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Dealing with Severe Pain and Illness, INTJ-style

Friday October 21, 2016

Last weekend I was driving home from a wedding, a 3-hour car trip. At the beginning of the drive, something felt off, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I felt vaguely uncomfortable and nothing seemed to help—water, more heat, more cold, nothing.

After an hour and a half of uncomfortable driving, I started to feel nauseated. Something wasn’t right in my abdomen. I asked my wife if she could find something that I could throw up in, if I needed to.

“Umm,” she replied, “if you feel like you need to throw up, shouldn’t I be driving?”

We both laughed.

I pulled over to let her drive and use the bathroom. Almost as soon as I emerged from the bathroom, a supernova of pain began to erupt from my insides. We got back on the freeway, an hour and a half from home. I began to moan and shift in my seat.

I could stand only twenty minutes of that and looked up the nearest emergency room.

By the time I checked in, my pain was at an 8 out of 10. I shifted in my waiting room seat and moaned some more. Fortunately I only had to wait about ten minutes.

The intake nurse took my vital statistics—blood pressure, temperature, pulse. At that point, she looked surprised.

“Do you exercise a lot?” she asked.

“Yeah. Is my heart rate pretty low?”

“Yeah, it’s at 40,” she said.

“That’s normal,” I said. I tried to hold back a smile. I had worked hard for moments like this by losing 35% of my body weight, or 100 lbs. (see before photo and after photo), and despite the pain, it felt like I had just been handed another little trophy.

The uplift didn’t last long, as I was soon left alone in a room, at which point my pain went to a 10 out of 10 on the pain scale. I have never yelled and moaned like that before. I was crying, my legs were moving around constantly, my hand gripped the hospital bed handrail like I was attempting to crush its metal frame.

“Ah, we call that the ‘kidney stone dance,’” said my new nurse, as she walked in and introduced herself.

So I had kidney stones

This episode lasted almost a week. I hit 10 out of 10 on the pain scale on multiple occasions. Different locations, same pain level.

Here are my INTJ notes on the topic.

Things that helped

  • Coping with Pain
    • The instinctive methods that I just did without thinking
      • Gripping something and trying to squeeze it very hard
      • Laying down
      • Moaning
      • Slapping myself on the head (??? This one was weird but helped a couple of times)
    • In extreme pain, the following non-instinctive methods helped, ranked most-effective to least:
      • Distracting myself by asking questions, asking for information
        • It was annoying when people didn’t cooperate. One nurse said, “I know why you’re asking me, this is great. It’s gonna be OK.” Then she went back to her work. Give me the information then!!! Let’s have a discussion!!! I need this! LOL
      • Slow, calm breathing and visualization
        • One nurse said, “I see you’re doing Lamaze breathing! Great idea.” “Let’s call it Kung Fu breathing,” I said. She laughed but I learned it from the Chinese martial arts, not from a Lamaze class! Geez.
        • Important: Breathe out longer than you breathe in! Otherwise you will hyperventilate. I started to hyperventilate and remembered this advice from Sifu Richard Hone, my martial arts instructor of long ago. (R.I.P. Sifu Hone! Amazing guy)
        • I visualized the sun inside my chest, slowly growing larger and larger with warmth extending to my extremities, and warm sun hitting and warming large, round, flat river rocks. This worked pretty well overall and helped distract me.
        • I exhaled loudly by pursing my lips and blowing hard through them. Again, something I was taught in Kung Fu, and it worked well.
        • After doing this for a minute or two, I’d attempt to go completely silent and motionless. Exhaling very slowly through my nose, not making a move. Just to see how long I could do it before I had to move again.
      • Reciting things I had memorized
        • I started to recite inspirational lines from a Japanese film.
        • Probably sounded weird to the nurse but I was desperate. And it did help a bit.
        • Side effect: I started weeping. Gah.
      • Asking technical questions
        • Why that medication? What makes it different from morphine?
        • What’s that number on the screen for?
        • Do you like your job? What do you like about it?
      • Saying, “YES, NICE, MORE, COME ON!!!!” Like James Bond being tortured in Casino Royale
        • This was a temporary distraction but didn’t help as much as I had hoped.
        • Interestingly the thought of “more” was extremely depressing at this time.
        • I have never wanted to die less than when I was in such extreme pain, which fascinates me. A 10 made every last consideration of death completely flee. Is there some continuum—the better we have it, the more likely we consider death an option? Or something like that? Is that why we go to the movies to see James Bond tortured while we relax?
    • All of the above were surprisingly ineffective against level-10 pain. I thought they would help a bit, but they were simply coping mechanisms and hardly did a thing except provide some distraction.
  • Coping with absence from work
    • People I work with were really understanding
      • “Why are you even emailing us?” they said.
      • “Get some rest!” they said.
      • Still, I was out for four business days and I knew there were things we couldn’t ignore.
    • It helped to work when I could.
      • At first I wanted to avoid work, and that was OK. I didn’t think I could handle it at the time, and I was probably right.
      • But the thought of work just piling up got really annoying.
      • I did some work and felt better about it.
      • So I did more work, when I could. I’m still glad I did.
  • Coping with the threat of another kidney stone in the future
    • I did a ton of research here. It all helped.
      • I even researched and pondered my research methods.
        • Google is almost worthless now. Plus, you have no idea who’s gathering information on your health profile as you use the search tools. I tried my normal DDG for this reason and it was even worse, as I suspected, but it was worth a try.
        • Asking a friend who’s a rheumatologist was very helpful. He sent me medical journal articles.
        • I thought about the different medical materials to which I have access through my library; I’ll probably look deeper into those.
        • It was pretty easy to conclude what caused my problems: Tons of oxalates. Just one look at my recent eating habits and how many nuts I’ve been eating, how much spinach, etc. made it very easy to guess.
        • However, it seems smarter to cut back a bit on those and start e.g. drinking more lemonade and taking magnesium citrate to help dissolve any stones, than to just cut out all or most oxalate-rich foods.
    • As I did research, I took notes.
      • Notes are huge and really help me take my discoveries further.
      • Without my notes, I tend to think in circles sometimes, continually going back to the same conclusions.
    • As I went through this ordeal, I kept a paper spreadsheet.
      • Things I tracked: Inflow, outflow (ahem), pain levels, medications, food intake, date, weight, calories consumed, any other notes or activities
      • This helped most at the beginning, when it felt good just to be doing something and to keep myself on the best track possible.
      • This also helped when my wife was away from the home and I couldn’t remember when I was supposed to take medication X or Y.
      • I let it fade out toward the end of the ordeal, when it seemed less necessary.

