Healthier Stay


Reflections On Shark Week

It’s Shark Week! The one week a year where the cable universe is devoted to the most majestic of underwater predators, the shark. I am a marine biology freak. My dream job has always been, Marine Mammologist, and I love snorkeling and SCUBA diving. Shark week is always a big thrill for me. It’s also a week of reflection. When I think of sharks I think of grace, agility, power, strength and pain. Sharks make me think of pain dreams.

Since I live with Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and Chronic Functional Abdominal Pain (CFAP), pain is a part of my life every day. Chronic pain comes in many forms, mine include; cramping, burning, stabbing, searing, throbbing and pressure. I’ve learned to deal with most of it through medication, breathing and guided relaxation but there are times when I’ve had absolutely no power over my body. Pain medicine is not designed to take all of your pain away. It’s designed to take the edge off and restore some functionality. The best case scenario, in most cases, is a 50% pain reduction but that can take years and pain is never static. Breathing and relaxation are great to help when you are conscious, but what happens when you are asleep or if the pain knocks you out? I’ll tell you…pain dreams. When I am flaring I get nightmares so intense I actually feel like my body is being attacked. Sometimes I dream of lions but mostly it’s a great white shark literally tearing me to pieces. My pain gets so intense that my brain equates it with an external attack. I dream I’m getting eaten by an apex predator with a giant toothy grin. When this happens I can’t wake up, I start screaming and fighting for my life. Woe to anyone who tries to wake me up because I am apt to punch or kick them and I don’t even know they are there. I just keep trying to get away from the pain.

These horrible dreams were very common when I was first diagnosed, occurring anywhere from a couple a night to several a week. That was a truly frightening time for me, I couldn’t control my body and I was hurting the people I loved. I was most worried about my dad. He was onTPN(nutrition and medicine pumped through an IV) with his IV catheter attached to his heart. If he tried to help me while I was flailing I could have killed him. I was afraid to go to sleep and terrified of what I was going to wake up to. These dreams kept up for about 3 years, through sleeping pills, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, painful muscle blocks and sleep studies.

I finally found a doctor who listened to me; he changed my pain medicine and recommended a pain therapist. Finally, my dreams started to recede as I started a new regimen of opioids and relaxation therapy. I’ve been having a bad flare since January and I’ve only had one pain dream. I think my body has been trained to breathe and relax even when I’m unconscious. My pain keeps growing, but my body’s responses are better and I’m exploring better pain management, including a pain pump. The pump will deliver medicine through my opioid receptors and I won’t be held hostage to my faulty GI tract for pain relief anymore.

As I watch Shark Week this year, I can reflect on how far I’ve come. I enjoy the shows for what they are and celebrate an amazing, misunderstood animal that should be respected. As I watch, I think of my body the same way. Maybe with training, awareness and research we can win the battles against our bodies and save the sharks!

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