I found this article which I had written about on Facebook before I had a blog. The first time I read about this girl’s story I felt so alone, so overwhelmed and out of control and consumed by pain that I cried the entire time I was reading it. I didn’t yet realize how many of us were going through the same thing, or how many friends who truly get what chronic pain means that I would meet along the way. I just knew the desperation, anger, and denial that I was piled under. Fortunately, times have changed, or at least my perspective has. I can still really sympathize with this girl, and understand where she is coming from, and I am still incredibly grateful to her for writing her story at a time when I felt hopelessly isolated. This may have been the first time that I realized if more people were less afraid to speak out about chronic pain, we might be treated like human beings, eventually.
My Story: Looking for a New Doctor
National Pain Report
May 26th, 2014 by Kitty Taylor
I’ve had chronic pain as far back as I can remember. It got unbearable a few years ago after a serious injury. My body won’t forget the pain and it feels fresh as day one without medication.
I recently moved to Colorado from Nevada after being with the same doctor for many years. Now I’m having a hard time finding a new doctor willing to prescribe the medication I’ve been taking. I’ve found plenty of clinics that say they specialize in pain management, when in reality they are rehab clinics. Their sole purpose is to wean you off narcotics and put you on highly addicting medication, such as Suboxone or methadone. Some clinics are treating pain with Suboxone long term. That was not the intended use.
Then there are pain clinics, usually the spine centers, that only do injections and don’t prescribe drugs. I wish they would distinguish in their business category what they’re really about.
The first clinic I thought would be helpful turned out to be a Suboxone clinic. On my second appointment there they told me outright that I wouldn’t be continuing on the same medication and that I would be going on Suboxone. If I didn’t agree that, I was told they’d cut my doses so low I couldn’t handle it anymore. So I canceled my next appointment with them.
Drugs like methadone and Suboxone (which may or may not help the pain) are just as dangerous and the addictions to them are intense. The withdrawals are unreal. Coming off the medication I’m on now would be painful, but having to come off one of those could cause months, not just days, of withdrawal and pain.
Not only that, but imagine if you couldn’t get your next dose of methadone or Suboxone, you could end up in a coma! Any doctor that says there aren’t side effects and the withdrawals aren’t bad is lying.
It’s been four months since my last appointment with my helpful doctor and I’m still looking for a new one. One clinic I had a referral to, the doctor refused to accept me as a patient. It’s taking so long to find a doctor and I’ve got to find one quick! There are so few listed and so few that prescribe narcotics or are honest about what they practice. If you are rehab clinic you should not be advertising that you manage pain.
I’ve certainly been made to feel like a drug seeker and nothing more since I’ve moved. My last doctor never made me feel that way. He was caring and compassionate from day one. The only complaint I have about the visits there was that the DEA had them scared to prescribe medications that I had been on for a long time. My medicine and schedules were altered based on word from the DEA, not what my doctor felt was right for me and not what was working for me.
My daily function is greatly decreased since my medications were screwed with and it’s getting worse. First they took away Soma and it was painful trying to find another muscle relaxer. Even the one I’m on now sucks, but it’s better than nothing. Some of them I think were causing more muscle spasms and cramps. It was so bad I looked like I was having a seizure.
Then they couldn’t prescribe more than four oxycodone pills a day when I was on six. They couldn’t even prescribe Demerol anymore because the DEA and the county were having so many problems with it. The hospitals stopped keeping it and the pharmacies stopped ordering it because of theft and robberies!
And this was my response, a year ago:
“This is so much like my story. The way she talks about having to deal with “pain clinics” who only push methadone, or who only push Lyrica and Savella, or who only do injections. None of them have the ability to actually treat acute flare ups. I know from personal experience that even when a procedure at a pain clinic goes wrong and they have caused you intense and unrelenting pain, they do not offer any help, just tell you to calm down, because you’re scaring other patients, and “if it’s really that bad” to go to the emergency room. Pain clinics are a gimmick. A glimmer of hope that turns out to be bullshit when you get up close, every time.
