The Fog of Pain

Mountain and Clouds, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
I remind myself
That the pain is just a fog
Cloaking the mountain

The wind, soon enough
Will blow the fog away

And there will be I, the mountain

Descendant clouds
From Banff Alpine Centre Youth Hostel
Banff National Park
Alberta, Canada

Taken during travels, 2017

Packed up and departing for home in Vancouver. Not quite out of the youth hostel’s parking lot, I notice the way the clouds envelope the mountains.

It was strange to see them shrouded by mundane storm clouds rather than the familiar smothering wildfire smoke which plagued the entire trip. Strange, and beautiful. So I pulled over, mounted the long zoom on the camera, and snapped off a couple hundred frames of the constantly shifting clouds enveloping the mountains, while the pain subtly shifted on my back, on my chest. A lighter pain than yesterday, but insistently present.

The previous few days had been characterized by extraordinary and worrisome phantom pain which began on my back, at the bottom of my shoulder blade, and then spread to my armpit, then chest and torso. It kept me up at night, made my days uncomfortable. An insistent, sharp, incisive pain. Not quite throbbing… oscillating.

I couldn’t think of anything which might have caused it. No falls or spills. I often carry my camera backpack over one shoulder. It’s heavy. That sometimes results in muscle or joint soreness. But this didn’t feel anything like that, wasn’t present in muscle or tendon or ligament. Just nodes of discomfort suspended in the space of my body. Like a bruise of a body blow without the trauma.

At a party on my first couple days off, just before heading for Canada’s western national parks for a few weeks, an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while told me about the cancer he’d just fought off. About the pain in his back and torso. About the extraordinary surgery followed by chemo and radiation.

A couple weeks later, that thought came to me in the hot, humid darkness on the bottom bunk. That wasn’t making sleep any easier. At least no one was snoring. The aural pain would have driven the sanity from me.

I’d also noticed in the week before departing for this journey my resting heart rate averaged about 50 beats per minute, about 10 below the normal range. I think every male on my father’s side has had a heart attack.

One more worry weaving through the oscillating pain.

So after another sleepless night, I booked an appointment with my GP back home for the next day, started packing and hopped in the shower. The hot water felt good. I let it run and run and run.

Towel wrapped around my waist, brushing my teeth, I noticed the red splotches for the first time.

What the…?

Mosquitoes? No. No tell-tale lump or whiteness in the centre. Ticks? How could I not notice 6 or 8 tick bites?

Bed bugs! Really? Must be. Four days ago. The cheap hotel in Hinton.

Four days is a long time for a bed bug bite to show up. But… OK. Another thing to check with the doctor tomorrow. Damn. That’s going to suck. I’ll have to clean everything in the car before bringing it into the apartment. High heat wash and dry all the fabrics. Then the car itself.

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced the terrifying possibility of bringing a bed bug infestation into your home.
I’m finally home, after a late night stop at the Shoppers Drug Mart for a box of garbage bags. The clothes I’m wearing go in one, just inside the front door. Naked, I inspect the tiles for anything moving. Closely inspect the floor. In the car I’d googled how to deal with this. Bed bugs don’t really like a lot of body heat, so they tend not to cling to people or the clothing we’re wearing. Still, I’m not taking any chances. Shoes, socks, pants, shirt, underwear, in the bag.

I shower. In the foggy mirror inspect myself. I think there are more bites showing than this morning.

Put on new clothes. Then back to the underground parking. All the clothes and luggage and camera bags and cooler which had been brought into the hotel go in several more garbage bags. I dump all these in my storage locker.

There’s a ton of camping gear and miscellaneous still in the car.

The wind in me is gone. I’m just too weary of all this.

Back in the apartment, I put the clothes I’m wearing in yet another garbage bag. Can’t be bothered to go back down the elevator again. The bag goes out on the balcony, and I close the sliding door.

The 10+ hour drive wasn’t bad. Even got some good photographs of smoke and clouds and mountains along the highway. But the pain’s coming on, pretty intense now. In the medicine cabinet are a few bottles of pain meds. Ibuprofen, expired in ’07, and left over from my knee operation in ’08 a full bottle of T3s and some oxycodone.

