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March: the quintuple display of planets

March 26, 2012

Last night brought us a magnificent spectacle in the western sky: the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus with the sliver of the New Moon. It will happen again tonight. It is especially gorgeous when the sky is the purplish-blue Maxfield Parrish evening color, against which the planets beam out like fire beacons – and yet theirs is only reflected light. March has brought us some amazing planetary displays. Jupiter and Venus have danced brightly around each other all month. We were even able to spot all five on one especially clear night: Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Mercury. How rare is such a celestial event?It felt to me as if there was something portentous, something important, something positive happening in the heavens as well as on Earth.

The past two weeks were a time of increased solar flares from a major new sunspot. Mary Simpson has been connecting sunspot and solar flare activity with increased CPS pain levels for years now. It was certainly true that I, and every other Alliance member who posted, felt like dogcrap during the period. Our 501 group didn’t get much done. I couldn’t even finish a two-page letter to them. I would start and fall back, exhausted from the effort of trying to write coherently and succinctly. The exhaustion was caused by insomnia. I wasn’t able to fall asleep until 4 or 5 AM for most of the middle of the month (which is why I posted here so little.) One night I even was zombie-awake all night. The few hours of sleep that I could snatch during the day were full of nightmares.

These sleep problems were directly related to the increased pain levels I’ve been experiencing since returning from the hospital in November. Damaged tissue in the Central Nervous System can apparently hypersensitize the neurons next to it, through a mechanism I don’t fully understand. But it’s the equivalent of spreading the pain wildfire to fresh, unburnt areas. The closest parallel would be the way that cancer can colonize healthy tissue. Every time the damaged neural tissue is stressed – by uncontrolled pain bouts, or by high blood pressure attacks like mine- the CPS-producing area grows a bit. So, in turn, does the sensation of pain, either in intensity, or in perception of the physical area involved, or both.

This is why it is so crucial that CPS be diagnosed early. This “neurological cancer”will both be more widespread and more intense, as well as more difficult to treat, the longer that it is allowed to grow and burn through the CNS. In my case, my CPS has grown a little bit worse with each attack of malignant high blood pressure I’ve experienced. My blood pressure and my pain levels are directly related,as I saw during the monitoring during my hospital stay. Higher pain levels cause the blood pressure numbers to soar, which in turn damages more of the area of my thalamus that is responsible for the CPS.

So all during the past year, my everyday pain levels have been creeping up. I tried giving myself an extra gabapentin when I truly couldn’t stand to wait the full six hours between doses – usually in the evening. I added amitriptyline, a gabapentin agonist. It was not much help, although it did have a somnolent effect. I asked my GP to increase my gabapentin dosage back to the 3200 mg/ daily it had been a few years ago. That was when she said, “Whoa, this is getting to a space that I don’t know too much about. It’s time that you see a neurologist.”

I wrote about the visit to the Neurology Clinic. The doctors were very nice, quite interested in my hand tremor, and told me that they do not do any prescribing. Pain prescriptions are all handled now by the “Pain Management Division.” It’s apparently a DEA regulation that started in January: all patients on long-standing prescriptions of pain medication must be evaluated, tested and prescribed by Pain Management teams. This regulation is resulting in the torture of many of our Alliance members. The goal of the Pain Management teams are to get patients *off* of pain-relieving medications, no matter what the cause of their pain. The patients are given “pain management techniques,” such as meditation and diversion, in order to deal with their distress. Some of our members have actually been cut off from their long-standing orders for anti-depressants, tranquilizers, and opioids. All these “management techniques” may work for some people, but there is no way to manage CPS pain. It is a fact, caused by unmistakeable damage. It is not a psychosomatic illness, or an imaginary formation, or a product of self-pity. But apparently until there is a visible monitor that can electronically indicate pain levels, CPS patients are going to be continually forced into the red zone.

Well, I was able to get back to my GP,Dr. Mravcak, last week. She read the neurologist’s report, relented, and upped my gabapentin dose to 3200mg/day. Finally, after months, I was able to have a long night’s rest of positive dreams. The first night, I slept for 15 hours, dreaming that I was throwing  a sparkling, happy, lavish party for dozens of friends,many of who I hadn’t seen for years. By the time Jack woke me, I had been having a dream-conversation with Richard Nixon, who was very apologetic for his poor performance as President and his role in the pain caused by the Vietnam War.

The problem with gabapentin dosage increases is that they can cause jaw-socking sleepiness while you are getting accustomed to them. It can take up to a week of adjustment, and induce you to sleep anywhere from 10 to 16 hours a day. Life must move on,even though what I want to do is nestle down in the bedclothes. The bills must be paid. The dinner menu must be made. That big important letter of information to the mortgage company must be sent. Spring – or is it now Summer, since the days have been in the 70s and even 80s – has not so much sprung like a blooming flower, as sprung upon us like the Leopard Man in the Museum of Natural History. (That exhibit scared Jake so much when he was a pre-schooler that he wouldn’t even let us enter the room where he was displayed.)Most pressing of all is the creation of the Strategic Plan and the Mission Statement for the 501, so that we can begin to solicit members of the Board of Directors.

Happily, with my pain levels moderated, my blood pressure is already reduced to near-normal (as long as I don’t get upset.) Perhaps this conjunction of planets will create some newly positive and fruitful time for all of us – an end to the wars, a better economy nationally and personally, better health for us all, the successful creation of the Central Pain Syndrome Foundation.

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