I can’t do cortisone injections, I can’t take most antidepressants, nor steroids, nor do I care to, I am taking Lyrica and two different muscle relaxers at the same time for spasms and I also take all the usual Vitamin D, B-12, magnesium, zinc, rosehips, tart cherry extract, etc, that seem to help maybe? Who knows. The only time I have ever gotten any relief from this pain is after six hours waiting in agony at an Emergency Room, watching junkies and fakers get treated with more dignity than you, because you refused the little cup full of oxycodone and valium (I had already taken my personal comfortable limit of oxy while waiting in the ER, and I told them so, and I don’t do well with valium, it causes panic attacks and it’s written so in my charts if they had payed attention). One time I was told rudely to leave the ER, and then billed $600+ for the pleasure of being treated like human garbage by a very bitchy ER doctor after waiting many hours to be seen. Twice I received actual pain relief that lasted maybe five hours and was the only relief from the hell of fibro that I have had in two years. I haven’t been to the ER in over a year, but I think about how the ER is always full of people who feel better than me. The ER is a very, very, VERY last resort at this point, however.
I’m not even functioning anymore, I’ve been in way too much pain for way too long. I’m just trying to get to a place where I have enough moments in a day to take care of myself properly. I’m not even close to that level on my current treatments. Most days I can’t brush my hair or take a shower. Most days I spend two hours doing a task that should take fifteen minutes. Most days I am overwhelmed and unable to advocate for myself.
The point she makes that I think cannot be overstated is that chronic pain patients don’t abuse medications. Then we wouldn’t have them when we need them. The pain is real and we would never want to not have the ability to treat it.
We are just as scared of finally finding the right drug (can it please be a non-opiate, non-psychoactive drug?) that makes the pain bearable only to have it taken away again, as we are terrified of the pain we are in continuing unchecked. And we are scared of addiction, too. And scared for our organs. And scared for the changes in us caused by taking pain medication. We’ve weighed all that. The pain warrants the medication, or we wouldn’t take it.
The pain is already changing us, rewiring our brains, making us shells of the people we were before, and turning our bodies against us. If there were something better, we would certainly take that instead.
I understand her panic and her logic and I really feel for her.”
Phew, so that’s me a year ago. I don’t regret writing any of that, because at that time it was all true from where I was standing. It’s important to note that I was extremely depressed, and had been disappointed and disillusioned so many times. I had a primary care doctor who believed I was faking, no way of seeking relief except the ER, and I very much didn’t understand what was happening to me. At the time, open therapy was doing very little for me. I spent more time staring at my psychologist in total confusion than I did processing or talking things through. She would ask me questions like “what kinds of self-care routines are you doing on a regular basis?” and I would look at her like she had grown a second head, and she would push, “you must be able to think of one self-care activity, I don’t care how small it is.” I was still confused. Self-care? As in, my needs had to take precedent over others before I was at the point of throwing massive temper tantrums, crying uncontrollably in public and at work, and having ten panic attacks in one day? How was I supposed to even start? What did it all mean? Was this lady crazy? I was supposed to get better, not spend more time wallowing in “my needs”.
That’s my thinking a year ago. The level of brain fog I was enveloped in at that time is pretty evident, and there isn’t a lot of built in logic to my ranting, but I wasn’t even aware yet that my cognitive abilities had been taking a nosedive over the past two years. I knew I had Fibromyalgia, but I didn’t know much about it or much about what my life would look like in a year. To be honest, when I typed my response to that writer on National Pain Report, I didn’t even know if I’d be here in a year. Two girls with Ehler-Danlos Syndrome responded to my posted response on Facebook; one is a dear friend now but was someone I had just met at the time, and another I was too self-involved to reach out to in return. Currently, I am haunted that I didn’t reach back, more than I am bothered by anything that I did write. Reading through this outpouring of my own overly raw emotions made me wince, but seeing how I ignored another spoonie’s attempt to connect gave me actual regret. Both girls have EDS and encouraged me to push forward to a diagnosis.
I still don’t have the diagnosis, but I am treating my joints with much more care and attention and I am seeking physical strength instead of allowing fear of injury to mandate every activity. I also do finally understand what self-care is and have a long, long list of ways to recognize and put disordered thinking in perspective, but I am still learning more every single day. I would no longer characterize my life as hellish. Some days are indeed horrible, but I have good days too, and I am more prone to seize them now than a year ago.
