After the reality of undergoing any type of surgery, is that you will have a certain amount of pain that will need to be managed in some manner. Doctors and other healthcare professionals can provide a myriad of different pain relievers in both liquid and pill form, but when talking about recovery from surgery, most of the pain relievers used will be in the form or narcotic medications. Typically, when taken properly there should be little to no problems. Unfortunately problems do arise when these medications are either abused, or abruptly halted. Sometimes these medications while relieving us from the burden of pain, can make us feel strange or not at our best. They can have unintended effects on other systems in our body. These problems can make us frustrated enough to do (or not do) the things that we know that we should; influencing us enough to go against our own better judgment. I want to cover this topic today, using my own recent experiences as a guide to help you along and hopefully save you from having to suffer with these problems.
NOTE: I am not a Doctor, nor do I play one on TV. If you are having any problems at all with any aspect of using narcotic medication,(or any drugs for that matter) I recommend that you immediately contact and seek the advice of a skilled medical practitioner, or healthcare provider. That should be your first choice for accurate advice for your specific case.
Am I High, Numb or just Stupid?
The purpose of narcotic pain medication is to alter how our body perceives pain, lowering that perception as much as possible. Unfortunately it has a strong tendency to make us feel like we are not in our right frame of mind. A small number of folks are lucky because they are blessed with bodies that metabolize pain meds in a way that attacks only the pain and nothing more. However for the majority of us, we feel light headed, intoxicated or high, numb, or just plain stupid. Our reaction time slows way down, and our perception of the world becomes altered. This feeling can increase depending upon the amount or type of pain medication we are prescribed.
Some folks like the altered state feeling. Some people need that feeling of relaxation that comes with this chemical high. Hey, I don’t judge anyone at all when it comes to this. Personally, I am uncomfortable with the disorientation that I feel from narcotic pain medication. While I appreciate what they are supposed to do, I feel like they are an invasion of unwanted chemicals being thrust into my body. I resent the feeling of being out of control or not in my right mind. In other words, I hate feeling stupid! As a result of this, I have a predisposition towards going with as little pain meds as possible. This can become problematic for me since as a result of already having them in my body, I am already compromised to an extent. I am already outside of my normal frame of mind, which makes making proper and right judgments difficult. The door to the “Stupid Zone” is close by, and readily accessible.
Unfortunately during the process of making us feel less pain, some medications throw unexpected surprises our way, called side effects. What are side effects? My personal definition says that they are unintended conditions that crop up specifically to frustrate and make us hate our body and the world at that moment. For example, it’s been awhile since you have eaten, and you decide to get up and fix a meal. However, the meds you have just taken have other ideas. Suddenly the smell of the very food you are about to eat makes your stomach do flip flops, and the mother of all nausea attacks hits you right in the gut. At other times, you don’t even have time to think about food, because you are too busy making multiple trips to sit on the toilet, or you are wondering why you CAN'T go. Or perhaps you aren't even thinking about food at all. Instead you are wondering why the little man pounding in your head hates you so badly. Of course, that’s better than itching all over, 24 hours a day….
I think you get the picture.
Now most of us don't plan on being disobedient to the doctor’s orders. However, when these unintended conditions pile on top of us in the midst of our own pain, it is easy to see where one might contemplate the wisdom in taking the pain medication in the first place. And of course, these things are occurring at the same time when we are not in our best frame of mind. The door to the Stupid Zone looms even closer at this point.
Do not try this at home!
Several weeks ago, I was fed up with dealing with the side effects of my own pain medications. So in my
“You're a strong determined man. You are exceeding the doctor’s expectations. You are the king of rehab. You're not weak anymore. You can do this! Besides, that pain stuff is all in your head anyway right? So, be a man! Just gut it out and you'll be fine.”
This is where I yanked open the door and fell headlong into the Stupid Zone.
After about 20 hours of no pain meds in my system, my body went into shock and withdrawal mode with a vengeance. I suffered 3 days of terrible reactions including dehydration, upper and lower GI distress, profuse sweating, intense cold, dizziness and disorientation, and oh yeah, I had increased and considerable pain in my hip. “Be a man” my ass! What an idiot I was! There is a reason that your medication dosage schedule is written on your prescription bottle the way it is. If you have an issue with it, go to the source first. Talk to your doctor BEFORE acting on your own. Believe me, you'll save yourself a world of hurt.
So how do I deal with this?
Dealing with the side effects of narcotic pain medication can be difficult. If you find yourself struggling with your drug’s unwanted effects, or if they turn out to be more than you can handle, contact your healthcare professional for help and advice. This is especially important if you are suffering serious conditions like chest pains or breathing difficulties.
Truth be told, most times where side effects are present, they tend to be of the more annoying, inconveniencing variety. They aren't serious, just a huge pain in the ass. In these cases, all you can do is to ride them out as best you can. In the meantime, here are a few tips to help you.
1) Eat (even if you don’t feel like it) – There exists a bit of a paradox between nausea and recovery. You may feel uncomfortable at the very thought of food, and yet you need to eat to maintain your strength, especially if you are looking at an extensive rehabilitation. Nausea can actually be a false indicator of discomfort, and you can actually feel better after a meal. Try something light and easy like a little juice and two pieces of toast. Or a cup of yogurt with a little fruit or granola mixed in. If you just cannot tolerate solid food, try a protein shake with a bit of fruit blended in. Check out this link for a simple recipe that doesn't use protein powder.
2) Drink: Part of maintaining good health during your recovery from surgery is making sure that you take in lots of fluids. Especially when you find yourself sweating a lot. It doesn't matter if it’s from medication side effects or from a good workout during your rehab. You need to drink as much as you can tolerate. Water is best, but in a pinch juice or Gatorade can be helpful. Remember to refrain from, or at least lower the amount of coffee or tea that you usually drink, since they are diuretics and rid the body of much needed fluid. While water is best for the body, getting it in can be difficult due to its lack of flavor. Try adding fresh lemon juice, honey and a half teaspoon of salt to a quart of cold water, for a delicious and more interesting change of pace.
3) Rest: Your body is in repair mode right now. This is the time to allow yourself to sleep when you need to, or just be plain lazy. In our fast paced world, we are used to being on the go, or involved in something every minute of the day. Now is not the time for getting things done. Your body is healing, and you need as much relaxation as possible. Believe it or not, it is allowed, and it’s ok. Getting good rest can be a great distraction from pain. Place yourself in a peaceful environment, put on some relaxing music, read that book you've always wanted to get to, or watch that dvd you've been looking forward to. And if you fall asleep in the process, well that means you win the bonus prize!
Remember to keep moving forward, think of the new and improved you, and do the best you can!