Saturday, 2 March 2013

that codeine lift

Here is an interesting piece, by Andrew Brown in the Telegraph, about over-the-counter painkillers. We probably all use them from time to time, those with conditions like sciatica or interstitial cystitis (Google it) more often. He describes the mild mood lift that patients experience, in addition to pain relief, when they take painkillers which include codeine. And after all, chronic pain is depressing. Well, we know where codeine comes from, it can trace its ancestry back to the poppies of Afghanistan ultimately, so the mood lift is not hard to understand. And if you grow to rely on that mood lift to make your day tolerable, then dependency is not far off. The comedian Mel Smith was very honest about his dependency on Nurofen at one time - 50 tablets a day, and he was hiding the packets as alcoholics do bottles. Good for him for coming out about it. Myself, I take Nurofen Flash for headaches, which are mainly caused by reading in poor light (if I read entirely on the Kindle, with a comfortable font size, I don't get headaches), not every day but two or three times a week. So I wonder. Am going to watch that intake from now on. I used to be a heavy smoker, so I know what addiction is all about. And boy was THAT hard to kick.

I might not have taken the article so seriously, but for the fact that I broke a rib in 2011 (granny goes inline skating) and it was agonisingly painful. It took about ten days to mend and stop being seriously painful (still aches in wet weather) and for that period I was prescribed some codeine-based painkillers. Only just enough for the ten days, and I can understand why. When I took one, the edge would go off the pain almost immediately, then I would start to feel rather serene, as though there was nothing in the world worth worrying about. Then I would fall asleep for an hour or two, and have vivid, banal and very pleasant dreams. By the time I had just one of the tablets left, the pain had nearly gone. So I took the last one in celebratory fashion, on the last day of my sick leave, and spent half the afternoon "smacked into a trance" as the old Steely Dan choon has it. And I just know that if I had had any left I would have looked forward to taking them. The doctor told me when she prescribed them that it would be no good asking for more, so she was probably used to people pretending they still had pain, to try and get more of those little white tabs of serenity. Sig other was prescribed something similar a few years ago for tendonitis (at one stage he couldn't put his own socks on) and he still has one left "for emergency use", he says.

So - I am not a fan of media-induced panics over medicines and various substances which, used correctly, are entirely beneficial. Nurofen and similar are not dangerous. People around the world who don't have access to safe prescription drugs often have to live with chronic pain. But, let's all try and understand what drugs we are using, and why. Those of us (boomers) who are facing the beginnings of old age, know that as we increasingly ache in the places where we used to play we are likely to consume more prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication. Many of us have parents alive, in their eighties or older, and in the UK, under the NHS at least, those parents are rattling with pills, most of which they have no idea of the provenance, contents or effects. That's not going to be us. Four years ago I had one of the comprehensive medicals you get here in France, and it revealed a heart murmur (confirmed by another check) which I have probably always had, and never knew. It doesn't cause a problem, and is nothing to worry about, but apparently medical services need to know about it if I ever have major surgery. Please not. It also revealed a patch on the right lung, undoubtedly caused by the smoking years, which also doesn't cause a problem, though it won't ever go away. I decided then that I would start swimming more seriously, to make the heart and the rest of the lungs more efficient. And it seems to be working. A kilometre a few times a week, which I hope to increase in both speed and distance as time goes on. A legal and non-prescription high. We live on the second floor, forty steps up and no lift. I can take those steps fast, with two bags of heavy shopping, without the rhythm of my breathing changing. I couldn't do that two years ago.
this is not me

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was interesting. I realised with dismay recently that I was puffing when I climbed three flights of stairs (walking, no heavy bags), and have started avoiding the lift as much as possible. Well done on doing something about your health.