Chronic Pain and the Spiritual Life, Part 2

Continued from yesterday’s post…

After my Mall of America change in condition, I spent the next year and one half searching for answers.  I went to my primary care physician.  Actually she was the doctor who had replaced my very competent  primary care physician when she left to work in a clinic for the poor and under-insured.  My new doctor was not up to the challenge, and repeatedly printed out information from WebMD.com about nutrition and lifestyle changes while being reluctant to prescribe pain medications for fear I would become “addicted.”  I didn’t find her WedMD expertise very reassuring. Perhaps I have unrealistic expectations, but I expect that my physicians have knowledge beyond that available on a public website.

Physical therapy provided relief for a few days, but after those few hours I would be right back where I started.  The same was true of massage therapy.  I consulted with a neurologist who said he would never do surgery unless I came to him crying and begging.  In point of fact, I would never cry or beg anyone for anything.  His arrogance was unimpressive, to say the least.

I was sent to an anesthesiologist pain specialist for a treatment called radio frequency ablation.  By this time my back was in constant spasm.  I later found out that he should have used anesthesia to relax my back muscles before trying to put the needles necessary for the procedure into my back.  The pain was quite possibly the worst I have ever experienced.  After the procedure, all I could do when I returned to the waiting room was weep uncontrollably – something I had never done before and have never done since.  The treatments were ineffective.

I changed my primary care physician in hopes of finding someone who was at least marginally competent.  My new physician refused to prescribe pain medications but did refer me to yet another anesthesiologist who specialized in pain control.  He did prescribe pain medication, and did a series of very expensive treatments that – I later learned – the MRI he ordered showed would be ineffective.  No longer willing or able to afford paying $250 co-pays for ineffective treatment, I stopped seeing that pain doctor.

Since my new primary care physician seemed unwilling to treat anything, I had to add a number of specialists to my care team for illnesses unrelated to my back and for which my previous primary care doctors had always prescribed medication.  It was one of my new specialists who recommended I see a physiatrist friend of hers. That advice was a Godsend.

Finally, in the Spring of 2009, I found a physician who was willing and able to treat my pain. He knew what would work, and what wouldn’t work.  We was willing to responsibly prescribe pain medication that allowed me to live my life for the first time in almost two years, and for a year and a half I did precisely that.  After that, my tolerance for the pain medication had grown and the pain in my back had increased. At his recommendation, I consulted with a surgeon and had spinal fusion this February.

The result of the surgery is that I was able to discontinue all of my regularly schedule narcotic pain medication.  I am also able to stand for more than five minutes without changing my position, something I had lost the ability to do prior to my surgery.  In fact, for a few months after my surgery I felt almost as good as new.  I took ibuprofen or acetaminophen for my pain.  My body did what I asked it to do.  Over the last two months, my pain has come back – as my physiatrist said it might – as my pelvis and areas above my fusion struggle to accommodate the lack of flexibility in my fused vertebrae. While I don’t require regularly scheduled narcotics, I do sometimes need to take pain pills to handle my pain.  I have trouble holding my grandchildren sometimes, and struggle to do other things most people take for granted.  The Church I serve as Presiding Bishop is structured around our clergy being bi-vocational, or having part-time jobs to support their ministry.  My problem is that there is very little I can do because I am limited in lifting, standing, and walking.  I’m not suggesting that my surgery wasn’t extremely beneficial or that I regret it for a moment.  I am saying that my momentary glimpse of life without significant limitation was short-lived.

Tomorrow, I will discuss all of this in light of spirituality…

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