Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Pain Is Not A Precise Art

Sometimes with pain  you can make it start.  With luck you can also make it stop.    In my case that’s stand up, stretch a bit, and then the electric begins to flash.  Sit and lean forward and after time the sparks begin to stop.  But pain, of course,  has an antipathy to regulation, and it has ghosts.     Just when you think it’s gone it comes drifting on back: a veil, a bank of fog.  It settles around you like a dark cloak.  From out of the past there it is:  a heavy hand holding you back.

In desperation I’ve done all I know.  High dose prednisolone, double naproxen, same for co-codamol.  Yoga breathing.  Hot compresses.  Ice.  Lying in a dark room,  foetal position, Neil Young’s Psychedelic Pill on the player, loud, just to cover my moaning.  Today, though, we try for the light.  Out there, under the blue sky, heading for Homebase.

It’s a simple activity.  Car journey, car park, short walk through the green-framed doors past the display of cut-price couches, wheelbarrows and January-cheap Christmas decs.  We’re heading for the lighting.  New stuff for the hall.  Easy.  But, naturally, it’s not. 

The whole world has changed here.  Where once I knew instinctively what a 60-watt bulb looked and felt like, how bright it would be, how long it would it last, how much it would cost, how hot it would get, how many times I’d need to change it,  today I’m lost.  Watts have become lumens.  Simple standard bayonet and screw fit have been replaced by multi-sized  prongs, screws, turns, clips and holders.  The bulbs themselves have  branched into LEDS, halogens, incandescents and energy-savers with subdivisions that involve sodium, mercury, metal halide, sealed beams and shatter-proof tops. Bulb shape is a past thing too.  Today they are lozenges, globes, pyramids, cubes, drops, prongs and bubbles.  Lamps in profusion.  I have no idea which one I want.

Above the racks Homebase helpfully display a poster which demystifies everything.  Except it does not.  Lumens mix with watts, old merges with new, nothing is clear, nothing gets printed on the sides of the Made In China bulbs in the display below.   I’d like it bright.  Chances are though that I’ll end up buying something that takes ten minutes light up and will even then not be bright enough to find the door.  There’s a light like that in our bathroom.  I refuse to go in there for a pee without a torch.  

Right here the pain intervenes.  Electricity in the lower leg.  Rising fire.  I retreat to the store’s display of occasional furniture and sit. Usually works.   I’ve chosen a sort of armchair that looks like a throwback from the 1950s.  The past keeps recycling.  But then I’m old enough now to have got used to that.

I lean forward and try to make myself invisible.  But it’s no good.  An extended family of Chinese origin arrive, clearly in the market for 1950s throwbacks, and start to examine the chair while I’m still sitting in it. They want to see how it revolves.  One of them gets down and peers between my shoes to check the mechanism.  “This is comfortable?” he asks.   Yes, I nod, handing him the price card.  £50 it says.   I get up and stumble over to sit, instead,  on the edge of a unit which displays various sorts of tile cement and other things in tubes reduced for a quick sale.  The Homebase bargain bin.  Do I want anything?  Other than an end to the roaring pain, nope. 

The Chinese family have decided that they will purchase the chair and are carting it off towards the check out.  Good luck.  I thought it was overpriced.   We return to the car.  Sue has a bag of bulbs under her arm, she knows how to decode the new lighting world.  All I can think of is relief.  What it feels like.  How long it might last.  How to make it arrive. 

And then it’s no longer there.  I’m sitting and watching the road go by and become slowly aware that the pain has gone.   The immediate future, despite low wattage, might be bright. 


Friday, 11 January 2013


The pred levels are sinking.  I’m down to 3 mgs daily now and on such good and familiar terms with the wonder drug that I’ve dropped the nisalone bit from its name in favour of something more streetwise.  For now the polymyalgia is almost a memory although I’m sure its traces lurk down there in the dregs at the bottom of my bloods.  The new enemy, and one of considerable power,  is the spinal cyst. 

