, maybe I'll give it a shot.

Sorry you're having so much pain. It sounds like sciatica. Best to be checked out by an md. Rest and drugs are your best options. DON"T however administer an injection by 'multiple punctire sites'. There bacteria that live on the skin that can be pushed into the deeper tissue, that's why we wipe with alcolol before injecting. You did that right?
If it is sciatica, it goes away. There are exercises you can do, but it sometimes takes months. Good Luck.

Many thanks for your concern! Yes, I did a very thorough job of swabbing the entire area of my rear end and thigh with alcohol soaked cotton. So far no sign of any infection or other ill effect. But it occurred to me right after this multiple stabbing that I was making the needle point less sharp. Anyway, I looked up sciatica and was greatly reassured. For a while I feared that I was about to become totally disabled, paralyzed from the waist down, doomed to suffer regret and anguish for what was left of my miserable life. But this morning, the sun rose and my pain was greatly diminished. A disappointment, actually. Much less drama in returning to normal. Oh, well...

I'm glad you are feeling better. I know how it is when you're sick and think this is how the rest of your life will go. It sucks.
I forgot to mention that you should only use the needle once because of the chance of infection. Now we use disposable needles, a long time ago we would sterilize the needles between use. Sometimes they got dull, ouch! Take care!

This certainly sounds like sciatica, which is to say, a lower back problem - the fact that the pain radiates down the leg is just what one might expect from a pinched nerve. Also, the fact that sitting on a window ledge eased the discomfort suggests that the way you hold your body is affecting the pain, as is often the case with back problems. I sympathize, having been through severe back and leg pain myself in the past.

You should certainly see a doctor to verify what the problem is, although in my experience you can't depend on getting very reliable help from doctors on back-related problems, if that is what it is. Current thinking seems to be that rest is not generally very helpful. Each back problem is different, but I know a number of people, including myself, for whom the most effective and sometimes dramatic improvement comes from doing the right kind of exercise. For me, the most helpful was a book by Robin McKenzie called '7 Steps to a pain-free life', which is available in paperback.

I hope you are feeling better soon.

i sure hope that you have healed up proper since you wrote this!

acupuncture can be really helpful with muscle issues....

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