About Me

My photo
I'm a mom, a wife, a best friend. Sick with CFIDS/ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia since 1975 as a result of a nasty flu while still in grad school, it wasn't until the late '80's that I received a diagnosis. Until that flu I'd never really been ill before. With each year I get progressively worse and add to the bucket load of symptoms I'm living with. I've been blessed with an incredible family and best friend who've stayed with me through my struggles as we continue to find a way out of this monstrous illness and its complications. We've tried seemingly every approach to find my way back to health. Often I think our best weapon in this undesirable and unasked-for adventure has been laughter.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pain Management: The Unwanted Stepchild

This afternoon I started a completely different post on a completely different topic,  which developed into something that potentially affects all of us, not just those with CFIDS/CFS/ME and fibromyalgia, but in fact every human in this country, if not the entire industrialized world.  I thought to myself, "what the hey?  Let me go there first."  And the topic?  How to survive in a hospital and what our rights are.  Well, a bit more: as so many of you know me by now, there's always more!

Beginning in 2010, I had what turned into every parent's nightmare: that their "child," no matter the age, is found in a hospital and no one knows what is going on as that child gets sicker and sicker and, several times, comes close to dying.

Now there were a lot of reasons as to why I'd felt I knew my way around a hospital, not the least of which was that I've had more than my share of hospitalizations (there I go again with those pesky understatements!).  But you know, times change and they are not always for the better.

I get upset because we patients are getting an awful lot of doctor-switching and that is a big bugaboo of mine. If you recall the ophthalmologists vs. the optometrist experience in a previous post (described here) it's becoming a real problem.

You can now add to that list of doctor-switching, psychiatrists who are sleep and pain specialists who pose as neurologists, as I saw over and over again at "the major medical center" where my daughter had so many lengthy hospitalizations, complications, procedures and surgeries.  The chronic pain management people were always coming in and pretending they were anything but what they actually were: psychiatrists. To make things worse, they were always in some sort of "secret" war with the acute pain management people, perhaps the war actually causing the right hand to never fully know, nor understand, what the left was doing.

Oh how I came to hate the chronic pain people!  Why, you ask?  Because they would come in disguised as everything but what they purported to be.  They would very quickly give their names and use euphemisms. You'd (OK, I'd) spend half the time trying to get a good look at the regulated tag everyone wore around their neck but of course the darn thing would always be twisted around, completely unreadable. Finally I got the nerve to start asking for their cards as they left, which were given to me in a very put-upon manner, as if I were the unreasonable one, somehow conveniently forgetting that in the center's booklet given out to all, identification by everyone, including physicians, was clearly stated as a requirement - and in bold letters, if I'm not mistaken.   And I'd get upset, because upon receiving the card, I'd see that the person who I thought was a doctor from neurology or pain would be a nurse of some sort, though with a MA or PhD in some murky field I'd yet to have heard of, or a practitioner in a field I've yet to discover, or most often, a psychiatrist who said that he or she was from the neurology department, very much implying that they were neurologists, never ever mentioning psychiatry. The permutations were endless.

During a few hospitalizations, as the pain people came and went - many pain teams, never realizing a team had just been by, nor who the previous five teams that day had been, in addition to many other specialties - I had many questions each day, often during every shift, as someone was ALWAYS dropping the ball, usually many times during each shift.  At first I would say that there were huge cracks in the foundation.  Soon I learned that there was no foundation. Later yet, I learned that they couldn't even keep their vocabulary straight (the reason we all use words and those words have definitions, NO????)  because what they meant by ONE department was actually two departments and for all I know each of those departments were split into many parts.  But the misunderstandings, when I finally got to the point where I demanded answers, basically all went back to that they themselves never even understood the fact that they were using the same words but with different definitions. To illustrate what I mean, imagine the fictitious scenario I've described of a Brit and a Yank get-together about a problem.

