Physical wreck: There will be snot

I’m a physical wreck this weekend, from head to foot.

Some new shoes are fine for me, but the ones I wore on Thursday resulted in three blisters: one on each heel, and another on one of my toes. I’m sure the shoes will settle down after a couple of wears, but in the mean time, I’ve got bandaids on every time I leave the house.

And I’ve got a head cold. It’s not at the top of the scale when it comes to colds and flu, but it’s not very pleasant either.

The movie In The Loop (which is a spin-off from the TV series The Thick Of It) has some very funny deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray disc. In one, Jamie (aka The Crossest Man In Scotland) rants to Malcolm about going to see the movie There Will Be Blood… he complains that there’s hardly any blood in it.

My weekend so far could be called There Will Be Snot. On Saturday I went through an unbelievable number of tissues, thanks to an alternating blocked/sneezy/runny nose. The house sounded a little as if someone was doing a day-long really really bad trumpet rehearsal.

So far Sunday is looking like it might be a day for a sore throat rather than lots of nose action, but we’ll see.

Hopefully this cold will be on the retreat by tomorrow. I’ve got important things to do during the week.

Here for your enjoyment is Jamie McDonald, the Crossest Man In Scotland. (Coarse language)

Finally, what is amazing about In The Loop is that they managed to construct a trailer with no swearing (apart from one bleep):

Ouchy

Those Swiss Army knife people certainly know how to make knives. Very sharp knives.

While using one of their kitchen knives earlier in the week, I carelessly took a small chunk out of my thumb.

Be warned: slightly gory picture ahead.
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The lump

I’ve got a small lump on my thigh. Not painful at all. Probably harmless, the GP said, but he wrote me a referral to get it removed.

He asked if I private health insurance. Nope. I gave it up several years ago. It cost me thousands each year (and increasing) and rarely paid out anything at all.

He gave me a little lecture, along the lines of “You insure your house, your car… why not your health?”

I had a previous lump in my chest removed at Cabrini, when I did have insurance. It was very good — they examined it and took it out on the spot.

How much would that cost if I paid it myself? Heaps, the GP said, perhaps $1500 or more. Yikes. Public would be free, but he said getting it done would take ages in the queue. Ah well.

Monash Medical Centre, Moorabbin

The referral went off, and a letter arrived — appointment at Monash Medical Centre Moorabbin, which isn’t in Moorabbin, nor in City of Monash, but is a medical centre.

The wait had only been a couple of weeks. I went in thinking hey, they might chop it out same day. Take that, private insurance! BEHOLD, THE POWER OF UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE!

The specialist took a look, agreed it was probably harmless (probably a lump of skin growth, rather than the fatty blob the last one was) and said I’d go on a waiting list to get it out.

The waiting list would take a year to get through.

A year.

Whatdaya know, my GP knew what he was talking about.

Knowing that many specialists do both public and private work, I asked the specialist how long it’d take and roughly how much it’d cost if I paid myself to have it done privately. ‘Cos I’m in no particular rush, but it’d be nice to get it done and dusted. And this is a variation on self-insuring… not giving the insurance companies their profits, but being willing to spend money on your health where it’s beneficial. At this stage in my life, I’m well ahead doing that.

He said it’d cost $150-200, in about 4 weeks.

Wow, that’s great, I’ll be in that. Sold!

The good stuff

After suffering through several days of a bad cold this week, I finally decided to seek out medication.

I remember years ago using Codral Day And Night to get through it… but then a little later, having no success with what appeared to be the same medicine.

Turns out there’s “New” Codral, which does little for me, and “Original” Codral, which works. The Original has Pseudoephedrine in it… the New has Phenylephrine Hydrochloride instead.

A little research (particularly this extensive online discussion) showed that the Original stuff is still available, but you have to ask for it specifically, and they’ll register your purchase. This is because Pseudoephedrine can be used by Bad Guys to make methamphetamine, and apparently they’ve had to crack down on purchases to avoid people doing this.

This is why one local chemist has a “Pseudo Watch” sign on their door. I used to think it was some kind of security company sticker, which implied they don’t do a very good job of keeping an eye on the place.

You know it must be good stuff if the druggies are after it, right?

Sure enough when I went to my local chemist, they gave me New by default, but when I asked for Original, they were willing to sell it to me ($19, a bargain to make me feel better) but asked me for ID and registered the purchase.

