When I lived at 3A Emina Crescent, off Toyin Street, Ikeja, Lagos, a trauma hospital next door constantly reminded me of pain. Day and night, agonizing cries from body-wrenching pain sounded like the signature tune of this hospital. And the specialist doctors who worked there would appear to have bundles on their hands. For one set of peculiar cries often quickly gave way to other ones, suggesting that some patients were calming while the hospital was admitting a new set of others.
I hate pain and agony and, so, never ventured into the grounds of this hospital. I have been lucky not to live in pain, except for when, in 1966, I suffered a femur fracture when a taxi knocked me down in Ibadan, and when, in 2000, a terrible toothache sent me to the dentist. It was a 50th birthday toothache and began in the night. I had at home no herbal remedy such as Clove Oil to calm it.
Being unable to bear the head-splitting headache which accompanied the toothache, I dabbled the tooth with an Aloe Vera product which was not meant to be administered internally. And the tooth cracked, worsening the pain.There are two other pain experience I cannot easily forget. The first was a sharp and prolonged pain in both eyes which I experienced in an airplane on my way home from the Netherlands. It was as though pins were being short into each eyeball. Obviously, these were nerve pains and should have educated me well enough to pay more attention to those eyes. Like most people, I forgot about that pain after an almost instant relief from a dose of Aspirin which the cabin attendants gave me. Years after, the underlying cause, glaucoma, was to be woken from slumber, according to my ophthalmologist, by drugs an orthopaedic doctor gave me for suspected rheumatoid arthritis in both shoulders.
When Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) he gave did not appear to work well, he replaced the prescription with Corticosteroids, a more powerful anti-inflammatory regimen, and, according to the eye doctor, this was what exhumed and roused a slumbering volcano. I will not forget, also, post-operative pain after a minor surgery to connect a deviated septum. The septum is that ridge of tissue which separates nostrils, it was possible that I fell as a baby, bled from nose and the blood was stopped but the septum was not properly checked. said Dr. Kunle Okupe, a terrific Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor (now of blessed memory) who carried out the surgery. I had noticed that, if I lay on one side of the body, the septum flipped to cover or block the nostril on that side, leaving me to breathe with only one nostril during sleep. When Dr. Okupe said he would ‘’pack’’ the nostrils after the corrective surgery. I didn’t understand the procedure in all its ramifications. When he finished, cotton wool was stuffed into the nostrils to absorb blood from bleeding tissue. I had to breathe through the mouth for the next 24 hours.
That meant I had to keep awake all night, as the surgery took place in the evening, with severe headache which heavy doses of pain killer, could not contain. But this was only the beginning of post-operative pain. Removal of cotton wool was traumatic as blood clots had glued it to tissue after the cotton wool was removed, cleaning of the Nostrils to remove blood clots was an unforgettable experience. I was free of the cotton wool, dressing every three days to clear the nostrils of blood clots were an unforgettable pain experience.
The experiences of many people with pain are varied. Some people suffer from migraines or tension headache, some from cluster headache. Eye pain is the challenge of others. For some others still, degenerating neck bones may cause a type of arthritis known as cervical spondylosis.
In this condition, the neatly arranged and well aligned neck bones may shift or misalign, pinching a nerve, and this may set off a pain reaction. Surgery may be advised to re-align the bones. But the risk taken may involve the possibility of the surgeon’s knife cutting a nerve and causing paralysis. Sometimes, neck collars are worn to help the condition. If one prefers a chiropractor may be called to knock the bones into shape, but there are not many of them in Nigeria. Peptic ulcer and duodenal ulcer cause pain. Indigestion and other digestive system problems do cause pain. If the blood does not flow well to the organs, pain may arise. And when one organ exceeds its boundary and encroaches on another, such as when the intestine drops on the testes in testicular hernia, pain arise. One time Nigerian military Head of State Gen Ibrahim Babangida once suffered from radiculopathy, inflammation of the radicles, a nervous system condition, which warranted surgery in France. Chronic hypoxia (insufficiency of oxygen in the blood) is another pain factor. Tumours or cancers of any sort are another breeding ground for pain. Even when iron levels (ferritin) are too high in the blood, this causes pain. Many people are challenged with fibromyalgia. Most of the sufferers (about 50 percent) are women.