-"Would you look in my boot?" asked the Brit.
-"You don't have a boot, you're wearing shoes but do you want..," answers/questions the Yank (who many indeed be a southerner, not a Yankee from the North!)
-"No, my boot," persists the Brit.
-"My car," patiently repeats the Brit, because all Brits are polite.
-"Your boot's in your car?" asks the Yank, puzzled, but decides, what the hey?  "Where did you put it?  What color is it?"
-Brit now looks looks at the Yank suspiciously and answers, "Why it's black!" wondering if all Yanks are so thick or if it's just this particular Yank.
-"Oh, OK," says the Yank, looking for a boot through the car's window and not seeing any boot of any color, wondering why in the world the Brit would want only one as boots do usually come in pairs.
-"What's wrong with you?  It's not IN the car!" cries the Brit, totally frustrated.
-"But you told me....!" answers the Yank, not understanding that a boot to Brits is what we Americans call the trunk - of a car, not an elephant, I hasten to add.

Had my daughter's life not been on the line and had she not been in such pain 24/7 for two years with very little relentlessness, remembering very little of the entire hospitalization periods, the aforementioned scenario would have been amusing.  But we're talking life and sanity here, not boots.

I was frustrated.  I wanted to know who all the people who were coming by actually were, with very loud voices, not using the "indoor voice" they had been taught in kindergarten if at no other time.  Did they think she was mentally handicapped?  Did they think she didn't speak English - and fall into that trap I most despise - if one doesn't understand the language simply yell loudly and the person will suddenly get it all magically!

As time went by, with each hospitalization becoming progressively more serious and more people coming around, I had many questions:

  • Who were these people?
  • Where were they from?
  • What were their names?
  • What was his/her position on the pecking order?
  • Was that person's plan we'd just spent 20 minutes discussing the last word or would an attending over-ride the orders?  (It happened all the time!)
  • Who was the attending?
  • Would the attending stop by?
  • Had they read over my daughter's chart before coming into her room?  (Answer: never!)

Now granted, the charts were long, due to all the hospitalizations and complications but "whoever" didn't need to run down those charts to some dark and damp basement.  They simply needed to look in the d*mned computer that the "major medical center" had invested many, many millions of dollars into.   Besides, one of the first things taught in medical school - after treating your nurses like gold - is to take a history and learn as much as you can from the chart. Rotations 101.

With each hospitalization, I'd come home steamed, exhausted not just physically, but emotionally as well.   As I lay in bed 24/7 trying to recover enough for the next hospital crisis in order to go with my daughter again in order to be by her side 24/7, I'd make plans as to how we could circumvent the problems we'd encountered. At every turn I wanted a positive experience, not a negative one.  The body needs and craves positivity in order to heal.  It cannot endure more tears, be they of frustration, be they of pain, be they of fear, whatever.  It was NOT a good situation, but short of going to the Mayo Clinic, we were in the only other place to be.  Besides, how much better, our thinking went, would the Mayo be if this place was just the same as the Mayo, down to so many of the doctors having trained there and vice versa?

I finally got to the point where I tried to write down the person's name in a book as they came in.  That didn't work very long as we had up to 5-12 doctors and their teams come by on some days.  Furthermore, the teams were constantly changing, especially once she got to the surgical building and not the medicine building.

My first break-through: embarrassing.  I'd left the room after who knows which doctor number had just "spoken" to my hubby, daughter, one son and me.  In order to not allow my daughter to see my tears when I saw that hubby's mouth had dropped open when he saw that things were much, much worse than anything I'd described, frustration-wise, I went to my usual "cry area" where no one could see me.  But in coming back a half hour later, with red eyes (and snot probably running down, not to mention the mascara!) two nurses at the huge hub, "everyone's station," asked if they could help. I told them, "no, thank you" several times, not trusting myself.  After a few of those "no's," however, I asked for the name and phone number of the CEO of the place, which they gave me and asked if they could help in any way.  Oh, they knew, trust me, they knew what the problem was.  And I think everyone regretted THAT question.

I then went into a very controlled but unstoppable tirade that only a mother who is scared to death of what is happening to her child is capable of.  I don't know if anyone remembers the old commercial, "When EF Hutton talks, people listen," and everyone in the commerical stops in mid-sentence, mid-step, etc.?

