I’ve spent the past week or so with my mother, who has, among other ailments, degenerative osteo arthritis and ulcerative colitis, a hyper-active immune system disease similar to the Crohns that has plagued me over the years. I’ve watched her struggle slowly and painfully to her feet, stand for a few seconds with the support of her walker to be sure she’s steady, then carefully move from one room to another. She’s having a hard time getting her 86-year-old body moving and she’s constantly in pain. The other day, her left knee threatened to go backward with her and knocked her off balance. She caught herself, but it scared the tar out of me.
The cartilage is gone from both of her knees and her left shoulder, and use of her left arm is restricted. Getting into and out of the car is an exercise of strength and determination and a constant battle against the pain. It takes her a week to recuperate from one day’s worth of outings.
Every three months, she gets steroid shots in both knees, or in one knee and the shoulder. She’s not allowed to have them more often than that, but for the first month and a half, she’s better. The pain isn’t as bad, and she can move about with a little more freedom.
That leaves a month and a half where she can’t do much without excruciating pain—and here’s where the ulcerative colitis problem comes in. Though the condition is under control, it, like Crohn’s, is incurable and remission lasts only as long as the medication continues working. I don’t know about all hyper-active immune system diseases, but UC and Crohn’s patients are restricted to only one type of over-the-counter pain reliever: Acetaminophen. Tylenol, which works great, for lightweight pain. Hers isn’t lightweight.
Short of some intravenous pain med, the only kind of prescription relief she can get is Tramadol—an opioid. Not everyone who takes opioids become addicted to them. I didn’t. Mom didn’t. But because people do, getting them has become harder than ever.
When the crack-down began, my mother’s doctor took her off of them. The only affect on Mom was the fact she had nothing but Tylenol to relieve her pain, but she can’t use them often because the dangers associated with it are increased because of her age. She has used topical Lidocaine patches and creams, but she’s not supposed to use them to the extent she needs them. The instructions on the box of Lidocaine patches say that she can use only one. She has three places where she needs relief—and when things are bad enough, her back goes out, so that makes four. Whenever one part of the body gets funky, everything else in the body tries to compensate, which gives overall pain. How can she get relief?
One thing that happens when I (or anyone else, for that matter) post something like this, is that all sorts of people comment about natural oils and teas and diets that work for simple pains and ailments. And some of them are great. For instance, we discovered that wintergreen oil does indeed work with a type of arthritis Mom has in her hands, and that a teaspoon of mustard or vinegar stops leg and foot cramps. But nothing like this works on the types of pain-causing problems Mom has.
I don’t know what the answer is, and it’s killing me that I can’t help ease her pain. When I’m here, I do everything I can for her to keep her from having to move very much, but I don’t live in the same town she does and I can’t be here all the time.
Pharmacists and chemists are under attack these days. The general population seems to hate them for one reason or another. But I’m praying that they can come up with an answer for those of us who need a regular form of pain relief. It’s hard to watch someone you love live with so much agony.