Saturday, September 5, 2009

Torture for Beginners

The vice grips tightened and the serrated pincers dug deeply through the flesh to the bone. The everyday tool, a cross between pliers and a screw clamp, became an instrument of torture. Applied to the big toe of the right foot, its jaws increased the pressure from a gentle squeeze to a numbing crushing force. The toe curled under in response. Slowly the whole body and everything else was forgotten as the discomfort increased to a radiating pain. First the remainder of the foot, then the calf and knee, stiffened in sympathy. But like muscles always do when left clenched too long, they began to tremble and could not stop. Trying to get the vibration to stop by willing the right leg to relax proved futile. It only refocused attention on the tightening muscles in the foot. It too mimicked a steady oscillation as the logical extension of the leg's reaction to the pain. And so the cycle continued from toe up to leg, back to foot, which resulted in a rhythmic motion on the gas pedal.

Parkinson's has an extremely varied menu of diverse and strange symptoms. Unfortunately, knowing the menu does not allow one to make the meal choices. The establishment delivers each course unannounced. Portion size and speed of delivery are almost totally unpredictable and, for the most part, out of control of the customer. The total meal is usually a pot pourri of undesirable physical, psychological and emotional items dished out without a set sequence or severity.

Dystonia was being served up Friday as we drove towards the Olympic Peninsula for a weekend with the family. It is the contortion and cramping of muscles resulting from mixed up neurological messages. My big toe on my right foot is the recipient of the term. Mild in my case, but unmistakable. Have I over-dramatized the introduction to today's post above? Certainly, but someday it may not be. And for some the description above would be understated.

Driving a car (not motorcycle, thank goodness!) brings on the mild dystonia in my right toe. I used to enjoy road trips, but now they represent a reminder of a PD symptom that may be painful in the future.

So how do you handle pain? I don't manage it well. But I am learning, and it is a valuable lesson. Pain is often the ultimate teacher and tests one's priorities like little else. It is an experience we cannot really share. Complaining accomplishes little and sends the wrong message.

My own attempts come down to first trying not to fight it. In the case of dystonia, relaxing is the only actual remedy. Rest is the second antidote. Third, I try to reorient my attention, distract myself with music, a game, discussion or whatever. Finally, I remember that many others live with greater pain and I need to keep away from self-pity. Feeling sorry for yourself is the real prison guard and torturer. By focusing on the big picture takes our eyes off of ourselves. We can prevail over pain. Positively.

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