We had that moment.  Every attending at a computer, every Doc Jr., every nurse, every aide, everyone who was at the station, at least 30 souls, stopped mid-step, mid-sentence - you could almost hear the proverbial pin drop - and listened as I gave a synopsis, in a rather trembling but almost-soft voice, of all the problems we'd had and NAMED some of the people who had either lied to us, misrepresented themselves, given us misinformation, or gone back on a promise made.  One of my lines was that I was starting to feel as if we were all car sales people, buyers and sellers alike, each just trying to make the best bargain, in addition to a H*LL of a lot of other things which are a bit too personal to disclose here, but really popped open their eyes.  I really don't think anyone had ever spoken to them like that before, too intimidated.  In fact, many months later, nurses were stunned that I didn't fear anyone and asked me about it, wondered about it.  Why?  Because I feared the illness and nothing else mattered but that monster!

Whatever I said, it took at least a half hour: no one DARED stop me after they'd started it.  (Do I sound like I myself am in a school yard?  Maybe!)  "Baldy," my "name" for the doctor who'd caused my melt-down returned - and mind you, the name was not a disparagement - after all, I too am follicularly-challenged, but we always needed a way to distinguish one person from another in the crowds of people coming and going.   Everyone had staring at his back as I gave my "account" of all the pain my daughter was going through and he came back to the room and meekly discussed everything we had wanted just an hour before, needed and tried to do before the tirade.  Attitude change anyone???   And he must have ended up red-flagged her file somehow (writing "deranged mother" perhaps?) because the problems ceased for two days - bliss!  We could actually all concentrate on her illness.  It was all we needed and what my daughter was due.  And it lasted until she needed that emergency surgery.

And the emergency surgery highlights another aspect of this whole situation and this hits close to those of us with the DD.  Just as she was about to be sent home, yet again, my hubby called her attending from home (after I called sobbing to inform him of this latest development) and said that he simply would not allow her to come home.  By this point, only six weeks since that first day of my driving her to the ER ("Mom, are you SURE you're not going to crash the car?" - this despite it being only a 10-minute drive, but understandable because I hadn't driven in about ten years).   She'd been hospitalized around 5 times, then sent home, only to return back to the ER and a hospitalization a couple of days later.  

There was, hubby insisted to the attending, something deinitely wrong and they were going to find it because she could not continue to be a human yoyo and furthermore, we knew her warts and all (99% good, just a few tiny warts!) and one could count on her having a high pain threshold.  It was hubby's finest hour, in my eyes, especially because when a final test was run yet again for 20th or so time, and as I was actually starting to pack her bags for the ride home, the radiologist called up to the floor in a complete panic: THIS time they found a newly-formed perforation in the colon which had developed overnight and you can bet that at that point everyone started hopping as they prepared her as quickly as possible for the unexpected emergency surgery.  

And I do want to make it perfectly clear her surgeon was a genius, talented, kind, compassionate and what one could only pray for, checking on her twice a day every single day she was at the "major medical center," from the very first day, even as we all still held out hope that it would not develop into a surgical situation. This is definitely NOT willy-nilly doctor-bashing or hospital-bashing at all, simply presenting the way it is.

So, the reason for this tale, this painful rehash of what our daughter went through?  This was a situation that was cut and dry: you see a completely diseased colon and you could then deal with it.

However, we, those of us with the DD, with the invisible illnesses, show little.

And this treatment, which my daughter had to deal with along the entire way, even after surgeries and between surgeries, highlights how lightly the pain issues were taken. Instead of the true monster, that of her vicious atypical hybrid never-to-have-been-seen before Crohn's/ulcerative colitis, a real killer which even included a sudden bout of pancreatitis, the aspect of her health which got all the attention was pain.  Pain is EASY, folks!  It is known.  It is a matter of finding a doctor who has the chutzpah to make the calls.

And so, this is a very real and true example of how we patients must continue to insist on our rights, as well as expect the respect that the doctors listen to us - if we treat them with respect in return - and that we must know who that person we're dealing with is, what his role is, what his pecking order is.

My daughter was considered a drama queen because she came in with pain, a lot of it, brought on quickly, this despite the fact that she'd lost 45 pounds in 25 days - a documented part of her hospital record, not a part of an oral history given by her mom or dad.  She was in and out of hospitals several times before her wonderful local GI realized that this was serious business and transferred her in the middle of the night, using up favors to get her there, knowing exactly what would happen, in fact telling me what would happen as I pleaded with him that NO! this would and could not happen to my baby, please!  

