Saturday, September 11, 2010

September is Pain Awareness Month

Pain is the most under-treated disease in America. 

Disease, you say? Yes, disease. Dis-ease. It is a terrible thing to be in pain - whether it is chronic pain or not. There is the fear of addiction to pain-relieving drugs; the idea that, really, pain is all in one's head; the fear of the pain not going away. All kinds of things come to mind. But when we are dealing with real pain, addiction is not an issue, mental health is not the issue - the issue is the pain, why we have it, and how can we relieve it.

For people with chronic pain, such as me, it is important that everyone understand how it affects our day-to-day lives. I have a disease called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). It is also called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome - Type 1 (CRPS). I never even knew there was such a disease as this. I fell on July 2, 2007, breaking my arm. That caused my sympathetic nervous system to go haywire. The only signals from my brain to my arm were pain signals, with the pain being very intense, often nearly unbearable. Since then it has spread to my other arm and both of my legs, as well as the left side of my face. I have a pain management doctor who is fabulous and without whom I would not be able to do what I do today. He has used a whole health type of treatment with me - I have had mental health therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, as well as drug treatment. 

I am lucky to live in South Dakota. Our doctors here are allowed to give us the treatment we need. They are given a goodly amount of time to have those medications work - speaking of narcotics, basically. Yes, I take a narcotic every day. The fact is I take a lot of medication every day - 17 pills a day. They are not all different pills - there are a few I take several times a day. Without these medications, I am not able to function.

The pain of RSD is like no pain I have ever had before. For me, it is mostly a burning pain. One person has described it like this: imagine replacing all the blood in your body with lighter fluid - and then lighting it. Believe it or not, I find this to be amazingly accurate. I also have allodynia, which is sensitivity to touch. That is why I always wear something over my arms. I never realized before how much air we move when we walk. That is extraordinarily painful plus it makes my bones feel like they are frozen, even though everything around them is burning. This is an odd disease. There are many people who suffer from it. There are many people who don't have access to a good doctor, like I do.

So, during this Pain Awareness Month, please be kind to those who move slowly, those who complain of pain, and anyone you know to be in pain. Pain often does not show - we look just like the rest of you. This is one thing I have learned - be patient with everyone.

Thank you for observing Pain Awareness Month.

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