I feel gratitude and empowerment when I take care of myself these days, not selfish guilt, but it took reframing my thoughts, repeatedly. Of course I still forget to make myself a top priority sometimes. There are always improvements to be made, but I am confident (another new development) that I will continue to make necessary changes and seek out information that helps me cope. In the mean time I am trying to find joy in small wonders. Any little victory is cause for celebration. Today, I’m happy that I have made progress since my diagnosis. Visible, written down, real progress. All the hard work has been overwhelming at times, it has even felt like I have slid backwards more than I have been able to put one foot in front of the other and keep climbing, but in one short year, the small changes I have made have taken me a long way from not knowing if I wanted to be here in a year, to planning for the next five, ten, twenty years of my life. I am even starting a business with a close friend, something I thought was ripped out of my grasp by illness which has actually become much more possible because of the life adjustments I have made to accommodate the chronic pain that dogs my every move.
It just proves that accepting and processing what illness means for me personally, minus the guilty nagging voice in the back of my head, has made all the difference. I think others around me may be frustrated by how little I can seem to accomplish in a certain amount of time, but I now realize that this isn’t their journey. It’s my journey, at my pace, and that’s healthier than continuing to constantly feel like a failure for struggling to keep up with everyone around me. I don’t have a magic finish line that I can get to and be “recovered”. The best I can do is the best I can do, end of story. I will work with what I’ve been given, and I will be grateful for what I can do on any given day. Sometimes that means just breathing in and out for hours, nothing else, and sometimes it means charging at life like I don’t know what pain and illness even are.
It’s amazing how often health providers get asked directly or indirectly whether someone experiencing pain is ‘faking’ it. The short answer is the most accurate – we can’t tell. We’re not lie detectors, there is no ‘gold standard’ to work out whether someone is pretending or not, and the question is based on erroneous thinking about pain and pain behaviour.
I can almost feel the spluttering at my last sentence from some readers!
Let’s look at this more closely.
Remember the biopsychosocial model of pain states that the experience of pain and pain behaviour is influenced by three broad groups of factors: the biomedical/biophysical factors such as extent of tissue disruption at the periphery (or site of trauma), neurological changes of transmission and transduction (throughout the peripheral and central nervous system), and disturbance of the neuromatrix.
At the same time, there are psychological factors such as the level of…
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I hope you all had the Christmas that you were hoping for, and even if you did not, I hope you found something in these holidays to be grateful for no matter what else is going on. My Christmas was full of many things, one of which was love, the other main component of which was pain.
I tried to write this post before I took some real painkillers, and whoa, I am not proud of the original version, but it does convey accurately what living in non-stop pain is like, so it may yet be posted, despite my embarrassment.
Right now, instead of salvaging/editing that previous documentation of hopeless levels of pain, I am going to talk about why it matters that we keep track and research, why it matters that we keep searching for hope in any form, and why it matters that we are able to openly discuss pain with people who are educated about it. Not very long ago, less than two hours, I was sobbing uncontrollably every ten or twenty minutes, unable to walk, unable to shift to a position in bed that would alleviate it, unable to sit at my desk or concentrate enough to talk to my boyfriend at all. So I am grateful, very grateful for painkillers, painkillers which I have kept in a dark place hidden away from everyone since around last time this year when I knew I was not going to be seeing the same doctor any more and that meant I would probably lose access to much-needed medicine that helped me to function just a little bit. And I was right, the next guy was a complete asshole, and he basically destroyed my life in ten minutes because he was afraid to treat pain correctly. Thank you, fucked up system, thank you dick-hole doctor, thank you crippling grief for my boyfriend’s father and severe anxiety at the time that kept me from fighting back.
Even these secreted away painkillers are leaving me close to tears right now, precariously perched between a 7 on the pain scale, which is barely manageable, and an 8, which is less manageable. Earlier I was at an extreme 9, but refusing to give in. Getting just a slight reduction is everything in this game; I must remind myself constantly at the moment to accept that 10%-20% relief is still better than the pain just growing, spreading and getting brighter and sharper and more intense to the point that even my breathing was rationed out because it hurt my spine too much to flex with each inhale and exhale.
