By Konnie Parke.
In May of 2016 I wrote an article entitled Painted into a Corner. In that piece, I describe the dilemma I faced following my decision to wean from opiate medications used to treat the pain of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) in the hope that my doctor would support my desire to try low dose naltrexone (LDN).
Two and a half years later I wish to continue the story. I was given the LDN by my physician. It had to be specially compounded because the dosage was so low and therefore not covered by my insurance. Within two weeks I started to feel some pain relief. I also used a biofeedback technique called “Tapping” otherwise known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). This technique not only helped me address my pain, it helped me to address the emotional dynamics of dealing with chronic, irretraceable pain.
I decided I had to find a way to exercise. Rather than focus on exercises I could not do, I considered what I could do. I had always loved to swim. However, water colder than 90 degrees caused the capillaries in my leg to shut down and my leg turned blue and cold. I had tried a warmer pool at a physical therapy practice, but I had to fit my pool time into their schedule. I started to research swim spas as an option. It took almost two years to save enough to buy one – and we sacrificed one half of our garage to put it in. In January of this year, we installed my new swim spa in our garage and I set out for my first swim.
It lasted a total of 2 minutes.
So, yea, I was clearly out of shape. I swam daily and tracked my progress. I slowly started to gain stamina. More importantly, I found that the warm water and movement helped when the pain became unbearable. The water displaced 90% of my body weight so movement did not cause stress on my joints or muscles. Not only did I gain strength in my body, but I began to heal in other ways. I felt stronger psychologically each time I added a minute to my swim time. I felt like interacting with people more and slowly became more active. I felt a sense of well-being that I hadn’t felt for a very long time.
With each swim I came to understand that aqua therapy was a viable way of managing pain with added physical and psychological benefits. I wondered why alternate therapies, such as aqua therapy, were not promoted by doctors or paid for by insurance companies. Then I started to think about upcoming RSDSA fundraisers and how they not only raised funds for worthy causes, but raise awareness of issues surrounding chronic pain.
One day following a swim, I was joking with my husband that I would love to participate in a walk-a-thon if only I could swim it. The idea of a swim-a-thon was born. I decided to raise funds for RSDSA.org, as they were a lifeline for information when I was newly diagnosed with CRPS. We decided upon November as the month to hold it because it was CRPS awareness month. It would swim for seven hours to commemorate the seventh anniversary of when I developed CRPS. The date was set for November 17, 2018.
A seven hour swim was a far cry from my first two minute swim, but once the idea took root, it was there to stay. My husband and I spoke with our children and older grandchildren and gained their support. I contacted RSDSA and they got on board. A clever writer and fellow CRPS warrior came up with the name Swimming Against the Current which reflected my desire to push back against the status quo of treatment options for pain management. In addition the way I was fundraising was completely outside the realm of what is considered normal.
I believe that anyone who suffers with chronic pain eventually comes to understand that they must swim against the current in order to adapt. Perhaps that means coming to terms with using medications, including opiates, in spite of the demonization we’ve seen these past few years. Perhaps that means exploring alternative/complementary treatments such as biofeedback, bariatric treatments, aqua therapy, or any number of options. Unfortunately, most of the above mentioned are not covered by insurance and are therefore cost prohibitive.
Herein lies my ulterior motive.
It is said that money talks. Before I started my swimming program I had a complete physical including blood tests. My blood sugar was borderline diabetic. My triglycerides were high and I was 45 lbs. heavier. Subsequent tests have show my blood sugar within normal limits and a lower resting pulse rate indicating improved cardiovascular health. I’ve had fewer injections for pain, and I’ve lowered my dose of Lyrica from 300mg. /day to 25 mg. /day. I will submit a cost-savings analysis as evidence when I contact my insurance company to show that my efforts in the swim spa has saved them money. I plan to invite them to swim against the current, and to consider paying for alternative/complementary therapies on a trial basis for select individuals in hopes of seeing the value on their terms – saving money.
As of this writing, I have 5 days until the fundraiser. I think I am ready. I have found support by way of donations from people and companies who see the value of RSDSA’s mission and who support alternate/complementary therapies for pain management. The company I bought my swim spa from sees the value by refurbishing trade-in hot tubs and donating them to local disabled veterans. Perhaps others can as well.
In my opinion, unexpected consequences of this “war on opiates” has left a huge, gaping hole for those suffering chronic pain…a hole many are falling into without hope of rescue. A viable tool has been restricted or made unavailable for many without offering a different tool to help. Perhaps this is the time to plant in the minds of healthcare providers and insurers alike the idea that treatment options not previously considered may be cost-effective for them and beneficial to the recipient.
For more information on the fundraiser called Swimming Against the Current, go to https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/konnie-parke/SwimmingAgainsttheCurrent
Or go to swimspalady.com.