Maybe, despite having not shaved for a couple of days while at home unwell, I have a trusting face.

And yes, it really does seem to work for me.

Viva la Pseudoephedrine!

Cluster headaches – back for spring

Oh joy. My cluster headaches are back for spring. In fact they returned on the 1st of September, which Australians consider to be the first day of spring. Boom, just like that.

(Previous posts. Doesn’t everybody use blog posts to track their personal health history? I know I do.)

To recap

Cluster headaches are, as Wikipedia describes them: excruciating unilateral headaches of extreme intensity.

“Cluster headache is probably the worst pain that humans experience.

Women with cluster headache will tell you that an attack is worse than giving birth. So you can imagine that these people give birth without anesthetic once or twice a day, for six, eight, or ten weeks at a time, and then have a break. It’s just awful.” — Dr Peter Goadsby

They occur in clusters during active periods (hence the name), and many people get them seasonally, though others have them permanently.

They affect about 0.1% of the population. They cause a sharp pain across one side of the head, from around the temple, down to the jaw, typically lasting between 15 minutes and 3 hours.

This is important: no conventional painkillers are effective against them. Not paracetomol, not aspirin, not Nurofen. Nothing works. It is not the same as migraine.

Mine

The more I read, the more it’s clear that I don’t get them as badly as some people (thank goodness).

But they’re still bloody painful. On this pain scale (which is not specific to Cluster headaches) mine probably peak at about a 4 or 5 out of 10. (“5 – Very Distressing – Strong, deep, piercing pain, such as a sprained ankle when you stand on it wrong, or mild back pain.”)

I get them seasonally, usually for a couple of weeks, and typically 3-4 times per day, starting around 6am (and yes, they are painful enough to wake me up) until around lunchtime or early afternoon. Mine last about 20-30 minutes.

I thought that I’d first suffered from these around 2007, but in fact when I saw the doctor on Tuesday, he said he had notes indicating that I’d had them (undiagnosed) going back to 2002 — though my recollection is they didn’t get really bad until 2006 or 07.

The doctor seems quite interested in it — I gather they’re rare enough for a local GP that he doesn’t see many cases.

The pain is intense, from the temple and behind the eyeball down to my mouth.

At its worst, all I can do is try and apply some pressure with my hand, or push my head into the pillow if still in bed, which may or may not help. Really at best the force of the pressure merely distracts me from the pain.

It’s said that oxygen helps: many people respond to inhalation of 100% oxygen (12-15 litres per minute in a non-re-breathing mask). While I haven’t tried this (I suppose it could be organised at home, with some effort/cost) it does seem to be that exposure to a chill wind, eg stepping outside in the morning air, does helps soothe the pain.

Caffeine seems to help as well — tea or Coke. Perhaps the latter helps more than the former.

The pain is so intense that when it just fades away and you’re back to normal, for a while there’s a huge feeling of relief that it’s gone… until it returns.

And the medication? In previous years I wrote that I thought the Veracaps SR the doctor prescribed helped. But I’ve got to say that now I’m not totally convinced it does. Perhaps it’s not really been doing anything, and the headaches have naturally faded after a week or two. Certainly this time around, I’ve been taking it since day one, and while it’s possible it’s taken the edge off it, so far they’re still hitting me every morning. (Though this morning’s first was later than previous days’, and not quite as strong.)

Maybe it just needs a few days to kick in. Hopefully in the next week or so mine will disappear again until next autumn.

Support

Every time they come around again, I end up doing a little more research.

This time around I’ve discovered that there is an Organisation for the Understanding of Cluster Headaches (“OUCH”). The US arm had a conference in Nashville in July — they have a bunch of videos with Peter Goadsby which I intend on watching soon.

A recent Triple J Hack story on chronic pain, which opens with a guy from Darwin describing his cluster headaches. Well worth a listen.

I’ve just discovered a Facebook group, which has some posts from fellow-sufferers which, I can tell you, are inspiring to read. Because people are sympathetic, but I’m not totally sure anybody can really fully understand it unless they’ve experienced repeating bouts of extreme pain themselves.

And there’s now an Australian support site as well.

I might lurk a bit in some of the forums. The more I read, the more it’s clear to me that while mine are very painful, I’m not getting them anywhere near as badly as some other people. But it’s nice that know that other people understand what it’s like.