Nerd moment: I can accurately say that the pain pills decimated my pain, because the word actually means a reduction of 10% (deci-) or more, traditionally it referenced killing one person in every ten as a punishment for the group, usually in the case of soldiers on the losing side.
For me personally, 10% is not enough for me to even consider something on sale in a clothing store, and it honestly wouldn’t mean anything to me if I didn’t know from experience that a tenth less is good news here. Very good news. It means the world to be allowed out from under the crushing burden of severe pain just for a little while. This is what a 10% reduction in pain means for me:
With that 10% reduction in pain, I have been able to make my own cup of coffee, walk up and down a half flight of stairs with a five minute break that I passed off as just a friendly chat with my downstairs roommates, and I popped some rolls in the oven that I made from scratch for Christmas and kept dormant in the fridge until this morning. Not much, not much at all really, but compared to having difficulty breathing due to pain, plus pain-puking which hurts even worse, it’s like magic. Doctors need to understand that non-stop chronic pain can kill, no matter what mood elevators I am on or regular dose of anti-anxiety medication, I am always shocked when the breakthrough pain and flare ups strike, often to the point of feeling helpless and hopeless against the severity of it. Sometimes depression is unavoidable at that point, at least for me.
Even if it only lasts for a few hours, the kind of depression that hits when I simply cannot cope with the level of pain that I am in, and when I know it will keep happening even if it stops for a little while, and nothing I try works even a little bit; at that point it is actually equal parts depression and desperation, and that is dangerous. It can be hard to keep a clear head when desperation enters the picture. With chronic pain, an episode of desperation and depression (both things most of us work very hard to keep at bay on a daily basis) can quickly turn into wondering why I am even here, wanting to escape my body by any means necessary, considering self-injury, wishing I could disappear, and a few times actively wishing to die without any set plans. I know many others spiral deeper than that through no fault of their own, and often because of misdiagnosis and mistreatment of their pain. Throw a little sleep deprivation/ painsomnia into the mix and a lack of understanding external support networks and all of a sudden you have a recipe for disaster. The data from a poll earlier this year, done by OHSU’s Dr’ Bennett, who is famous worldwide for his chronic pain research, found that a staggering 39% of Fibromyalgia patients have considered suicide. This is heartbreaking, terrifying data. More people with a disease that is supposedly not progressive or “dangerous” have considered suicide than those with Multiple Sclerosis or Lupus, which are traditionally considered much “worse” conditions to have. How awful.
Something needs to be done to provide these millions of people whose treatments are obviously failing them completely with a means of pain control that can allow them to see beyond this painful second into something a little better. I am so glad that I wisely hid away a few backup painkillers for breakthrough pain. Pain that my doctors keep insisting does not happen. I wish they could try living in my body for a week and then tell me how they feel about prescribing painkillers to chronic pain patients. We just need a break. I need a break in order to get to live my life a little tiny bit and most of all in order to get my shit together. When help is visible to me but I am not allowed to take it or ask for what I know will help me, it just feels like they’re being unreasonable and cruel. It’s terrifying to have your life in the hands of someone who does not know even a fraction of what you do about your body. It’s even more terrifying when the people who hold your life in their hands can be so openly hostile towards us when we need help the most.
We deserve so much better than the way that we are treated when we need help. I deserve better and more compassionate treatment than I am receiving and than I have received in the past. I certainly never want another pain patient to have to deal with the bully doctors I have been stuck with. I’m so tired of MD’s throwing their hands up in the air and saying they can’t help me when the answers are right there in front of them, and they’re afraid to prescribe it out of ignorance and pain-shaming. Whatever I was taking when I was still able to work part time in mid-2013, I need that all back in order to function and focus just barely enough to get to a point where my disability process is underway, my partner understands me and what’s going on with my body better, and all our paperwork is finally filed for all assistance agencies. Since 10% relief is a minor miracle during a flare up, I am no longer feeling desperation clawing at my neck, trying to burst out of my skin. But I know it’s lurking inside of me, waiting to strike in my next moment of pain and weakness. I know I can hold out time and time again, because I always have, but a part of me is scared of how bad I want out when it gets bad enough to make me vomit and sometimes go into shock.
I will do whatever it takes to keep holding on. This is just a bad day, it doesn’t mean I have a bad life.