Looking at the dates on this blog it’s obvious that I have been severely distracted for several months.  The latter half of 2012 has gone by without comment.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that little happened during that time – the reverse in fact.  Between September 2012 and January 2013 I've been property developing, to live in rather than sell on. The opportunity presented itself last October so my partner and I went ahead.  We sold up and bought anew.  A big house with its own drive half-way up Penylan Hill.  Don’t underestimate the attraction of a drive.  In the Cardiff world where the car is king and the pavements thick with cyclists having a drive is a bit like owning a strip of 5mg prednisolone – salvation on hand whenever there’s a need.

With gusto we set the sell and buy circus in motion.  I have a dim memory of the last time I did this, way back in 1979. I swore then that because of the stress, expense and outrageous hassle I’d never do it again.  Why  in 2013, then,  have I decided to ignore those warnings from my younger self?

Out there in the world of land and property  is a line of essential organisations who need consulting, paying, obtaining permission from, paying, talking to, paying, obtaining clearance documents from, paying, and just for good measure, paying again.  The line stretches out to the horizon and the faces blur.  The mesh of commercial, legal, fiscal, and governmental interests, all acting with due diligence, comprehensive record-keeping, and a clearance fee on each occasion (to cover essential costs) out bleaks Bleak House.  The cash in the bank account whirls down towards zero.

In the middle of all this, with builders taking the floors out, new central heating going in and the internal water supplies being rerouted I decide to have my mouth repaired.  This is the latest episode in a long-term saga which I won’t bore you with here but suffice it to say that for several decades now I’ve been a regular at the local dentists with broken bicuspids, misaligned molars, contracting canines and collapsing crowns. On a good day I can fracture an incisor on a banana.   

At the Dental Hospital they’ve made the offer to rebuild and I’ve accepted.  This means six or more two-hour attendances, drilling, pulling, refacing and reinserting with I don’t know how many injections of lignocaine to help us along.  I’ve read Martin Amis’s recollections of his own time in the dental chair.  That's in Experience,  his 2000 autobiography and a book with a lot more going for it than many of his novels.  I should be prepared.

When I get to UHW  the car park is unaccountable cordoned off and closed.  I park a mile away and head in on foot.   The rain is coming down as only January ran can and the cyst is letting me know what the world is about.  Pain is coming up my right leg like jets of fire.  Half way there I have to stop and stuff my mouth with painkillers.  I’m carrying naproxen and heavy-dose co-codamol. For good measure, as the pain is wrapping itself round me like a poultice, I swallow an extra  5mg of pred.  Might help.  It’s an anti-inflammatory after all.

In the dental chair I’m floating.  I’m set out so that my head is lower than my feet and I’m injected on both sides.  I’m not sure which world I’m in.  To hell with what’s going on inside my mouth all know is that the leg pain is going and then, after time wobbles a bit, is gone. 

A couple of hours later I’m in the Japanese recovering.  This style of dining has been chosen for a) its freshness b) its lack of calories and, more importantly, c) its ability to deliver a decent full meal as a sort of non-tooth threatening mush.  Ramen – chicken bits and noodles.  Soft as a brush, just right.  I’ve a bottle of Sapporo (4.7%) in hand and a bowl of edamame  as an appetiser.  Around me there’s a  multi-cultural melee of young people chattering and eating while simultaneously  pushing  their fingers at their smart phones.  They are dining on raw fish and seaweed, udon doused in soy and crab’s legs coated in batter.  It's the modern way.

I go for broke and swallow another 5mg of Prednisone with the beer.  That should fix it.  The top of a back tooth snaps and comes away like pieces of badly-fixed render.  I’m unfazed.  This has happened so often before so why should I be?   I’m back at the Dental Hopsital in a week or so, they’ll sort it then.

More importantly the synovial cyst pain has gone back to that place where pain goes when it needs to recover its juices a bit.  A fog in my lower back.  It’ll hang there, hiding, and come back out to burn me again tomorrow.   But for now it isn’t with me.  Glory be.  What made it go?  Pred, NSAID,  pain-killer, dental injection, lying upside down, time, wishful thinking, prayer, luck, or beer?  One of those.