Tag Archive | pain patients speak about opiates

Why Untreated Chronic Pain is a Medical Emergency | EDS Info (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome)

the above image is from Chronic Illness Cat and the below article is taken from EDS Info, a wonderfully informative blog for any chronic pain sufferer, which you should all go check out and bookmark and return to often.

Why Untreated Chronic Pain is a Medical Emergency

Alex DeLuca, M.D., FASAM, MPH;Written testimony submitted to the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs regarding the “Gen Rx: Abuse of Prescription and OTC Drugs” hearing; 2008–03–08.

UNTREATED CHRONIC PAIN IS ACUTE PAIN

The physiological changes associated with acute pain, and their intimate neurological relationship with brain centers controlling emotion, and the evolutionary purpose of these normal bodily responses, are classically understood as the “Fight or Flight” reaction,

When these adaptive physiologic responses outlive their usefulness the fight or flight response becomes pathological, leading to chronic cardiovascular stress, hyperglycemia which both predisposes to and worsens diabetes, splanchnic vasoconstriction leading to impaired digestive function and potentially to catastrophic consequences such as mesenteric insufficiency. 

Unrelieved pain can be accurately thought of as the “universal complicator” which worsens all co-existing medical or psychiatric problems through the stress mechanisms reviewed above, and by inducing cognitive and behavioral changes in the sufferer that can interfere with obtaining needed medical care

Dr. Daniel Carr, director of the New England Medical Center, put it this way:

Chronic pain is like water damage to a house – if it goes on long enough, the house collapses,” [sighs Dr. Carr] “By the time most patients make their way to a pain clinic, it’s very late. What the majority of doctors see in a chronic-pain patient is an overwhelming, off-putting ruin: a ruined body and a ruined life.”

Dr. Carr is exactly right, and the relentless presence of pain has more than immediate effects. The duration of pain, especially when never interrupted by truly pain-free times, creates a cumulative impact on our lives.

CONSEQUENCES OF UNTREATED AND INADEQUATELY-TREATED PAIN

we must also consider often profound decrements in family and occupational functioning, and iatrogenic morbidity consequent to the very common mis-identification of pain patient as drug seeker.

The overall deleterious effect of chronic pain on an individual’s existence and outlook is so overwhelming that it cannot be overstated. The risk of death by suicide is more than doubled in chronic pain patients, relative to national rates.

What happens to patients denied needed pharmacological pain relief is well documented. For example, morbidity and mortality resulting from the high incidence of moderate to severe postoperative pain continues to be a major problem despite an array of available advanced analgesic technology

Patients who received less than 10 mg of parenteral morphine sulfate equivalents per day were more likely to develop delirium than patients who received more analgesia (RR 5.4, 95% CI 2.4–12.3)… Avoiding opioids or using very low doses of opioids increased the risk of delirium. Cognitively intact patients with undertreated pain were nine times more likely to develop delirium than patients whose pain was adequately treated. Undertreated pain and inadequate analgesia appear to be risk factors for delirium in frail older adults. [7]

PAIN SUFFERERS ARE MEDICALLY DISCRIMINATED AGAINST

Chronic pain patients are routinely treated as a special class of patient, often with severely restricted liberties – prevented from consulting multiple physicians and using multiple pharmacies as they might please, for example, and in many cases have little say in what treatment modalities or which medications will be used. These are basic liberties unquestioned in a free society for every other class of sufferer

chronic pain patients are often seen by medical professionals primarily as prescription or medication problems, rather than as whole individuals who very often present an array of complex comorbid medical, psychological, and social problems

Instead these complex general medical patients are ‘cared for’ as if their primary and only medical problem was taking prescribed analgesic medication.

This attitude explains why most so-called Pain Treatment Centers have reshaped themselves into Addiction Treatment Centers.  Even with a documented cause for pain, the primary goal of these programs, whether stated or not, is to coerce patients to stop taking their pain medications.

This may work for a small number of pain patients who may not really need opioids in the first place, but is a “cruel and unusual” punishment for those of us with serious, documented, pain-causing illnesses.

The published success rate of these programs has nothing to do with pain – it is measured by how many people leave the program taking no pain medication, but there is no data about the aftermath, how many manage to stay off their medication long-term.

their obvious primary medical need is for medical stabilization, not knee-jerk detoxification

CHRONIC PAIN IS A LEGITIMATE MEDICAL DISEASE

Chronic pain is probably the most disabling, and most preventable, sequelae to untreated, and inadequately treated, severe pain.

Following a painful trauma or disease, chronicity of pain may develop in the absence of effective relief. A continuous flow of pain signals into the pain mediating pathways of the dorsal horn of the spinal cord alters those pathways through physiological processes known as central sensitization, and neuroplasticity. The end result is the disease of chronic pain in which a damaged nervous system becomes the pain source generator separated from whatever the initial pain source was.