To add to the pluses which we had in spades, and, which in the end well outnumbered for the most part the really, really bad luck she had along each stage of this monstrous illness, they even happened to have a major international conference on GI diseases there during one of her stays.  I later learned that her physicians curb-sided with their international colleagues in order to find out what others thought was going on - a case so unusual that no one had seen the kind of progression her sudden onset had taken, the atypical hybrid she was presenting.  It was a mess.  But the GI people worked it!

However, the pain management people, were, quite frankly, a joke.  Why?   First, because pain is simply not "sexy" in terms of bragging rights, nor in bringing in the money/funding.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, how does one see pain?  How does one assess an invisible illness?

At any rate, this is something I've been thinking about today.  OK, stewing about, now that I've written about it.  The wounds are barely scabs and I'm not sure they'll ever heal over because...heck my daughter almost died and we were all praying that she would somehow survive: on top of dealing with a lot poop that should never ever have been a problem, much less a problem from one hour to the next for the most part.

As someone tweeted not too long ago (there ARE good things about twitter: who knew?) - acute problems are well done in this country.  Unfortunately, chronic conditions, not so much.  This is something good to think about as well as good to keep in mind if it's your misfortune to end up in a hospital.  In the meanwhile, I hope these issues and thoughts help you further understand your rights as a patient.

And finally, I hope all are doing as well as can be, only better!  Ciao and paka!


  1. Thanks for sharing your own experience about pain.Thus pain management is so important for us if we sufferer of pain.

    1. Tuhin, thank you so much for reading and commenting. I hope you get the medical attention you need.
      Irene xx

  2. It must have been sheer hell alone just to see your daughter suffering like that. Add in these "posers" coming around in endless circles surely added to the stress. And yes, there is stigma associated with chronic pain and its managementbor lack thereof. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. Hi Andrea! "Endless circles" is just the right phrase. Stress? Beyond the stratosphere. I fear the stigma with the chronic pain management is just on the upswing. So much of what's going on is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, or worse. xx

  3. With being in agonizing pain over the past week and being but on oral morphine to help deal with it I too have been debating the whole pain management quandry. Every time I have been in hospital in severe pain they have allowed me to have it for a few days then have got extremely anxious to get me off it. Many times just cutting it down to paracetemol and sending me home. Getting oral morphine is bad enough in hospital as it is with needing two nurses to administer it and cross check your hospital number. Yet my GP has had no qualms in letting me have it at home and said he won't even consider changing it until I see the rheumatologist next week. Everything is such a lottery, which is disgusting when it's about health.
    Great post

    1. Oh Sian, that double nursing bit is a total nightmare...and I feel badly for the nurses and fault the management/executives/moneymaking/numbers crunching people for that.

      Hooray for your GP! Be kind to him as he appears to be on your side! Good luck w/ the rheumatologist and please let me know how it goes!

      "Lottery" is the right word. One day I can be in the ER or admitted to hospital with the worst team imaginable, the next time w/ a team that is kindness. Unfortunately, the more "high maintenance" we are (how I despise that demeaning term) the less "nice" our teams become. It should be the opposite since why would we be in the hospital if it were just a "boo boo"? xx

  4. Yes he's been really great and is confident there's a few things he can try. He will certainly be appearing in a future blog post.

    Lottery and knowing how to work the system are words I imply for hospitals. That and MOTHERS! Do not cross one when their child is sick no matter how old.
    All the priorities just seem so wrong. So much beaurocracy and not enough caring sometimes.

    I will let you know how my appointment goes. I hope she's not too much of a prodder.

  5. Very well written, kudos to you for being the b!+(# that the doctors deserved! God bless your daughter for being a fighter, sadly and frustratingly, she had to fight the ones who are supposed to be her allies. Nothing like a mama bear ;-)

    1. Thank you so much! Mama Bear is right. Hubs can forgive and forget b/c they DID save her life and her quality of life as well. But he wasn't there 24/7 (he had to work after all) and didn't see the unnecessary pain she had to undergo. And for many reasons, hubs was taken seriously, not so much the mom. Sexism was the least of it. I have awful feelings when I think about this place. Moms don't forgive, nor forget, quite so easily. ;) xx