This is an arthritic condition of the muscles and skeletal system which affect both sides of the body. The symptoms encompass fatigue and sleep disorders. Mrs. Elizabeth Strand, the wife of Dr. Ray Strand, was a well-known sufferer from this condition. Her energy crashed to the point that she couldn’t even brush her teeth. Her husband couldn’t help her. But she got well on herbs and nutritional supplements she was given by her friends to the point that she could tend and ride her horses again. Dr. Strand was intrigued by this that he began to research nutritional supplements, with Grape Seed Extract becoming his pet supplement, and he wrote the book WHAT YOUR DOCTOR DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT NUTRITION MAY BE KILLING YOU. Many of these conditions are not lone rangers. Fibromyalgia, for example, is associated with some medical situations, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), itself caused by micro-organisms in the bowels, post-traumatic stress disorders and lupus, an auto-immune disorder. Back-ache is reported in many countries to be second in occurrence to only headache. Back-ache may arise from factors which may include back injury, arthritis of the spinal bones, slipped disc, herniated disc, nerve injury, muscle and/or ligament tear or strain, muscle spasms or swollen joint. Bad standing or sitting posture may be culprits as well. Bone spurs caused by deposition of calcium not inside the bone but on the outside is another problem to watch. Dr. Oz, whose television programmes are popular in Europe and in the United States, advices that pancreatic cancer can be a cause of back pain. He says that, when a tumour blocks the pancreatic duct, which sends pancreatic enzymes into the intestine to digest food there, this causes an acid build-up in the pancreas, eating up this organ and causing abdominal pain which may radiate to the back. He suggests that, to rule out this condition if your stool is pale and your skin is yellow, you see your doctor immediately. Lymphoma is becoming a common ailment in Nigeria. It is cancer of the lymph nodes (in the neck, armpit and groin) which attacks white blood cells. Some sufferers experience lumps in the throats and difficulty in swallowing. Another pain factor many pain-stricken people do not consider before they gobble pain-killing or relieving pharmaceutical drugs is that too much iron or too little of it is dangerous to health. Iron is needed to form heamoglobin, a constituent of red blood cells which transport oxygen throughout the body. When the cells are deprived of oxygen for their living processes, they ‘’cry’’ out in pain. For the purpose of making red blood cells wherever they are needed, the body stores iron inside a special protein called ferritin, it is found in bodycells with a little of it found circulating in the bloodstream. The Mayo Clinic says ferritin contains 20 percent iron, with the largest concentration of ferritin being in the liver. When it is time to make more red blood cells, the body calls for the release of ferritin. Ferritin thus released is then bound to another substances called transferrin, another protein which takes ferritin to where new red blood cells are manufactured. One authority describes transferrin as a “taxi”. In low ferritin levels, the following symptoms may be experienced as iron levels deplete: “Unexplained fatigue, dizziness, chronic headaches, unexplained weakness, ringing in the ears, irritability, leg pains and shortness of breath, in excess ferritin levels, the symptoms may include “stomach pain, heart palpitations or chest pains, unexplained weakness, joint pain and unexplained fatigue.”
Rising ferritin levels call for a check on the liver and spleen as damage to these organs may cause ferritin influx into blood circulation. This would cause pain, which, in Nigeria, many self-medicating people try to resolve with a popular pain killer. Unfortunately, accumulations of the residues of this pain killer damage the liver and the kidneys. It is a pity, too, that this pain killer can be purchased by anyone over the counter, and doctors who prescribe them do not often warn their patients against an over dose. According to an article on the Gastro-enterology and Hepatology Journal, as reported by Racheal Nail in Health line Medical Review team (www.healthline.com): “The most common causes of elevated ferritin levels are obesity, inflammation and daily alcohol intake Health line add: Lower than normal ferritin level can indicate that you have an iron deficiency, which can happen when you don’t consume enough iron in your daily diet.”
Another condition that affects iron levels is anemia, which is when you don’t have enough red blood cells for iron to attack to. Additional conditions includes excessive menstrual bleeding, stomach conditions that affect intestinal absorbtion and internal bleeding. Ferritin levels that are too high can indicate certain condition. Some example is haematochromatosis which is when your body absorbs too much iron. Other conditions that cause too much iron levels include rheumatoid arthritis, liver disease, hyperthyroidism, adult still’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, leukemia, Hodgken’s lymphoma, iron poisoning and frequent blood transfusions. This much has been said of iron and ferritin as causes of pain and some of the causes of their elevation have been mentioned as well, to advice that it is not in all cases of pain that these dangerous pain killers should be greedily consumed. They do not solve underlying problems of pain. They merely block the pain temporally. Pain is terrible. So, where we may seek to block it, however temporally, so we can move on more freely with our lives, we should not relent in making our doctors investigate the root causes of the pain. Doctors will prescribe Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) or Corticosteroids, such as that which exhumed my slumbering glaucoma. It would be up to us, once armed with the appropriate diagnosis, to find natural solutions to these underlying conditions, as I did for my smoldering rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Many women would not forgive me if I do not mention the pain which comes with menstruation. For it makes them miserable every month. Some have even lost their Jobs on account of this. What would happen, for example, is better imagined if, on the day of the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination, that crucial examination in Nigeria for University placement, a girl is knocked out of the competition by menstrual pain. It would mean she would have to wait another year to try again. But who can predict the future? What if menstrual pain debars a young university graduate from attending an important job interview or mars her performance before the panelists? It is still arguable medically if women should menstruate. In THE NEW RAN ENERGY published in the 1960s, Leslie and Susannah Kenton featured research work which showed that, like the old World Monkeys, women who consumed large amount of beta carotene do not menstruate but, nevertheless, fertile and get pregnant.
At a Gotha Institute health seminar I attended in Lagos in the 1990s, a young mother of three from the middle belt zone of Nigeria was presented. She was banished from her village because she was not known to menstruate. This menstruation is now being seen in some medical circles as a New World disease. For women who menstruate, this phenomenon is the expulsion of the lining of the uterus, the endometrium, if no pregnancy occurred prior to it. Menstruation is stimulated by some hormone like substances called prostaglandins. Of which there are two major types. One type promote inflammation. The other is anti-inflamating, if a woman has too much of the former, they may cause excessive cramping of the uterine walls. And lactic acid would build up in these walls, inducing inflammation and pain.
The pro-inflammation prostaglandins have been linked to diet, especially the consumption of red meat, white sugar, white flour foods, fried foods etc. Many women who are beset with this condition are known to have an excess of calcium (from milk consumption etc.) viz-a-viz magnesium. While Calcium causes those contractions, there is not enough magnesium at work to simultaneously relax the nerves and muscles. Research in this field of pain have noted that other factors may cause menstrual pain. These include endometriosis (when the uterine lining grows in other parts of the pelvic region), family history, early puberty (before age II), irregular periods, heavy periods, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), uterus fibroids and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), among others. This column is exploratory. Other columns in the series will examine specific conditions or groups of them with the aim of suggesting natural ways of answering them or overcoming them.