Takeaways for next time

These notes should help, for one.

Here are the general principles:

  • I was very glad I was in good shape overall. I can’t overstate this. Going through an illness when you know you are in good health in general is much better and releases you from a lot of doubts.
    • Accordingly, I plan to get in even better shape.
  • I was very glad I knew my INTJ gifts:
    • Spreadsheeting / monitoring / recording things
    • Writing
    • Opining
    • Asking technical questions
    • Hyperbolic attention to the physical—good knowledge of breathing techniques due to an interest in Kung Fu, movement economy when in pain, stretching, etc.
    • Analysis
    • Acting on plans
    • Contingency planning
    • Developing strategy for the future
    • Allowance of reversion toward the sensory and ephemeral: I watched movies, TV shows, etc.
      • I could hardly bear really active movies, like old musicals.
      • Slow, espionage or mystery movies were great
      • Casual TV shows without too much action were great
      • Social media like Twitter and Instagram were amazing
        • Even social media start to get really boring after 3-4 days, no matter how full your feed is
      • Youtube was incredible
        • Great War series
        • Niche topics of interest; retro computing
        • I watched so many “Irish people eat _____” videos…extremely comforting humor, not sure why.
        • Pretty sure my Youtube feed is going to be really weird for a while.
      • Anything enjoyable was done in a not-so-deep way.
        • This is important for me. I keep it at a very shallow level—once I start to feel any boredom, I move on immediately.
        • I believe this is related to extraverted intuition (Ne) and I think it can really help an INTJ in pain or when trying to relax. If used properly—i.e. not so many deep dives into single topics.
    • I basically took a bath in all these gifts while I worked through the illness, because I knew they were my gifts and I knew they’d probably help me. It really did help.
  • People were understanding but I’m glad I did work when I could. Staying as organized as possible was very helpful.

So, if it hits again, I’d like to think I’ve learned some important lessons.

For now though, I am going to work really hard to make sure there is no next time.

[Note: This post is mostly information-oriented and is not big on e.g. thanking people who helped me or noting their own coping methods. But I did get a lot of really helpful assistance from others and am thankful for it.]

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