I first woke up with horrible rib pain on February 3, 2013, the day of the Super Bowl.
By the next morning I was in the ER with a morphine IV. They completely misdiagnosed me at the hospital and then gave me medication they said would cure all that ails me. Except of course it didn’t.
And thus, I was thrust into an entirely different life than the one I had on February 2, 2013.
I had no idea how much my world had changed or how to deal with it. In fact, back then, I didn’t even know that I would be classified as someone with “chronic pain.” It took me months to figure out where to find the right support groups on Facebook.
I’ve learned a lot since then about how to cope with my situation. But I wish someone could have handed me a pamphlet back on that fateful day in the ER spelling some of it out for me, saving me the trouble of having to learn so much of it the hard way.
While that didn’t happen for me, that doesn’t mean you have to be in the dark about all the craziness that comes with this illness.
Below are five things I wish I’d known sooner about chronic pain.
1. Doctors are not gods
In fact, they aren’t even very smart sometimes. When I first got sick I went to the ER, where the doctor looked me straight in the eye and told me that a stomach ulcer was the only logical explanation for my symptoms. He was wrong. Then, I went to a family practitioner who told me I had Costochondritis. She was wrong too.
After that, I went to a doctor at a University Hospital. After I told him I had been enduring level 10 pain for weeks, he gave me prescription strength Aleve because he was too scared to give me anything stronger. Aleve for level 10 pain!
The list goes on, and on, and on. I kept searching and searching until I found a doctor I could trust. Thankfully, I have. He’s two hours away and I have to cross state lines to get to him, but it’s totally worth it. He’s experienced and he believes me when I say I’m in so much pain that I want to die. His visits are two-way conversations as opposed to a one-sided lecture.
In short, I had to fire a lot of doctors before I found a good one. Don’t be afraid to do the same.
2. You don’t have to take a shower every day
I seriously wish I had figured this one out way sooner. Showers are the type of thing that completely wipe me out and send me to lie on the couch in front of Netflix for hours to recover. Add in blow drying my hair and I’m basically done for the day.
When I first got sick I was so stressed about trying to follow our crazy American standards of cleanliness that I still tried to shower every day. Eventually, I realized that was basically killing me, so I started to do the every-other-day thing and now I’m on the twice-a-week plan.
Even after I made that life choice though, I still tried to keep up appearances on business trips because I am stupid. I’d wake up every morning, hop in the shower, blow dry my hair and do a full face of make-up. Then, I’d either end up having to spend most of the day recovering in my hotel room or popping tons of pain pills. Or both.
Thankfully, I’ve since learned that even on business trips, it’s all right to skip a few days. Like on my recent eight-day trip to Brazil. One of my survival techniques was showering only once every three days. I used lots of deodorant, perfume and dry shampoo; and then on the third day, when my hair was especially dirty, I just wore it up in a top knot.
My body had a lot more miles on it each day and nobody even seemed to notice. Or at least they didn’t say anything to my face.
To sum up, if showers make your body rage with pain, it is completely all right to skip them. Just don’t forget to buy some dry shampoo.
3. Sleeping pills save lives
When I first got sick, I was in such severe pain every single day that I couldn’t sleep through the night. The pain was like a huge claw that grabbed my ribs and woke me up in the middle of the night, or worse yet, wouldn’t let me fall asleep in the first place.
The thing about sleep though is that it’s kind of important. In fact, if you don’t get enough sleep, you go crazy — which I did. My body never got any down time, so the pain just ratcheted up every single day, and my brain never got any time to reset. I got severely depressed to the point that I was planning ways to kill myself. I was such a mess that I thought I wanted to die solely because of the pain, but it was actually the lack of sleep that was pulling me closer and closer to death.
With severe chronic pain, Tylenol PM may as well be Skittles. And so, I didn’t think there was anything out there that could help me. Until I told my pain specialist about the situation and he put me on Amitriptyline.
I mean, yeah, sure, that stuff knocks you out cold. But, on the up side, that stuff knocks you out cold.
After just two days of sleeping like a regular person, my suicidal thoughts drastically decreased and I was suddenly able to use my logic and reasoning skills again.
Since I’ve started taking the medication, I have skipped it a couple of times for various reasons, to disastrous results. On one particular occasion, I was between doctors and ran out, so I missed two nights. Just two nights. You wouldn’t think that would be such a big deal.
Well, it was. By the third day I was in so much pain that I ended up getting a shot of dilaudid from the doctor, which I had a reaction to. I then spent the entire next night throwing up repeatedly. It was the worst 72 hours of my life.
So, if you are having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about your options. Seriously.
4. Pain pills can give you the will to keep going
It took awhile for me to get on the right dose of the right pain pills. When I first got sick, I had no idea that doctors would be scared to give me the medications I needed or that there was any sort of controversy around opioids. I just assumed that, like with any other illness, I would get the care I needed.
Alas, that was not the case. Like I said before, at first they tried to give me anti-inflammatory medications, which did nothing for me. Then, when the doctors finally did put me on Narco, the dosage was so low that I thought the pills couldn’t help me. It wasn’t until I started doubling the dose that I realized relief was possible.
It makes me incredibly sad whenever I read that someone is trying to avoid opioids just for the sake of avoiding them. There is no reason to live a life enduring excruciating chronic pain every day, when modern medicine has come up with a way to put it at bay. Obviously, the pills won’t make you 100 percent, but for me they temper the pain enough to allow me to hold down my job and even go out sometimes.
And without them, I’m sure I would be dead by now. If you need pain pills, take pail pills.
5. You don’t have to accept crap
One of the things pain communities like to say over and over and over is that once you accept the situation you’ll find an inner peace. Except, I don’t buy it. I don’t think you have to accept the situation. I don’t think you have to accept the fact that your life is now just one, long string of pain or that you’ll have to endure such pain for the rest of your life. I don’t think anybody should accept that.
I have accepted the fact that I can no longer drive long distances, swim, wear bras with underwire, or sit up straight for more than 45 minutes at a time. I have accepted that my life is different for now. But only for now.
Because I cannot give up hoping that one day I will finally wake up pain free. And you shouldn’t give that up either. Nobody should.
Crystal Lindell is journalist who lives in Byron, Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, watching “Burn Notice” episodes on Netflix and Snicker’s Bites. She has had pain in her right ribs since February 2013. It is currently undiagnosed.
Crystal writes about it on her blog, The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.