I’m sharing a conversation my husband, Howard, and I had earlier in the week.
Sharon: “My column is due to my editor in about 20 minutes (a slight exaggeration), and I have no idea what to write about.”
Howard: “Why don’t you write about pain?”
Sharon: “I’m looking for a topic that’s uplifting and on the humorous side — and pain is not funny.”
Howard: “You could write about people who are a pain in the derriere” (only he did not say “derriere”).
For those of you who do not use that word, derriere is “a euphemistic term for a person’s buttocks.” Synonyms are “behind, backside, bottom, rear, hindquarter, etc.” There’s one synonym that’s particularly compelling, and I may start using it regularly — “sitzfleisch,” as in “the bedspring tattooed waffles all over my sitzfleisch.”
You may be asking yourself, “Where the heck is she going with this?” Only maybe you’re not using the word “heck.”
Here’s the story, and I will try to make it uplifting. Pain has been an unwelcome companion in our household over the last several months. My husband has been experiencing unrelenting back pain. There are a multitude of reasons for it. I refer to it as “the wear-and-tear theory of aging,” but I do realize saying that is not in any way helpful when he’s grimacing and twitching as he gets out of bed in the morning or trying without success to lower himself to a comfortable sitting position on a donut-shaped chair cushion.
Pain can make you angry, depressed, cranky and self-absorbed. And it can have that same effect on the people around you.
We are grateful, make that delighted, to have moved past the most recent pain-filled phase of our lives — ever aware that age and diagnostic circumstance suggest it will be a return visitor. So I’m choosing to write about pain management. I have some new awareness.
It has taken six months for my spouse’s pain to (almost) disappear. He thinks improvement was aided by acupuncture and his twice-weekly physical therapy appointments. Our health providers (we have so many of late) say it simply takes more time for an aging body to heal.
We tried everything in our attempt to address the pain. Some people get satisfaction from a chiropractor or a hypnotherapist. We did not. Some people get temporary comfort from over-the-counter heat and cold therapies. For the most part, we did not. Opioids in any form were not a path we wanted to go down — and, in fact, research now supports that over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications can be just as impactful, taking care in all cases to talk to health providers about how the aging body processes medications and the possible side effects. Distraction was in our plan of care. There are relaxation CDs and apps that help with difficulty sleeping. We did not try biofeedback, but we thought about it.
Humor could have been a bigger part of our plan of care — more lighthearted banter and recognition of the power of the comic strip.
Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and the author of “How Gray in My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.