I prefer to live with pain than manage it with drugs. And I really don’t like the wet blanket codeine and other narcotics drape over my consciousness. It’s gotta be pretty intense before I’ll go there. That the T3 bottle’s just missing a couple tablets, and I’ve never opened the oxy is a testament to that. The post-op pain from the knee surgery really sucked. Feeling all dopey sucked worse. One fog is preferable to the other.

But I need to sleep, so I pop a couple naproxen, which expired only in 2013.

I’m in bed, bingeing Netflix for all hours, resort to a couple more naproxen before finally dropping off.

Wake too early. Restless and listless. Quite the combination. Can’t deal with stuff in the car still, so binge more streaming media in bed, move to the couch for a change of screen and scenery, then kill some aliens on the desktop computer. It hurts more to sit up, but nothing like tracking the movement of battle bot battalions and airborne squadrons annihilated with graphic violence to distract from what ails me.

Distracted enough, in fact, I’m fortunate to notice there’s just enough time to make it to the Dr. appointment.

In the shower, I notice the pain’s subsided. Barely noticeable. Hmmmm. Maybe it was just from carrying the backpack after-all?

Running on the near side of late for the appointment, so jog a couple blocks from parking to the clinic. My GP’s on vaca; it’s a new Dr. for me. Older man. A straight up kinda guy. One of those presences you instantly like. My heart rate, not quite resting yet after the jog, is 63 when he measures it. But he believes me about the low resting rate. No worries, he says. The normal range is a guideline. Some people are just low. We talk family history: father died of heart attack at 58; mother has congestive heart failure in her 70s. So long as I’m not feeling any negative effects, he assures, I need not worry.

“I’ll be right back,” he says.

As a precaution, he’s printed out an EKG lab requisition. If I start to feel any worrisome symptoms, use it and book another appointment.

I feel better about that.

So I ask him to look at the welts on my chest and under my armpit. Can he confirm that they are bed bug bites?

Off comes my shirt. He briefly scans with his eyes.

“I’ll be right back.”

He’s got another sheet of paper.

“It’s not bed bugs.”

Phew! That’s a relief.

“Bed bugs and spiders get a bad rep. People always think it’s bug bites.”

I nod.

“What you have is shingles.”

Really?! I’ve had some friends go through that. One nearly lost an eye. The other was pregnant and refused pain killers. The worst pain she’s ever experienced. Lasted weeks. “Worse than labor,” she told me. The writhing grimace on the other end of the phone was palpable.

I’d have preferred bed bugs.

Right. The pain. “That was the next thing I was going to ask about,” I tell him. “The intense pain I’ve been feeling the last several days.” Sigh. “Guess I don’t have to ask you now.”

Fortunately, I’ve caught it within three days of the rash appearing. The antiviral prescription he’s printed will help shorten the outbreak, and should reduce the severity of the symptoms, hopefully including the pain.

And the weariness. The symptoms of depression. Yes. That makes sense now, too.

“Start taking these right away.”

In the car, I google the nearest pharmacy. Two tablets, three times a day for 10 days.

Later, at home, the pain returns and the naproxene isn’t cutting it. I finally break down and take a T3.

Maybe they’re so old, they’re no longer full strength. No wet blanket. Or maybe the pain is just that intense. It takes a lot of pain to cancel out the codeine.

I manage to get some sleep.

In the morning, the third antiviral dose. I try the ibuprofen. A couple of those dispel most of the discomfort. A few doses get me through the day and night.

Either this is a very mild case of shingles, or I have the antivirals to be grateful for. For the next few days, I take the blue pill and the red one. Little blue antivirals, and little red ibuprofens, two at a time, dose after dose.

We’ll see how the remaining 6 days go.

A couple FB friends remind me about the vaccine. Their partners had it. Shingles recurs, they remind me. “Get the vaccine after the outbreak clears. It’ll reduce the chance of a recurrence.” This is not an experience I care to repeat, even as relatively mild as it seems so far.

My sister replies to the FB status post. She’s been thinking about the vaccination herself. This has made the decision for her. “Book the appointment right now,” I tell her.

I’ve known about this vaccine for years. I’ve seen friends go through much worse than I have. I could’ve made that appointment a long time ago, when I’d decided it would be a good idea. But I didn’t. SMeffinH

I call my Set Decorator and tell her I won’t be joining the set crew when we go back to camera in just over a week. “Maybe week three of shooting.”

It’s time for a couple red pills.