The California Fires-A Story of Chronic Pain

By Ed Coghlan

You may remember that our friend Terri Lewis, Ph.D. ran a survey trying to identify chronic pain patients and the issues that face them.

During the recent California wildfires, Dr. Lewis remembered that she had received several responses from chronic pain patients who lived in Butte County in rural Northern California and in Ventura County in Southern California and reached out to them via email.

She shared the story of one person who was right in the middle of the Camp Fire in Butte County. The response of the patient was worth sharing (we are not sharing her name, but her words are powerful and serve as a reminder that often in tragedies the loss is magnified for people with disabling conditions).

Her response:

“I don’t mind if you want to post this response to the chronic pain website for encouragement for others to value their lives even with chronic pain.

“We are safe but unfortunately lost our home and everything we had. We almost lost our lives trying to get out as we had no notification until the fire was right there and exploding all around us. I was terrified and was sure that we were going to burn right in our car stuck in gridlock trying to escape. I have C-PTSD and that has made it worse, not to mention my horrible chronic pain. But we made it and are just trying to deal with the devastation and recovery. Thank you for your concern and care.

All I can say is be thankful for your life and love your family because you never know what tomorrow brings. Fortunately we have family that are helping us get through this and are having to relocate about 500 miles to Southern California to start over with family.

This is temporary until we find a place to live again. We won’t be coming back to this area again because of the trauma and because our whole town is gone, and it will take years for them to rebuild. I also will never live in an area that is so small that it’s almost impossible to escape when something like this happens. I also will never live in the mountains again because it has traumatized me so much that it terrifies me. Bless the police and fire fighters that put their lives in danger trying to get us to safety. Some residents didn’t make it (88 people so far) most of them elderly and many (203) are still unaccounted for. I pray for all of them. Love your family and cherish your life even if you are sick and fighting chronic debilitating pain every day. Life is precious.

It will be very hard rebuilding a life with nothing, but we have some insurance and we are trying to find someplace that we can afford now as our income was already limited in this area but everywhere else is a lot more expensive, but we are trying. Thank God for my family who was here to come to and helped us by letting us stay with them. I don’t know how I would have made it in a shelter being on oxygen 24/7 and a ventilator when I sleep for my respiratory failure risk. Not to mention being very disabled and unable to move around much due to my rheumatoid arthritis and pain with five autoimmune diseases. But I am thankful every day to be alive even with difficult days every day. Life is precious and so are loved ones. Tell them every day you love them because you never know what may come. Bless my 89-year-old father for being there on the cell phone with me while I was trapped in trying to escape with my 65-year-old brother, who is my caretaker too, in the car in front of me with my medical equipment that he could grab so I would be able to breathe wherever we ended up. My father talked me through my terror and tried to comfort me as best he could. He too has been impacted by this event and trauma. I am so lucky to have such a loving family.”

(Editor’s Note—Thanks to Terri Lewis for not only sharing this note, but also for thinking of people in need (like she always does.))