Calling All Pain Killers

Have you heard of a port?

I’m not talking about the kind where ships dock, and I’m not talking about the Tawney fortified type (best if aged 10 years) either.

I’m talking about the kind that’s implanted just beneath the skin of a patient – typically on the chest or in the stomach – which connects to a vein so that drugs can be injected and blood samples can be drawn.

(Bet you wish I were talking about one of the former. Yeah, me too.)

Anyway, this medical port is supposedly an innovation in intravenous drug delivery – giving providers more easy access while reducing the pain of repeatedly jabbing needles directly into a patient’s vein. Nevertheless, my mom’s acute anxiety started the moment she woke up on a Friday (her chemotherapy days), knowing the port would be accessed. She held her breath intensely and looked like she was about to take a bullet to the chest the moment before a nurse accessed the port with her instruments. Although I never witnessed the alternative, intravenous drug delivery with a medical port is no pain-free walk in the park.

In my first blog post, I said that being the patient sucks. You know what’s worse? PAIN. Pain really sucks. And given the pain from a hangover I’m suffering from today (the type of pain I’m most accustomed to), it seemed apropos to tackle Pain with a blog post. So here goes.

The most visceral reaction I had during my mom’s battle against pancreatic cancer was to her pain. It was around Thanksgiving in 2009 when the agonizingly sharp stomach pain started. We went through a long list of painkillers, however, nothing came close to dulling the pain. Even the most potent narcotics out there – the ones under lock and key at the pharmacy that only the pharmacist can handle – offered no relief.

The only thing almost as excruciatingly unbearable as her pain was having to witness it. I have never ached so strongly for a magical power before. I longed for the ability to reach inside her, turn the pain off or at least take on some of the burden myself.

When she said through tears, during a particularly acute bout of pain, that she’d rather die than suffer like this, I completely understood and, as morbid as it sounds, started to wish for her death to come sooner rather than later to release her from the throws of Pain.

For the remaining 12 weeks of her life, I made her palliative care my personal mission. We visited pain specialists at various hospitals, went through several more lists of pain drugs and regimens, and I ultimately convinced her oncologist to approve the implantation of an intrathecal pain pump the size of a hockey puck in her abdomen. (We enjoyed several sports metaphors as a result.) Although it’s somewhat hard to know, I believe she died comfortably and pain-free for the most part.

I hope that the wonderful medical researchers out there searching for innovative cancer treatments and cures are also devoting time and attention to pain management. Because with the type of pain that patients like my mom endure, finding a pain remedy is like finding a needle in a haystack…in the middle of a tornado…with biting red ants climbing all over you…while you traverse a field of broken glass barefoot.

With that, I’ll close and wish you a pain-free day.

I’m going to pop a couple Advil to try and kick this hangover.


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