Brushing My Teeth in Bed: Mindfulness and Pain

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I had the most bizarre event happen in my body. I was over the moon hopeful and grateful because the woman who does scheduling for my primary care doctor pulled a rabbit out of a hat: getting me an appointment with a pain specialist.

It wasn’t that convenient in terms of location, at 27.3 miles from my home, but beggars can’t be choosers! We drove up to Carlsbad, California on Tuesday for a consultation, and the doctor agreed to put me on the schedule for a trigger point injection on Wednesday morning.

He injected anesthetic and cortisone into the bursa above my thighbone, the upper trochanter. That area is a central hub for muscle connections from your tush and thigh to your hip. I have had pain in my right glute muscle for 14 months.

Originally, the pain radiated down my leg, a classic sciatic presentation, which in my case they call radiculitis, given that there is no weakness in the lower leg. If weakness is present, they call it radiculopathy.

It’s ridiculous and so common.

I’ve written about it and spoken about it for over a year, and it’s given me empathy for the millions of sciatic pain sufferers the world over. That being said, enough is enough, and empathy or not, of course I wanted the pain to be gone, just as all people would want the pain to be gone!

You might be wondering, has she tried x, y, and z? As a matter of fact, yes!

From epidural injections, to chiropractic, cranial sacral, physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, all sorts of imaging, all sorts of topical potions and patches, and of course meds. I think giving myself reflux from using the anti-inflammatory Celebrex for 6-8 months is what finally brought me to seek out trigger point injections.

You know what happens when you have reflux? You can’t drink wine!

That is also true for any other yummy alcoholic beverage that you might want to partake in this holiday season! (Sorry to the people in the recovery community, but I do like an occasional cocktail.)

O.K., back to what happened: The injection went as planned. The doctor used an ultrasound to find the bursa, and injected me. It hurt but was tolerable. We made a follow up appointment for 2 weeks with the understanding that if the pain wasn’t gone, he would inject my piriformis, a small muscle located deep in the buttock, behind the gluteus maximus. It runs diagonally from the lower spine to the upper surface of the femur, with the sciatic nerve running underneath or through the muscle. I can’t help thinking of my glute muscles (maximus and minimus) as a big beef brisket. I know, that’s pretty weird.

When we were driving home (I was a passenger), I mentioned to my husband that my left hip hurt – that’s my “good” hip. I called the doctor to see if this was a common reaction. “No, it’s not a common reaction,” he said. “But the MRI shows that you do have tendonitis in both hips. Maybe the right hip was worse, and now that it’s quiet because there is anesthetic in it, you are noticing the left hip more.”

As the day wore on, the pain got more severe, stabbing and aching in the glute, and radiating fire down the outside of my left leg. By evening, I was having 10 out of 10 pain. We had my TENS unit electrodes on, lidocaine patches, cold packs, alternating with hot packs, the Theragun massage appliance, Tylenol, then pain meds. At one point, I started to cry, and then caught myself.

Here’s where the mindfulness practice of not catastrophizing is necessary.

I reminded myself that this is just pain right now. It doesn’t mean it’s permanent. It doesn’t mean it’s a disastrous new normal. It doesn’t mean anything.

I told myself to stop regretting that I got the shot. Stop wishing for my old pain back, because it was nowhere near as bad as this torment and misery. Stop ruminating on the past, stop worrying about the future. I tried to relax around the pain, and then relax into the pain. What a pain!

My dear sweet husband brought me my toothbrush with toothpaste on it, with a Dixie cup of water and an empty cup to swish and spit into, so I could brush my teeth from my prone position on my bed.

I was planning to go to sleep without doing any of my usual bedtime rituals, as I was lying on my belly with my head at the foot of the bed. He brought me a make-up remover wipe to wash my face, and more meds. He helped me out of my long sleeved top and bra, which I was planning on sleeping in, giving me one of his soft big t-shirts instead. The pain had quieted down to a level 4 and we decided I shouldn’t change positions for fear of it spiking back up.

I fell asleep on my stomach with my TENS unit buzzing.

Around 4 a.m., I woke up with almost no pain. I took more pain meds preventively, then climbed back into bed, allowing myself to get under the covers in the right direction, still on my stomach but with my head at the head of the bed.

Thanksgiving morning I awoke to overwhelming gratitude that whatever hell possessed my left hip and leg had vanished. I felt so grateful for my husband’s comprehensive nursing care that I was almost embarrassed. I thanked him profusely for showing up for me in such a big way. “That’s o.k. honey, when you feel better, you can make it up to me!” he laughed.

I was on the phone with a girlfriend who is single and when she heard about all I went through the night before, she said, “Oh, I look forward to finding a partner that would take such loving care of me someday. How long have you guys been together?”

“We’ve been married 30 years,” I said. “But we’ve been together 38 years, with 3 of the early years before we were married, being off and on.”

“Wow, that’s a long time,” she said. “That’s almost unheard of these days.”

“Yep, it’s a lot of give and take,” I replied. “But mostly I think its just get!”

This holiday season, I’m grateful for all the beings that make up my community.

I’m lying on my stomach, with my laptop at the foot of the bed as I type this missive. Most of all, I’m grateful to my husband, who just put an ice pack on my tush before he walked out the door. “If we can keep the pain down to a minimum for the next couple of days,” he said, “maybe there’s a chance we can get it to finally go away.”

Wishing all beings who are in pain a lessening of their pain. May you be safe, happy, healthy, and live with ease.

Please share your thoughts. . .
By |2018-11-27T09:55:36+00:00December 10th, 2018|Mindful Methods|

About the Author:

Julie Potiker
Author and mindfulness expert Julie Potiker is an attorney who began her serious study and investigation of mindfulness after graduating from the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at the University of California, San Diego. She was trained by Kristin Neff, Christopher Germer and UCSD as a Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher. She went on to study with Rick Hanson, becoming a graduate of his Positive Neuroplasticity Training Professional Course. Potiker also completed Brené Brown’s Living Brave Semester. Now, she shares these and other mindfulness techniques with the world through her Mindful Methods for Life trainings and her new book: “Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm In the Midst of Chaos.” She holds a B.G.S. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from George Washington University.

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