Pain is a fact of life. It is the body’s way of telling us that something we’re doing isn’t what we should be doing. However, for millions of people who suffer from a variety of maladies pain becomes a constant companion, a chronic condition. What does that really mean, though? Do people who do not experience chronic pain have a concept of what it is like to live with this illness? Let me try to explain what is involved.
My pain stems from an accident I had while serving as a police officer. I suffered a broken neck, badly damaged spine and consequently permanent spinal cord damage. Even though the structural damage has been surgically repaired with prosthetics, pins, rods, plates and screws, there is no way to replace the badly damaged or destroyed nerve tissues. The upshot is, I have pretty constant pain. There are two parts to this syndrome that must be dealt with and each comes with its own set of challenges. First there is the pain component: the pain is real pain even though there is no tissue damage in the areas that hurt just the signal of pain perpetuated by the aforementioned damaged neural pathways. At times the pain is acute feeling as if my legs are being physically torn from my body or that a white-hot ice pick is being driven deep between the vertebrae of my spine and then wiggled. Sometimes there are radiating pains that I liken to high voltage jolts of electricity traveling up and down my spine and into my legs. Other times the pain subsides to a dull, deep, mind-numbing, symphony of concurrent hammer blows on exposed nerves. I have often heard pain, with regard to intensity, can’t be superseded by the pain caused by a kidney stone. Well I am here to tell you that I have endured nineteen kidney stones, all intractable, none passable, and all requiring hospitalization and mechanical intervention, even surgery, and none less than five days in duration with the longest requiring nine days of hospitalization. I would gladly go through al those again if I could be relieved of the pain in my spine, neck and legs!
The component of the disease that defeats people is not the pain, it is its chronic nature. Dealing with the fact that it isn’t going to get better, that no amount of therapy or drugs or rehab will make it go away, the realization that every single day from now on is going to be a day marred by and mired in pain is the thing that ultimately defeats the sufferer. Hopelessness is a powerful emotion and to the sufferer of chronic pain, hopelessness is about as good as it gets. Yes, there are medications that ameliorate the pain and provide transient relief but now our government is trying with all their might to take those medications away because some people abuse the system and the drugs bring suffering to the rest of us. Think about, though, the idea of awakening in the morning at two or three a.m. and feeling the raw bite of pain in your back and knowing there is no relief forthcoming. No medication, no treatment, no hope. Folks wonder why we have so much depression among chronic pain patients: it isn’t the pain, we have all become adept at coping with pain; it is looking forward, a year, five years, ten years and knowing it will be the same. That is when hopelessness, despair and depression set in.
My prayer, my fervent wish is that lawmakers will exercise, along with doctors, a humane approach to chronic pain sufferers, something that has heretofore been lacking. The goal should be to provide relief and comfort to the patient rather than trying to force patients who are never going to be better to abandon the one therapeutic regimen that offers a modicum of peace and normalcy to chronic pain patients. Should these doctors and legislators ever have to walk for one day in my shoes I am quite certain we would see an immediate and compassionate relaxation of hateful regulations that stand between so many chronic pain sufferers and the medications that make their lives bearable. The alternatives are, well to say the least, reprehensible . . .