Aggressive treatment of severe pain, capable of protecting these critical spinal pain tracts, is the standard care recommended in order to achieve satisfactory relief and prevention of intractable chronic pain

Medications represent the mainstay therapeutic approach to patients with acute or chronic pain syndromes… aimed at controlling the mechanisms of nociception, [the] complex biochemical activity [occurring] along and within the pain pathways of the peripheral and central nervous system (CNS)… Aggressive treatment of severe pain is recommended in order to achieve satisfactory relief and prevention of intractable chronic pain.

we are seeing ominous scientific evidence in modern imaging studies of a maladaptive and abnormal persistence of brain activity associated with loss of brain mass in the chronic pain population

Atrophy is most advanced in the areas of the brain that process pain and emotions. In a 2006 news article, a researcher into the pathophysiological effects of chronic pain on brain anatomy and cognitive/emotional functioning, explained:

This constant firing of neurons in these regions of the brain could cause permanent damage, Chialvo said. “We know when neurons fire too much they may change their connections with other neurons or even die because they can’t sustain high activity for so long,” he explained

It is well known that chronic pain can result in anxiety, depression and reduced quality of life

Recent evidence indicates that chronic pain is associated with a specific cognitive deficit,which may impact everyday behavior especially in risky, emotionally laden, situations.

The areas involved include the prefrontal cortex and the thalamus, the part of the brain especially involved with cognition and emotions

The magnitude of this decrease is equivalent to the gray matter volume lost in 10–20 years of normal aging. The decreased volume was related to pain duration, indicating a 1.3 cm3 loss of gray matter for every year of chronic pain

clinicians have used opioid preparations to good analgesic effect since recorded history.

No newer medications will ever be as thoroughly proven safe as opioids, which have been used and studied for generations.  We know exactly what side effects there are, and they are fewer than most new drugs, with less than a 5% chance of becoming addicted if taken for pain.

In fields of medicine involving controlled substances, especially addiction medicine and pain medicine, the doctor-patient relationship has become grossly distorted.

doctors-in-good-standing who, faced with a patient in pain and therefore at risk of triggering an investigation, modify their treatment in an attempt to avoid regulatory attention

Examples include a blanket refusal to prescribe controlled substances even when clearly indicated, or selecting less effective and more toxic non-controlled medications when a trial of opioid analgesics would be in the best interests of a particular patient. At the very least, some degree of suspicion and mistrust will surely arise in any medical relationship involving controlled substances.

the quality of care most physicians provide is fairly close to the medical standard of care which is what the textbooks say one should do, and which is generally in line with core medical ethical obligations

For example, modern pain management textbooks universally recommend ‘titration to effect’ (simplistically: gradually increasing the opioid dose until the pain is relieved or until untreatable side effects prevent further dosage increase) as the procedure by which one properly treats chronic pain with opioid medications. Yet the overwhelmingly physicians in America do not practice titration to effect, or anything even vaguely resembling it, for fear of becoming ‘high dose prescriber’ targets of federal or state law enforcement.

It is a foundation of medicine back to ancient times that a primary obligation of a physician is to relieve suffering. A physician also has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the individual patient at all times, and that the interests of the patient are to be held above all others, including those of family or the state.[23] These ethical obligations incumbent on all individual physicians extend to state licensing and regulatory boards which are composed of physicians monitoring and regulating themselves. [24]

A number of barriers to effective pain relief have been identified and include:

  1. The failure of clinicians to identify pain relief as a priority in patient care;
  2. Fear of regulatory scrutiny of prescribing practices for opioid analgesics;
  3. The persistence of irrational beliefs and unsubstantiated fears about addiction, tolerance, dependence, and adverse side effects of opioid analgesics.

A rift has developed between the usual custom and practice standard of care (the medical community norm – what most reputable physicians do) and the reasonable physician standard of care (what the textbooks say to do – the medical standard of care), and this raises very serious and difficult dilemma for both individual physicians and medical board

Research into pathophysiology and natural history of chronic pain have dramatically altered our understanding of what chronic pain is, what causes it, and the changes in spinal cord and brain structure and function that mediate the disease process of chronic pain, which is generally progressive and neurodegenerative

This understanding explains many clinical observations in chronic pain patients, such as phantom limb syndrome, that the pain spreads to new areas of the body not involved in the initiating injury, and that it generally worsens if not aggressively treated. The progressive, neurodegenerational nature of chronic pain was recently shown in several imaging studies showing significant losses of neocortical grey matter in the prefrontal lobes and thalamus

Regarding the standard of care for pain management:

1) Delaying aggressive opioid therapy in favor of trying everything else first is not rational based on a modern, scientific understanding of the pathophysiology of chronic pain, and is therefore not the standard of care. Delaying opioid therapy could result in the disease of chronic pain.

