Taper Town: Don’t Know What You’ve Lost ‘Til It’s Back
Burning, it thrusts me from deep sleep into semi-consciousness, and I lie there panting, knees to abdomen, elbows to chest, face to fists. There is only pain.
I become aware of myself. Language seeps back into me. “Dying,” I think, and, a moment later, “Ulcer.” I uncurl and roll over, wincing, and drink deeply from my ever-present water bottle. The fire seems to spread, and even as I remember the antacids in my medicine cabinet, my body pulls me back into its protective curl and I obey, losing touch with everything but the bright and fiery pain.
Light presses against my bedroom windows when the pain finally loosens its grip enough for me to shift, and I force myself up and to the medicine cabinet, my pharmaceutical armory. Tums for now. Pepcid or Zantac for later.
The fire burns all morning, so I skip things I know contribute to peptic ulcers. Coffee. NSAIDs (specifically, Aleve). I drink milk and then read that drinking milk is counterproductive for ulcers. The pain recedes a bit when I eat toast. It comes back when I take my morning meds, including 4 mg prednisone, another ulcer instigator but one I am terrified to miss. The gnawing in my gut grows tolerable as the day slogs on. I skip my Aleve that night despite the stiff ache that has settled into my bones.
The next morning, getting out of bed takes more effort than I can muster. My joints, which began to ache and stiffen two weeks into my move to Taper Town, are locked. I cannot tell which is worse, the deafening pounding in my skull or the silver stabbing sensation that runs from the back of my head through my eye.
“Bad day,” I tell my husband as he dresses for work. “So much pain.”
“Go back to sleep,” he advises, and I try, cranking up my heating blanket and writhing to find a non-tortuous position.
Late morning finds me running the hottest tub I can handle. The heating blanket has not helped. I cannot stand straight enough to attempt tai chi. Holding my breath, I lower myself into the filling tub and gasp as my tailbone makes gentle yet horrific contact with the hard tub bottom. I have not felt that particular pain since last winter, have not been so paralyzed by pain in so long that I’d forgotten the all-consuming nature of this beast. The water envelopes me. Drowsy in the intense heat, I slow my breath and close my eyes.
When I carefully raise myself out of the tub 40 minutes later, I can stand without wincing and wield my towel effectively. I hobble to my medicine cabinet and pour my morning meds into my palm, staring at the two tablets of Aleve. I need them. I know that now.
Just a month ago, I wondered about the necessity of two Aleve tablets twice a day–two times the recommended dosage but rheumatologist approved with prophylactic antacid meds. I even lowered the dose occasionally, if my pain seemed manageable.
But within six weeks of my move to Taper Town, I have become useless without it. Unable to function. Again.
That day, once the Aleve kicks in, I am able to attend my son’s parent-teacher conference and later watch my friends’ children so they can do the same. A second semi-scalding bath gets me through to supper time, nighttime meds–more Aleve–and bed.
For all my mental preparation for this prednisone taper, for all my bravado, my militant attitude, I am struggling. Even with Aleve, my days are governed by symptoms and the all-consuming management they require.
People talk about the heartbreak of loss, that jolt of recognition that comes only when something good is yanked away. These days I study the opposite: the shocking grief that accompanies the return of misery too great to remember accurately.
Six weeks in Taper Town and half a milligram have humbled me. I am alive, I am resolved, but I have put down my megaphone.
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