Since I have been writing this series of articles on paralysis and what it means, I have been requested to write a post describing what nerve pain is so that you all can have a better understanding. Our friend, Mendy Brockman (please click here to stay updated with her), has been experiencing nerve pain and some are wondering what that means. I referenced it in my post, “Many Faces of Paralysis”, but I will focus in on it. I will do my best to explain it.
Imagine that you have a lamp, and you cut the cord partially through (do NOT try this!). The lamp will flicker on and off as it only gets part of the juice, or it won’t work at all because the juice cannot get through. The cord will spark and sputter as the electricity is trying to flow along the circuits. This is a damaged spinal cord as it is trying to relay messages that come from our brain. With a new injury like Mendy’s, the nerves are very damaged and confused. They have literally been torn apart and are raw. It takes a very long time for nerves to heal and the result of this healing process, and the result of the injury, is nerve pain.
Where Mendy’s damage was immediate because of the car accident, my nerve damage was caused by inflammation that literally squeezed the life out of my nerves. This was the most intense pain I had ever been in my life, and I believe made me become unconscious for over 24 hours. When I was awaken, the intense pain had eased and I felt relief….until I realized I felt nothing at all. As my nerves began to try to heal, the nerve pain started back up again. Nerve pain is a constant part of my life and most paraplegics and quadriplegics, but the level or description of it is varied. It can be minor and annoy you, or excruciating where you are screaming out in pain. It can be mild one day and extreme the next. It can be affected by the weather, the time of day, stress, illness, a piece of clothing that is uncomfortable, a shoe that is too tight or just needing to use the restroom and not realizing it.
I do not know the exact nerve pain Mendy is experiencing, but I assure you she needs prayer as she learns to deal with this part of her life. There are medications that can be experimented with to help her, but she is also battling low blood pressure (which is also a common problem for those of us with spinal cord injuries), and so they must proceed with caution as they try to find the mixture that will help her. After the trauma portion has passed for Mendy, they will work on helping her cope with her nerve pain. Some people find relief with meds, while other people opt out of meds and just try to listen and learn the language of their body and what will help their particular pain. I opted out of meds (for the most part) and have had much trial and error to find what helps me the most. What I have found most helpful is hot water. A long hot shower (someday I will have the money to buy a hot tub) is what will ease my pain the quickest. A nice electric blanket or rice bag is the next best thing. Taking a time out, getting out of my wheelchair and propping my legs up, or laying down and having Jimmy stretch me are ways that also help. Medication is not a sign of weakness and no one should be judged for how they manage their pain. It is personal and you just need to do what you can to relieve it.
Nerve pain is caused by our very confused and disoriented nervous system. If you were walking across the floor barefoot, and stepped on a tack, your brain would immediately tell your foot that it was hurting and your foot would immediately respond by jumping away from the pain! In my case, my foot may just touch my footplate on my wheelchair or one of the kids can just touch my leg and say, “Hey Mom” and my scrambled messages think that it hurt and my leg will jump or start bouncing up and down in reaction. It will also send a massive lightning bolt streak of pain through my leg. If my feet get cold (I know by touching them with my hands), they feel like someone is dipping them in acid. They burn so terribly bad! Other times, when I get undressed at night, the air hits my legs and it feels like a million ants are crawling all over my thighs. I have scratched until I have bled many, many times trying to get them to quit! It is horrible! I always have pain in the top of my left thigh that feels like a very hot blow torch blowing on my bone. It is only in my left leg. My left hip always hurts too, like a hot poker is digging around in it (although my range of motion exercises have really taken the level of pain down several notches). I always feel like I am sitting on a pile of gravel and so I tend to wiggle a lot. The longer I sit (as in hours), the gravel turns into sharp shards of glass. As the pain gets worse, I feel worse all over. Nerve pain makes your body feel unbelievably weird and you have never really felt these feelings before so it is hard to know how to handle them. If there were real nails pushing through the bottoms of my feet, I would remove them. With nerve pain, there is nothing there so it is hard to solve and very frustrating.
One other frustrating thing is that it is hard for us to pinpoint where our pain is. Sometimes we know when we are tingling or burning and where it hurts, but at other times, we can’t really “tell” where we are hurting because of our loss of sensation. We just hurt. It is frustrating at times for those who take care of us and help us, because we are just trying to find a comfortable spot. “Can you put a pillow here?” “Can you move my leg there?” “Can you roll me over and prop that up?” “Can you adjust my cushion? Again? Again?” We don’t mean to be a nuisance, and we feel like that very quickly, but we are just trying to get a bit of relief when it gets intense. Thank God for our caretakers that patiently and lovingly show us the love of Christ and help us.
Nerve pain is unique to each person. It is very hard to deal with, and like any chronic pain, it can take a toll on your emotions after a while. You really have to stay busy and keep your mind on other things. That is VERY hard to do when you are flat on your back in bed! So, please pray for Mendy and specifically for her pain levels as she is trying to focus on recovering. She has a very long road ahead and a lot of hard work to do. She needs our support so keep it up! Have you sent that card? Have you sent money? Have your signed up on her Monday’s for Mendy page?
Thank you for reading and trying to show your love and concern by learning!! It helps our journey to become easier when you try to understand our lives.
Jason and Mendy Brockman
c/o Lighthouse Baptist Church
4280 Hopeful Drive
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Other posts in this series: