By Cynthia Toussaint.
This year while I write almost exclusively about integrative care – which includes conventional, complementary and self care – I tend to omit the conventional model because I walked away from Western medicine about a decade ago for better wellness. In fact, when I switched to integrative care, that’s when I quickly attained my second partial Complex Regional Pain Syndrome remission, nine years and counting.
I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t tip my hat to conventional medicine. Despite being a major skeptic of the many surgeries, procedures and medications our doctors prescribe for us women in pain which are, in my opinion, primarily a profit-driving scheme for the medical establishment, the western model is beneficial for my wellness. Specifically, I use medications that without a doubt afford me better quality of life.
That being said, if I’d followed all the advice of my western physicians, I would probably have kicked the bucket many moons ago due to an avalanche of over-care that included their recommendations of an intra-thecal pump implant, two spinal cord stimulators, multiple surgeries, countless medications (including infusion drugs) and hundreds of tests and procedures that I flat out refused. I call this kind of medicine “clinically-induced trauma.”
On the upside, I take three, daily medications for my pain – and they continue to serve me admirably. I often take these therapies for granted because I’ve been utilizing them successfully for so long. In fact, this post is a good exercise to help me remember that the conventional part of integrative care holds a significant place in my wellness arsenal.
Thirty-two years ago after my pain spread bi-laterally into my good leg, I had to quit my career as a dancer and move back into my suburban childhood home. My world quickly imploded and I ran out of hope for a future. I slipped into a suicidal depression – and my anxiety level got so torturous that most everything I saw and heard became distorted and frightening.
At its worst, I could only stare at a wall and be uncommunicative. A psychiatrist put me on the benzodiazepine, Klonopin (clonazepam), for my anxiety and pain – and the result seemed like magic. Almost immediately my anxiety disappeared and I went into my first CRPS (back then, RSD) remission. To this day, I don’t know how I would have survived without this med.
About five years later, after my un-diagnosed CRPS ravaged my vocal chords and I was mostly unable to speak, my internist put me on Axid (nitazidine), a stomach acid reducer, that someway, somehow got me speaking again without pain. I’m a chatterer – and when I can’t express myself verbally, I become very despairing. This drug continues to be a God-send for me.
When I was at last diagnosed nearly 14 years into CRPS, the best thing my pain doctor did, next to believing me, was to prescribe Neurontin (gabapentin.) Despite him insisting that I couldn’t get pain relief prior to a minimum of 900 mgs., I began walking short distances after being mainly bedridden for ten years at 600 mgs. This remains a miracle drug for me.
Thirty-five years into high-impact chronic pain, it may be a shocker to hear that I rarely use opioids. But there are times when my breakthrough pain is so unbearable, the only thing that gives me a smidgen of relief is a 5 mg. Vicodin (hydrocodone.) And when restorative zzz’s become elusive due to fibromyalgia, I sometimes take a milligram or two of Flexeril which makes a world of difference because I wake up refreshed!
Those are my success stories, but my battlefield has also been littered with meds that have done great harm. My horror stories include once using a fentynal patch as prescribed by my doctor, which I’m certain almost killed me. I woke with major hallucinations and was unable to reason. Luckily, I somehow managed to get my panicked doctor on the phone who ordered me to rip the patch off in the nick of time.
A bout with the infusion-drug, Benlysta, prescribed for a disease I didn’t have, made me off-the-charts sick with mono-like symptoms for a year. In fact that doctor refused to authorize my third infusion because she thought it might kill me. Once for a bursitis flare, I was given a cortisone injection that not only gave me mind-bending insomnia and anxiety (while working in Europe, no less!), it induced a diabetic-episode that by luck of the draw receded. I know that in some cases it doesn’t. Scary, scary stuff.
Two years ago, when I was laid-low with mold poisoning, I listened to my well-intentioned mother and made a slip by visiting my internist. She put me on a series of antibiotics, prednisone and an inhaler that did nothing for my illness, but did indeed take away my lower-body remission. The next year was a nightmare as I clawed my way back while at a level 10 pain. There’s much more, but you get the drift.
I tout and deeply believe in the kinder angels of integrative care. Complementary and self care are mainly made up of non-invasive therapies without side-effects. And that’s the sweet spot where I like to be when it comes to pain management.
There’s no denying, though, that conventional medicine is a potential player in our wellness. But since this modality involves so many unnatural, manmade things that involve invading our bodies, we must be ultra-weary of possible harmful side-effects, up to and including disability and death.
Cynthia Toussaint founded For Grace in 2002. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to gender disparity in the treatment of pain. She is also a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.