Right now, I am looking to the humor and irony that coexist in how I have never been so uncomfortable in such soft, loose, comfortable clothing. At least there’s that! Amen for fleece. I never thought I would say that, but here we are, and I am wearing a fleece lined hoodie and fleece pants and it is pretty awesome.
What to Do When You Have to Resort to the Emergency Room (When You Have a Chronic Illness)
A trip to the ER is no fun, no matter how you spin it. When you’re a chronic pain patient or someone with a chronic illness that can cause bouts of severe pain, it can be a complete and total nightmare.
A patient with chronic pain can help the Emergency Room staff to understand that their medical problems, especially pain, are a legitimate emergency by following a few guidelines and suggestions that will lessen some of the unpleasant drama of going to the ER.
Always bear in mind that the Emergency Room is a last resort, and Urgent Care will almost always turn away a patient with a chronic illness. Hospitals are so wrapped up in covering their asses legally that they have started turning away chronic pain patients much like Urgent Care does, even when the need for treatment is real and immediate.
Your regular healthcare team, especially your Primary Care Physician, is by far your best bet for getting help managing a chronic condition that is spiking out of control, but sometimes the ER is the only option. When that happens, here are some tips to help make your experience more manageable:
- Make sure that you have a regular physician who treats your chronic pain. That’s a relationship that all chronic pain patients should establish before they ever set foot in an emergency room. Without this all-important steady doctor-patient relationship, the rest of this list is not really possible. In terms of seeking out aid in the Emergency Room for a spike or flare of pain having to do with an ongoing condition or problem, even having a bad doctor is better than no doctor at all. If you are having trouble finding a primary care physician who actually does care, the best place to start looking are local and even national support groups for your condition(s). They will have lists of hospitals and even specific doctors in your area who have been a good match for others in your situation. If those doctors are not taking patients, don’t be afraid to ask their staff where they would recommend going or if that doctor can make some recommendations of physicians they know to be effective at treating your condition. This search can take a while, but always keep a PCP on file, if you at all can. Not having a primary person who writes your prescriptions and handles your referrals makes the staff in an Emergency Room nervous no matter what.
- Show that you have tried to contact your regular doctor before you go to the ER. If you have been in pain for five days and have not alerted your doctor, the ER staff will question how bad your pain really is. Even if the pain struck out of the blue that day, make an effort to contact your regular doctor first. ER staff will be more sympathetic to patients who have called their doctors and been told to go to the emergency room because the doctor was unable to see them. At least you’re showing you made an effort and only using the emergency room as your treatment of last resort, as opposed to the primary place you go for pain medication. This is important, as unfair as it is, they will not give you proper care if you are using the ER too liberally. Having your physician back up your story is never a bad thing, it helps establish legitimacy and urgency, and can help push you through to getting treatment sooner rather than making your wait for four hours “just to make sure you’re really in pain” before giving you any medication or imaging.
- Bring a letter from your doctor. A letter from your physician, with a diagnosis and current treatment regimen, is a logical, completely reasonable thing to carry with you, particularly if you’re on a regular dose of opiates in today’s atmosphere of distrust and disbelief of pain patients. Always make sure the letter has your doctor’s name and phone number. That way, if ER doctors want to contact your physicians, they can. This is especially useful if you’re traveling or going to a hospital that you have never visited before.
- Bring a list of medications. Bring a list of your medications, instead of relying on memory. Usually the hospital will already have access to the list of everything that you have taken for the past several years, so don’t try to lie about it, you will only hurt yourself in the long run. Always be honest about medications you have taken or have been prescribed.
- Work cooperatively with emergency room staff. It might not be fair, but if a patient comes in screaming and shouting that they need pain medication right away, the staff isn’t going to like it. Being loud and distressed will call negative attention to your actions and makes hospital staff that much less sympathetic. You might be in agonizing pain, but the staff is going to be more concerned with “drug seeking behavior” than your well-being. So rather than demand things, try to work cooperatively with the staff, even if they’re not being cooperative with you.
