Chronic Pain Is A Pain In The Ass

Chronic pain. It’s something that we all experience as RA and autoimmune patients. It’s a real issue, and pain always makes everything else much worse. Unfortunately, chronic pain isn’t like other disease symptoms in that it isn’t something that can be readily quantified. Because of this, some doctors don’t take it seriously, and even when they do, there aren’t many solutions out there. There’s pain meds, and as many of us know, it’s an imperfect solution at best, and a stigma for many. So let’s talk about that chronic pain in the ass – chronic pain.

Pain. Just saying the word makes people wince like sour candy or Kanye West. It’s something that everyone with autoimmune illness has to deal with, and for me, it’s probably the symptom that has most interfered with my quality of life. I remember when I was just eighteen years old, fresh off my first hip replacement with a second coming soon after. That was when I really began to understand just how debilitating pain could be. High dosages of corticosteroids had basically disintegrated both of my hips, and as anyone who has RA can tell you — jagged bone rubbing against jagged bone is about as painful as it gets. So, because of pain, the doctors told me that I had to get both of my hips replaced. I got a crash course in how pain can derail any life.

Fast forward about ten years. I was reaching the limits of the pain meds that my rheumatologist was comfortable prescribing so I had to go and see a pain medicine specialist. Now, I realize that was the moment that I strapped a yellow oblong ball and chain around my ankle (no, I didn’t marry a banana). Hindsight is 20/20 though, so when I first met with a pain specialist I followed along and enjoyed the sights, like a tour guide at the Natural History Museum. I began on high doses of percocet (the yellow oblong pill), and it worked! I was so happy to finally be out of pain I didn’t even bother fully considering the ramifications of starting on opioid therapy. Then again I was twenty-something with a full head of hair, a healthy libido, and a genuinely ridiculous-sized ego. I didn’t have time to stop and think about the proper order of beer and liquor, much less how starting opioids at an early age would affect me later in life (spoiler alert – liquor before beer, always).

We can skip all the stuff I did in between then and now since we only have a limited amount of space. Also I think some of it is banned in most states. These days, I take a very large amount of opioid pain medication on a daily basis. With some time and perspective, I realize that the way everything shook out is that taking pain medication to combat chronic pain is pretty much like playing a soccer game to end in a draw. Sure, there are good times and bad, but in the end you still ask yourself “why did I do this?” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lessening chronic pain itself. Chronic pain is horrible. It’s like a stealthy black octopus that uses its tentacles to stab you arbitrarily, with no regard for your hopes and dreams, and just when you think you’ve finally shaken it off, it climbs back onto you and resumes its dark task, skewering you all over, all over again. It saps your energy, it drinks your stamina like a latte, and it infects your mind with horrible thoughts so that you feel like the real you is pushed aside and forced to watch as some twisted caricature of yourself airBNB’s into your brain. You then have to use all your mental and physical fortitude to wrangle control of yourself back, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and get on with things while you wait for the next episode that will inevitably come. It’s a mandatory full time job where stress is your boss and he really doesn’t like you. That’s why even a half-measure is better than none, even though it comes with significant stigma.

We all know about the so-called opioid crisis that currently has America in a death-grip. If you listen to reports, men, women, and children, are dropping dead in the streets in alarming numbers simply because some irresponsible doctor gave them a few pills of Vicodin or OxyContin, and suddenly they are selling their shoes for black tar heroin. Whatever the situation really is, there is one fact that is inescapable. If you take opioid medication, you are immediately branded as some kind of addict or drug abuser. It has happened to me more times than I can count, and I see reputable doctors at reputable hospitals. I have even had actual MDs question my use of pain medication even though I have over 15 years of well-documented legal use. I have had acquaintances assume I am some sort of secret drug dealer. I have even had pharmacists refuse to fill legitimate, legal, scripts, simply because “they aren’t comfortable with this amount.” Well boo-hoo Mr. pharmacist, guess what? I’m uncomfortable with the searing pain that occurs in my body on a daily basis, want to swap? This is dangerous, because the more attitudes towards pain meds deteriorate, the greater chance they will stop prescribing them altogether. It’s something everyone who suffers from chronic pain fears.

As you can see there are so many pitfalls when it comes to treating chronic pain. I didn’t even cover the fact that in cases of fibromyalgia and some other diseases, many doctors don’t even believe the patients are in real pain. I can’t imagine going into the doctor’s office and having them tell me “oh no, you’re really not in pain.” If that ever happened, I guarantee both of us would be leaving in “real” pain. Chronic pain is real, it’s horrible, and it’s the worst symptom of autoimmune disease. Making it such a pain in the ass to treat only adds insult to injury.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (6)
  • janlorraine
    3 months ago

    Thank you. I don’t know how to contact you privately, but I do need help. I am very unhappy with my doctor. Sometimes I feel as if I have been led down a garden path or like a fish that has swallowed a hook and is being reeled in ever so slowly because the line isn’t strong enough. Maybe I could get away, but the hook, line and sinker would still be in my mouth. Please let me know what to do next.
    janlorraine

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    3 months ago

    Yes it is real and it is a real pain. I have maintained a low dose of opioids, but one thing I cannot figure out is why anyone woudl abuse them. Hey if I could do without, I would give them up immediately.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    3 months ago

    You got it Rick Phillips (any relation to captain?). We don’t generally abuse them but you say opioids and somewhere in DC a politician gets his wings. Thanks for reading. DPM

  • janlorraine
    3 months ago

    I could have written some of this. Every time I have my pain management appointment, I come home in tears. I ask myself if I had known what I was getting myself into would I have done it. And how do I get out of it now? My doctors tell me that I am already taking as much medication as they can give me and it’s not enough for me to function in any way that could be called normal. Since I feel so awful even while taking pain medication why don’t I stop taking it and feel awful without it? I guess because I get an hour or two here and there when I get a glimmer or two of feeling normal. I feel trapped.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    3 months ago

    Jan they don’t like me to give medical advice out so I’ll give you some social advice. That doc isn’t good for you! Lol. I have heard stories of pain docs that don’t want to give the high amounts of pills that the patients actually need. I actually once had to see the doctor on call when my pain doctor was away. Even though it was a temporary visit this doctor whom I never saw in my life before tried to convince me to cut my pain pills in half and take Suboxone instead. He didn’t know me he didn’t know the pain I was in and he certainly didn’t know my extensive medical history. He simply did not want to write the prescription for my high doses of opioids that I had been taking for 10 years because it would mean he’d have a high dosage prescription on his record. You should probably see if you can find another pain management doctor in your area so that you can compare to the one you’re seeing now and determine if the problem lies with him. I know the feeling of being trapped in your own body and the point of a pain management doctor is to actually manage your pain. If you need suggestions in your area I can ask my pain doctor if he knows anyone where ever you are. Over the years my pain doctor has become one of my best friends and we even give seminars together to medical students about opioids not being concentrated evil in pill form. Hopefully this will mean the next generation of doctors treat pain medicines like actual medicine instead of something that they wish didn’t exist. Please let me know whatever I can do to help. Keep on keepin’ on. DPM

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    3 months ago

    PS sorry for the bad grammar I am on my cell phone LOL

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