On painkillers

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I was in a group online a couple of days ago where the general topic of painkillers came up. People were discussing the difficulties of NSAIDs and Tylenol in a general way, when the stronger opinions started coming out.

These opinions were not coming out of nowhere. I was with a very educated group of people and I respected the opinions of everyone one. But some started making blanket statements, “No one should ever take Tylenol, take NSAIDs no matter if it gives you a tummy ache.” “No, NSAIDs are too dangerous across the board.”

And, suddenly, I felt judged. (Although I know these folks were never judging me.) For the record, I cannot take NSAIDs because of an esophageal problem and take high-dose Tylenol three times a day to help control the pain. It felt like they were saying I was doing wrong. Even worse, I was in a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t situation.

It was largely because of the absolutes in their speech that I felt cornered. Had someone led with “each case is different, but” I would have felt much more included. And much less judged.

Because pain is so universal, many folks become an expert in it. And most of us normalize our own type of pain, making judgements around our own lens. I hope I am not doing that here in this blog. Do know that when I write from personal experience, that’s all it is, personal experience. Your migraines or lower back pain differ greatly from my fibro and arthritis.

I need to check my own language to avoid the universalizing that others did, which bothered me so much.

We need to share experiences or ideas with each other. Doctors only talk about pain through a limited lens that circles around the medications they prescribe most. Today there is also a narrative about keeping people off of opioids. My doctor is very concerned about keeping me off the stronger opioids as long as possible. This makes sense in a world where some many people start with chronic pain and end up addicted to OxyContin.

We need these shared ideas because so they lock away many findings inside of incomprehensible medical journals and have only brief contact with those writing and researching in other fields. Whether those fields be toxicology and environmental health or herbalism and Chinese medicine. Few doctors are going to bring up cupping, even if it provides sizeable pain relief. We cannot yet study what truly causes that pain relief.

It leaves all of us sorting through a pile of anecdotes that we often pick from based on what we already know or feel to be right. And this sort of confirmation bias is a poor judge of truth or use.

Still, I am now a little more scared of my Tylenol than before. (And my liver already scared me.) How long is my liver going to last? Nobody can tell me that.


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