- If you have an alert card or pamphlet explaining your condition, hand it to them and ask for it to be put in your file. For instance, I keep a card in my wallet explaining that I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and detailing the worst parts of the illness and information that is pertinent to an emergency. I also listed my most severe medical allergies around the border of the card in big black block letters. It’s important for the staff to know what is going to cause more pain & what may help. If you have a rare condition or one that is frequently misunderstood or which is conventionally thought to not cause pain, bring a relevant pamphlet from an awareness or advocacy group with you. Consider buying one of the brand new USB alert bracelets, pendants, or wallet cards. These plug into a computer in an emergency if you can’t speak for yourself, and they can be uploaded with as detailed medical information as you want, from medical history and current doctors with phone number and addresses to info like allergies, current medications, current medical concerns, and alternative treatments/supplements as well. Most manufacturers understand that a computer might not be nearby in an emergency and have a phone number printed on the back of the bracelet that you can call to access the information as well.
- Ask for a nurse advocate or make sure someone is with you. This will help you when trying to explain things to the staff. It helps to have another person there to advocate for you.
- If at all possible, use the same Emergency Department as the last one you went to, your pain will be that much more believable if you always use the same place. Plus, you might actually get doctors to take an interest in your chronic pain condition and maybe even other conditions that can cause a chronic illness patient to end up in the ER. Think about the ramifications that could have down the road for future patients!
- Finally, since there are a lot of easy-to-forget details in this list, especially in the fog/panic/blacking out that happen whilst in horrific pain, I like to keep a folder handy with all those details written down, as well as a copy of most everything I need to bring with me. It isn’t always updated with the newest things I’m taking, so I bring the bottles themselves if I am on anything different since the last list was written. Being organized shows the ER team that not only do you take your condition(s) seriously, but that you have done all you possibly can to avoid the Emergency Room and to only use it as a very last resort.
About two years ago I was turned away from an ER without treatment by an extremely ignorant physician (after toughing it out all night crying and screaming at home), I had to contact and be seen by my pain doctor the next morning and then was sent right back to the same ER, only this time I was told to have them call my pain clinic when I got checked in. I did not want to go back there, but things went a lot smoother the second time, despite my apprehension. I was given the correct sedatives for once, and no one yelled at me or gave me super judgmental looks. I was treated for pain, monitored, and released without being asked to pee in a cup or otherwise treated like an addict. It was the only decent Emergency Room experience I have ever had, other than being in constant, black-out, vomiting, excruciating, unrelenting pain for almost 48 hours prior to finally receiving treatment and not sleeping a single hour of that time, all from an Occipital Nerve Block injection that was supposed to be a diagnostic tool, gone horribly wrong. (Hint: If your gut says “Do not do this, it isn’t safe” then listen to your gut, or it probably isn’t going to turn out well. I knew in my soul that the injection wasn’t going to be a good thing for me, and I don’t even have a minor fear of needles.)
I haven’t been back to the ER since, I have to admit I have stayed at home through even worse pain than that episode since then. No part of my soul trusts the Emergency Room to treat me, as a 26 year old fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome patient with occipital and trigeminal neuralgia, Spina Bifida Occulta, Joint Hypermobility Syndrome / Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, with damaged vertebral discs at the top and bottom of my spine and everywhere in between, just to name a few of my chronic pain conditions. None of that matters because what they see is a 26 year old who usually hasn’t showered in days, is twitchy and fidgety (pain makes me move nonstop sometimes), sweating profusely (a fibro symptom having to do with autonomic nervous system dysfunction or dysautonomia), has a hard time walking in a straight line, and usually I am extremely angry or panicky, one or the other. There isn’t a lot of sympathy for me if I don’t do absolutely everything right when I go to the ER.
As a companion piece to my post about dealing with doctors in the context of a chronic illness, and because I so enjoyed A Body of Hope‘s humorous but realistic take on her experiences with doctors in Warm Milk: Physician Frustration, it seemed like some similar lighter fare was appropriate.
Here is a hilarious rant by Kevin White, MD, with the perfect rebuttal to the many doctors who think that fibro patients are faking it. It’s nice to see someone in a position to make changes so animated about advocacy for the chronically ill. It’s also nice to hear that my occasional feeling of homicidal rage are justified. 😀
Especially, it is awesome that there are doctors out there willing to defend us so bluntly and honestly. Thank you, sir!
The more I look, the more I find doctors giving us good advice. Wish I could find more in real life, but it’s certainly nice to know they’re out there!