Pain, memory and aging

Several years ago I was accidentally burned while igniting a slash pile while doing some work at my mother’s place in Montana. The location was quite a distance from the hospital where they derided my burns and finished cleaning things up so that they could heal, so they gave me morpheme for the pain in preparation for an hour and a half’s ambulance journey. All turned out well and I have recovered with no lasting effects of the event. But I didn’t handle the painkiller well. It worked on the pain, as well as I can tell, but it really messed with my mind. I began to think irrationally and by the time the attendants in the emergency room were working to treat the burns on my arms, I had convinced myself that I was in grave danger. I knew that my thinking was wrong, but I couldn’t help thinking that the attendants meant me harm. Looking back, I can see many examples of my clouded thinking and poor decision-making skills that evening. The strange thing about it was that i was aware that I was being irrational at the time. It wasn’t a fun feeling and, upon consolation with my doctor after the event, I have since reported a morpheme allergy on all of my medical records.

My experience was minor and I have no lasting effects from it, but it has made me more aware of the struggles that patients and families have with pain management, especially when pain is chronic and persistent. My experience was a kind of pain that, while intense at the moment, heals quickly and goes away. There are ailments where the pain is chronic and does not disappear with the passage of time.

I have often watched as families struggle with making care decisions for a person who is nearing the end of their life. When the pain is fully controlled, their loved one sleeps and there is no possibility of conversation or connection. When the medicine is withdrawn, the patient awakes, but experiences pain. Families don’t want their loved ones to be in pain. They also don’t want their loved one to sleep so much that they are nearly comatose. Finding the right balance of medication can take several days and be a difficult process for the patient and the family.

I’m not sure what choices I would make were I to encounter a disease with debilitating pain. I think I would want to be awake and able to share relationship with my family. That seems to be worth experiencing some pain. On the other hand I have to admit that my experience with pain is very limited. I have no way of knowing how I would respond if faced with intense and lasting pain. Maybe I would just want them to give me medicine that would make me sleep.

Sleep is one thing. Being completely confused and incapable of rational thought is something entirely different. I have prided myself in my ability to think and decide. I enjoy the process of rational thought and games of logic. I read nearly constantly and I enjoy writing and talking and the interplay of mind on mind with other people. I don’t know how I would react if I were to not be able to organize my thoughts or if my thoughts and emotions were completely out of line with the experiences and observations of others.

There are other conditions that result in disabilities when it comes to rational thought. Age-related memory loss can combine with specific illnesses that result in dementia. Some who suffer such confusing conditions are sometimes well aware of their loss of memory. Others are less aware of what is going on. I spend enough time visiting with people who have experienced such conditions that I know they are relatively common. Not every one becomes disabled in such a way as they age, but many do. I have no particular reason to expect that I might be somehow exempted from problems with my memory as I age.

It is perhaps a bit of fear of memory loss that keeps me writing each day. If I start to forget, it seems like having a record of my daily thoughts might give me some way of evaluating what is going on with my thinking. Of course, I write so much that I rarely go back and read any number of my previous journal entries. I use them as a way of processing the events and activities in my life, but I don’t really refer to them as a chronicle of the years that have passed. Reading a year’s worth of blogs is roughly equivalent to a month’s worth of reading for me. I’d rather be exploring books written by others than reading my own journals. I’m not exactly sure why I keep them on the web for public access. I enjoy the comments from the folks who read my journal entries, but I don’t really expect anyone to need to access what I wrote a decade ago. But if you explore my web site, you’ll find that all of my journal entries for more than a decade are available online. I’m pretty sure that there is no popular demand to read what I wrote about the weather back in July of 2007. I’m wasting a bit of cloud storage to keep those entries online. Still, I do go back and read some of the entires from time to time. I’ve even given thought to publishing a “best of the blog” in book form some day. David Sedaris, who is an accomplished and acclaimed author published a book last year that is essential an edited edition of his journal entries from 1977 - 2002. It is light, but interesting reading and I think has been a successful venture for his publisher.

I, of course, am no David Sedaris. I don’t have an established relationship with a publisher. I don’t have an audience eager to purchase a book were I to produce one. And I certainly don’t have the wit to produce the intriguing book titles that he comes up with.

However, I do plan to keep the journal entries online for a while yet. They might provide me with some point of reference sometime in the future when I am struggling to sort out my thoughts.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!