Last year on my birthday I wrote about my experiences with bullying. This year I’m writing about the elephant in the medical profession’s closet: chronic pain.
I am a human being with hopes, dreams and goals. Some of these have been forever altered or have become impossible because of my chronic pain. You see, I’ve had chronic back pain for three years this fall and have yet to receive even a diagnosis. My pain starts in my lower back and migrates up to encompass my entire back all the way up to between my shoulders after only a few hours of being awake. My knees have an almost arthritic ache and occasionally pain shoots down my right leg, making it impossible to walk normally some days.
Luckily I was born in Canada so I have not become bankrupt because of my illness. I have had X-rays, an MRI and multiple physical exams. I’ve been to chiropractors, massage therapists, orthopaedic surgeons, physiotherapists, back pain specialists at the provincial clinic and multiple GPs. I’ve had orthotics, massages, special exercises and chiropractic treatments and nothing has helped. Some things like the physiotherapy (which I did for nine months) made things worse than ever.
I used to think highly of the medical profession, you know. It’s strange looking back on that naive trust based on the assumption doctors actually care about their patients. The truth is when it comes to chronic pain, some of the worst people you can talk to are doctors or surgeons. I can’t count the number of times I’ve cried telling a doctor about my pain and how it’s ruining my life only to have them all but throw me out of the office after a brief examination.
To them I’m just another statistic. Another person in pain that they can’t help like many of the 1 in 10 Canadians aged 12-44 that have chronic pain. Sometimes I’m worse; I’m just another faker looking for drugs, sympathy or attention. A drain on the medical system and a waste of human skin because I don’t contribute to society.
The attitudes I’ve just described are those of doctors, the highly educated medical professionals who deal with chronic pain patients on a daily basis. But to the general public, chronic pain patients are often less than human. There is very little sympathy to be had for those of us that suffer with every breath we take. Some of the things I’ve been told are disgusting and the sort of thing I’d expect to find in the darkest recesses of the worst parts of Reddit.
“You just want attention.”
“I had back pain, ignored it and got better. If you’d stop whining you’d get better!”
“Are you better yet?”
“But you look so healthy!”
“My cousin’s grandmother’s friend’s boyfriend’s cousin tried [x treatment] and it completely cured them. Maybe you should try that!”
And best of all, this gem:
“What are you doing here?” [A back pain specialist]
The main thing I’ve learned from having chronic pain (although it wasn’t really new even then) is that ordinary people have a horrible capacity for cruelty. Average, everyday people will say the most cruel things about someone who is just seeking a diagnosis for the pain they suffer daily. Friends, family and yes, doctors, have said truly awful things that have made me cry myself to sleep many a night.
The thing is, no one really understands chronic pain unless they’re experiencing chronic pain themselves. A normal person can’t possibly know what it’s like to be in pain every single minute of every single day, to deal with the financial issues it causes, the stress, the depression, the loneliness, the everything that comes with chronic pain. Oftentimes when you get chronic pain you become isolated from family and friends because you have such low energy and are in such pain that you can’t spend much time with them. You can’t do activities you used to, which can even include work-related activities you have to do.
100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. That’s more than diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease and cancer combined. Yet guess which chronic disease is studied the least, has the least public awareness and is the most misunderstood within the medical profession? Hint: it’s the one that has the most sufferers. How is this in any way acceptable? How is it that I, who have been in constant pain for three years, am one of the lucky ones because I can still work through my pain? Why is it that in Canada and the United States we hear politicians blame people for staying on things like disability and welfare and yet do nothing to help them solve the health problems that are preventing them from working?
I have chronic pain like 1 in 10 Canadians aged 12-44. But I am so much more than a statistic. I am an entirely unique human being that is suffering on a daily basis with no sympathy, little medical help and no hope of a future without pain. All I want, for God’s sake, is a diagnosis. Please tell me why my body hates me. Then maybe I’ll be able to get treatment and stop being a drain on society.
And maybe, just maybe, I will no longer be a statistic.
One of the things that gets me through the bad days is music, usually opera. That’s why I want to share this video of Shirley Verrett singing the aria Vissi d’arte from Tosca. It’s one of the songs that really expresses the various emotions I’ve gone through ever since my first chronic pain symptoms appeared. (For those that want the lyrics or need a translation, click here.)