“You’re not alone. Your pain is real.”
That’s the take home message Derek McGinnis hopes people in pain will get from watching Pain Matters, a documentary on chronic pain that airs on the Discovery Channel on Saturday, November 16.
“I want them to feel hope,” McGinnis says. “The pain in many ways is never going to go away. But hope for an improved quality of life, that is real.”
McGinnis knows all about pain. While serving in Iraq in 2004 as a Navy Corpsman with a Marine Reconnaissance Battalion, his Humvee ambulance was hit by a suicide driver. The explosion so badly damaged his left leg that it had to be amputated above the knee. Shrapnel went into his right eye and he suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“I’m blessed to be alive,” McGinnis says today. “I’m a testament to being alive. Military medicine saved my life and got me back, got me out of Fallujah and back to states-side.”
But McGinnis’ journey with pain was only just beginning, a journey that took him from despair and depression to acceptance and eventual recovery.
“There was a lot of emotional trauma going through that process,” he recalls. “I started to feel like I was broken.”
McGinnis is one of six chronic pain patients to be profiled on Pain Matters. The others include a two-time Stanley Cup-winning hockey player, a car accident survivor, and people with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Pain management experts on the program also share their perspective on treating chronic pain, the science behind it, and the future of pain management.
“We hope that the personal stories told through Pain Matters will shed light on the impact of chronic pain on people’s lives,” said Camilla Carpenter, senior vice president of business strategy and operations at the Discovery Channel.
“My journey is different than everyone else’s but maybe there something in it that will give somebody some hope,” McGinnis told National Pain Report.
Despite the severity and visibility of his injuries, McGinnis experienced many of the same issues, problems and prejudices that other pain patients face. He too was labeled a “drug seeker” and had trouble finding a doctor who would believe the pain was not all in his head.
McGinnis says the phantom limb pain he felt was excruciating, and radiated from the thigh on his missing leg all the way down to his toes. Surgeries helped relieve much of the pain, but he still experiences periodic pain.
McGinnis occasionally uses opioid pain medicines and anti-inflammatory drugs, but he relies mostly on good nutrition, exercise and meditation to keep his pain in check. A big part of his recovery has been what he calls an “acceptance model” that helps him cope with pain flare-ups.
“I know it’s a part of me and I need to embrace it and either do some meditation, relaxation or take some time out,” he says. “Or more importantly, communicate to my team, my wife and kids, about what’s going on and why I’m not as motivated as other days.”
Family support played a big role in his recovery, but McGinnis says he treasures the memories of people who did not treat him as disabled or different. People like the professor who ignored his brain injury or the person who asked him to enter the Marine Corps marathon – while McGinnis was still confined to a wheelchair.
McGinnis did eventually run in that marathon and others, after re-learning how to run while wearing a prosthetic limb. He also got a job with the Department of Veterans Affairs in California reaching out to homeless veterans.
To help vets deal with the physical and emotional aspects of dealing with chronic pain, McGinnis wrote the book Exit Wounds: A Survival Guide to Pain management for Returning Veterans and Their Families.
“Pain Matters” will air on the Discovery Channel Saturday, Nov. 16, Dec. 7 and Dec. 14 at 8 a.m. A preview can be seen online at www.PainMattersFilm.com.