2) Opioid titration to analgesic effect represents near ideal treatment for persistent pain, providing both quick relief of acute suffering and possible prevention of neurological damage known to underlie chronic pain.

Pain Relief Network(PRN); 2008–02–28; Revised: 2008–07–08. Typo’s and minor reformatting: 2014-04-14.

via Why Untreated Chronic Pain is a Medical Emergency | EDS Info (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome).

hard to see a way out

Pain and Opiates: Perceptions vs Reality | EDS Info (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome)

More reality checks when it comes to chronic pain and opiates, via a super smart fellow blogger! So happy to print this and put it in my medical binder for those idiots who think I should just suffer endlessly, needlessly, and be happy for the privilege.

It’s just so wonderful when people form an opinion based on facts and not histrionics.

Hooray for using our brains!

😀

Pain & Opiates: Perceptions vs Reality

via Pain & Opiates: Perceptions vs Reality | EDS Info (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome).

1.    false: Opiates take pain away completely.

TRUE:  Opiates do not remove chronic pain, they do not numb pain like Novocain, they merely dull it enough so that it isn’t all-consuming.

2.    false: Pain is the body trying to tell you to stop, so you shouldn’t take opiates to cover up the pain signals.

TRUE:  Normal pain is an alarm to take action, but chronic pain happens when the alarm gets stuck in the “on” position – the switch itself is broken.

3.   false: Opiates make you dull, confused, and non-functional.

TRUE:  When used for pain relief, opiates allow people to be more active and functional, get out of the house and socialize, sometimes even continue working.

4.   false: There are other pain medications that work just as well as opiates.

TRUE:  Opiates are the most (and often the only) effective medications for pain.

5.   false: Opiates have severe and permanently damaging side effects.

TRUE:  Opiates have fewer and lesser side-effects than most of the other medications prescribed for pain.

6.   false: You will get addicted if taking opiates.

TRUE:  People taking opiates for pain are statistically unlikely to become addicted unless they already have addictive tendencies (5% chance).  However, regular use of many medications causes dependence after your body has adjusted to them.

7.   false: If you take opiates for too long, you’ll get hyperalgesia.

TRUE:  Opiate-induced hyperalgesia is extremely rare in humans, and this scare tactic is based on just a handful of very small research studies.

8.   false: If the pain is constant, you’ll get used to it and it won’t hurt as much.

TRUE:  Pain that is allowed to persist uncontrolled leads to changes in the nerves that can eventually become permanent.

9.   false: Opiates work the same way for everyone.

TRUE:  Different people get the same amount of pain relief from widely varying dosages because our bodies are all different in the way we “digest” opiates.

10.   false: It’s better not to take opiates because they damage the nervous system and cause hormonal imbalances.

TRUE:  Persistent pain results in the same kind of damages to the nervous and hormonal systems.

11.   false: You should not take opiates because your pain won’t improve.

TRUE:  Chronic pain can only be treated, not cured.  Opiates are often the best means available to treat the devastating pain symptoms until a cure is found.

12.   false: If you start taking opiates, you’ll just have to take more and more forever.

TRUE:  Most chronic pain patients finds a stable dose of opiates that works for them.  If doses need to be increased, it is usually because the pain condition gets worse over time.

13.   false:  People only want opiates for the high.

TRUE:  When taken as prescribed for chronic pain, opiates do not make you “high”.  The same chemicals that make illegal users “high” go toward dulling the pain instead.

14.   false: It’s better to tough it out.

TRUE:  Denying people pain relief sentences them to a life of unnecessary suffering.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

“The patient uses opioids to relieve pain and maintain a normal relationship with the real world;  the addict takes opioids to escape from reality.” – Ronald Melzack

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Many people disabled by chronic pain are unfairly accused of lying and faking, so here’s some myths from that category too:

1.  false:  People who complain about chronic pain are just trying to get SSDI.

TRUE:  Most people disabled by pain desperately want to work.  Many had to give up high-level, well-paying positions and now live in poverty on SSDI.  There may some fakers, but this is not a reason to deny SSDI for truly disabling pain.

2. misleading: If injured workers are given opiates they are unlikely to return to work (statistically true)

TRUE:  This is probably because their injuries are serious enough to cause chronic pain and require opiates, not because the opiates are keeping them away from work.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

1. Source for addiction statistic:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring11/articles/spring 11pg9.html

via Pain & Opiates: Perceptions vs Reality | EDS Info (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome).

An Old Rant and a New Perspective

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!

Kitty Taylor

Kitty Taylor

via My Story: Looking for a New Doctor – National Pain Report.

