It started innocently enough on Facebook. I received a message from Fred Pfeiffer who had worked in broadcasting in Montana when I did (back in the Stone Age). Fred had become a very well-known and even better liked TV weatherman–which given the weather in Great Falls, Montana is no mean feat.
But he wasn’t contacting me to talk broadcasting or to swap old war stories—he had seen my name on the National Pain Report and wanted to tell me a story–one that has become much too common.
The story was about was happening to his beloved wife–“Vi”.
Now both Fred and Vi have suffered back problems and undergone surgery–although in Vi’s case the surgeries were numerous–eight in all.
Both have spinal cord stimulators—in fact the customers service reps at Boston Scientific–call them the “twins”.
But it’s Vi’s continuing battle with pain–and the inability to get a doctor to act–that is today’s story.
Vi and Fred lived in Great Falls for many years, but upon retirement moved recently to Helena, which is the state capital. What also has been happening is that Vi’s medication is being reduced–arbitrarily.
“She had been taking 2 40s each day which maintained a good quality of life,” said Fred Pfeiffer. “But the doctor has simply decided to get her off OxyContin for reasons he has not really articulated.”
So her dosage is being reduced monthly by 10 mg. She’s currently on 20 mg twice a day—which will be reduced to 10 later this month and ultimately to zero late in March.
“The tapering is destroying her quality of life,” said Pfeiffer.
For Dr. Terri Lewis, a Montana native whose survey of pain patients has attracted some 3500 persons across the U.S., what is happening to Vi Pfeiffer is happening too often in her native state.
“Montana is one of several states where the pain patient is literally under attack,” she said. “The phobia about opioids has overwhelmed a basic element of care—how to best treat people with intractable pain.”
For the Pfeiffers, who are seeing the retirement they envisioned slipping away gripped by Vi’s relentless pain, they even went to an addiction specialist who told them “what you need is a real pain management doctor who will get her on the medicine she needs.”
She’s not an addict, they said, but she’s dependent on the medication to maintain her lifestyle and wondered aloud why her doctor was forcing her off the opioid medication. Meanwhile, she lives in constant pain with “lots of plates and screws in her neck and lumbar region,” and no one that can answer the basic question of millions of pain patients.
“Can you do something about my pain?”
Their battle will continue—they are planning to drive 90 miles up the snow packed I-15 up to Great Falls see her primary care doctor again soon, hoping that their primary care physician of 25 years will either, as Fred said, “come to his senses and send us somewhere Vi can get relief.”
“This is so horrible to watch what is happening to the woman I love and adore. I’m not sure what to do, but we’ll keep trying,” he said.
If you haven’t filled out the largest pain patient survey ever taken, you can do so here.
To follow on Twitter:
@tal7291 (Dr. Terri Lewis)