By Chloe Mathews
My 94-year-old mother underwent emergency surgery for a broken hip in October 2014. On the second day, the hospital discontinued the opioid medications she had been receiving for pain. The nurse cheerily announced that “round-the-clock Tylenol” was the new post-surgical protocol. Unfortunately, the Tylenol did not provide relief
Once the pain became intolerable, I was able to obtain opioid medications for her which worked. But I had to know the name of the drug and ask for each pill every time. My elderly mother was too confused to request the medication on her own, so she just suffered when I wasn’t able to be there. I believe this contributed to her being so profoundly traumatized that she attempted to call the police to rescue her from the hospital.
The situation was similar at the skilled-care facility where she went to recover. When I told her doctor that the Tylenol wasn’t working for her pain, I got a truly disturbing response:
“The Tylenol is helping with her pain, she just doesn’t know it,” he said.
Should others tell us whether we are in pain? Sadly, I think the official government answer is yes. And it is the absurd result of emerging federal policies.
In a massive anti-opioid campaign, the CDC, DEA, FDA and other federal agencies are mandating drastic cutbacks in opioid prescriptions. At the same time other government policies advocate an “evidence-based” (backed by studies) model for medical decision making. Put the two together, and pain goes untreated because patients cannot supply “evidence” that they are in pain.
I was horrified to learn that credible medical professionals are actually advocating for such an inhumane policy. The president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), Jay Kaplan, MD, wants to delete all questions about pain care from hospital patient satisfaction surveys because he says “there is no objective diagnostic method that can validate or quantify pain”, and that allowing patients to comment on the quality of their pain care may lead to over-prescribing opioids. (Link to letter)
“We’ll tell you if you are in pain.” Is this the message we really want the federal government to send us when we are sick and vulnerable? I hope not.
Chloe Mathews lives in California with her husband, dog, and 95-year-old mother, for whom she is the primary caregiver. Chloe has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a genetic connective disorder of which tissue fragility and chronic pain are common symptoms.