One of the first things to go was how many different narcotics I was prescribed at once. My doctor had me on two long acting (1 pill, 1 patch), two short acting (1 scheduled and 1 breakthrough). So for short acting, I would have 4 Dilaudid a day scheduled and then up to 6 Norco per day as needed.

The Norco was taken away and so was the patch. I was down to oral long acting 4 times a day instead of 2, and 6 short acting a day instead of 4. It worked out about the same, except those extra Norco would be a godsend about now, especially since I’m running out of as needed meds because I’ve been without an appointment for so long.

This shouldn’t be happening. I’m looking for cash only clinics now even though I have insurance because I don’t want my business in all the computers everywhere. I’d also be fine seeing a pill pushing doctor that over prescribes. I’d be able to stock up in case something like this happens again and I trust myself not to increase my medication.

I never take more than I need and I’ve never run out before my next appointment. Because of being hospitalized I’ve been able to stock up on some of my own stash while the hospital administered to me with their own pharmacy.

There’s no point in making myself more tolerant and never getting what I need. That’s why I switch my meds to equivalent doses of different kinds every few months. That way I don’t need to increase. My body becomes tolerant to one and I switch to another until I become tolerant again and I switch back. This regimen worked well for me and my doctor agreed it was better than taking more and more.

I don’t want to be labeled or discriminated against for having invisible disabilities.

I get enough smacks in the face just using my disabled parking privileges!

12_7.jpg“Kitty Taylor” is a pseudonym. The author, who suffers from Ehlers–Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Cushing’s Disease and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), asked that her real name not be used.

National Pain Report invites other readers to share their stories with us.

Send them to editor@nationalpainreport.com

via My Story: Looking for a New Doctor – National Pain Report.

 

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.

 

Considering the Emergency Room? Here Are Some Pointers to Keep in Mind if You Have Chronic Pain.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. 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.


It’s certainly not fair or acceptable, but the Emergency Room just is not cut out for dealing with us; the tough cases, the ones who can’t be “fixed” or “stabilized” because in hospital staff eyes, we are already stabilized and not in any immediate danger. Yet pain is dangerous. Chronic pain over a life time is more damaging to the actual structures of the brain than taking hardcore opiates every single day for the rest of your life. That isn’t to say that there isn’t some middle ground to be found here. I do not advise hardcore opiates for chronic pain on a daily basis, especially at my young age, because if I take heavy opiates now, years down the road when I need surgery or dose titration, eventually there isn’t anything else to elevate to by the time I’m in my late 30’s. That’s not how I want to end up. The only painkillers I currently take are tramadol and medical marijuana for breakthrough pain and seizure activity.
I have learned to make do, but it took years to figure out just how little I can do off of painkillers without my condition deteriorating. I’m still trying to adjust, trying to find the sweet spot between too much and not enough, and knowing that life with a chronic illness will always be a delicate balancing act.
I’m not just saying that heavy opiates are a bad idea, I actually used to take anywhere from two to ten 5mg oxycodone every day while I was working, and while it did not take the pain away, it made me more able to do things, more willing to put myself through pain over and over again all day long. I could still drive at that time, purely thanks to opioid medications, but I don’t think it was healthy to push so hard that I had to pop pain pills like mints, just to stay upright and not cry through my whole shift. At one point I was even on morphine every night to sleep just a couple of hours. Clinics were offering me methadone, which I vehemently turned down.
I had a rough, rough few months when my first visit with a brand new doctor ended with him taking me off oxy and morphine all of a sudden in the middle of a flare, no weaning, just completely off of opiates (and chronic fatigue/ADHD medication at the same time too) cold turkey without even the slightest heads up. I wasn’t even given tramadol by that asshole. I had to call crying in pain four times in one week before he would even write a tiny prescription for 12 (yes, one freaking dozen) during a two month long flare up! So humiliating. He also told me not to go to the ER no matter how much pain I was in. What a complete idiot. His favorite phrase was “at least you’re not in a wheelchair”. I could barely contain my hatred every time he said that or my other personal favorite: “you are a perfectly healthy young woman”. Not my weight, my blood pressure, my mental health, or my chronic pain conditions were healthy about me, so I was partly just shocked he couldn’t think of any reasons I wasn’t healthy.
Yes, middle ground. I understand that “as-needed” for a chronic pain patient can mean literally anything, from almost never to pretty much always. So I say with caution and leaning more toward the almost never side of things, “as needed” pain medication can save your life. When you need it, and you really need it, you know best, and you deserve to be treated correctly, efficiently, and even compassionately by ER staff. The above suggestions should help cut down on the emotional trauma that people with chronic pain often associate with going to the Emergency Room. In our greatest time of need, it would be nice to actually be able to count on getting help when we seek out this last resort in our coping toolbox.
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