My 50 Years with Chronic Pain

By Carol Hansen, Guest Columnist

I am a 71 year old woman living with chronic pain.  When I was in my 20’s I started having severe migraine headaches, at least two per month.  It was hard to do anything. They lasted at least 3 days, leaving me wiped out!

I also cared for my grandparents in my home until they died. My grandmother also had migraines when she was younger.  She shared with me that when I got older my headaches would go away and she was correct.

I had some aunts that had fibromyalgia, which at that time no one knew what it was.  I knew my grandmother’s pain level was high, because she was on opiates.  Her doctor gave her a high dose so she was hooked on these medications. 

Doctors used to prescribe a lot of pain medication, thinking that was all they could do for pain patients. Even then they did not want to deal with us. I was always afraid of pain medication because I observed my grandmother’s life.  After my grandparents passed away our lives naturally changed.

We enjoyed time with our young family.  Still my migraines were very hard on me and fibromyalgia slowed me down.  Yet I still had bluebirds and was a Sunday school teacher, along with a full schedule helping teachers and caring for my children.

In 1981, I was trying to start the heater in our camper when the camper blew up, leaving me with third degree burns. The company that repaired our camper had left all the gas lines disconnected.  More stress, and we filed a lawsuit.  This added to my migraines and my fibromyalgia was very painful.

In 1983, my wonderful husband died leaving me with teenagers.  My body reacted in what I thought was an unusual way.  I felt as if I couldn’t stay still. I had to be moving all the time and at night sleep didn’t come.  This went on for at least two years, while increasing fibromyalgia pain. 

After my husband died I felt that if I had a business it might help me through the grief.   After much thought I started a small business, it is now 30 years old with multi-layered experiences.  Because of my unique business I was asked by two magazines to write a monthly article which I did. 

My church asked me to lead a group and host a family of 7 immigrants (boat people from Vietnam). I was in charge of them for several years.  As much as I loved the family, I had to use tough love and slowly stopped helping them to let me go and begin their own lives, as families should.  Knowing this family is a wonderful story that added happiness to our lives. I did all this through my pain.

My neck was so bad I was losing the use of my left arm. There was more pain and it was getting harder to deal with my business.  During this time I met a second wonderful man.  We saw each other for 6 years before we married. 

I saw a doctor about my neck pain.  When the camper exploded, I hit the back of my neck on the counter edge.  I didn’t know at first that I had hurt my neck because the burns were so bad.  My neck had a dent in the vertebrae’s and was collecting calcium deposits. Over time I ended up having three surgeries on my neck.  They couldn’t get all the calcium out because it was too close to the spinal cord and I could have been paralyzed.

Right after one of the surgeries I ended up back in the hospital with mononucleosis and hepatitis.  It made healing much harder and the pain became chronic along with fibromyalgia.  I saw a rheumatologist in Seattle.  We tried Lyrica and Cymbalta, but I had terrible side effects. 

I was asked to take part in a University of Washington fibromyalgia study that lasted several months.  I roller skated 4 miles around Green Lake every day. I was in great shape and was doing this through all the pain. I tried biofeedback and swimming twice a week.  I also have a TENS machine, but that only helps while you’re on it. 

I tried everything to help the pain.  My rheumatologist recommended I take oxycodone three times a day.  They helped me but it was not a time release so it would not decrease pain evenly.  When OxyContin became available, my doctor suggested I try it. I now take OxyContin three times a day.  He also gave me the oxycodone for breakthrough pain.  I started this program in the early 1990’s and have been on the same dose ever since, never asking for more or stronger medication.  It helps control about 75% of my pain.  Sometimes I forget to take the medication and I hurt a lot.  This medication is not addicting like the pills my grandmother took.  I am not addicted, I am dependent!

I have had several other surgeries, including two that failed.  One surgery was on my left foot and the doctor left my foot deformed; he is no longer practicing.  In 2013 I had a total knee replacement and it was a complete failure. I have problems going up and down stairs, and it is now my biggest pain area.  I am also diabetic and have osteoarthritis in my hands and hips. 

My pain is very chronic, there is no way to exercise or do other things recommended by the CDC. I’ve already tried them. The pain medication is the only relief I will ever have.

In 2001, we moved from Seattle to northern Idaho.  No doctor there wanted to deal with a new pain patient, so we were traveling 800 miles round trip back to Seattle every 3 months. Then my doctor retired. The doctor that replaced him left for another clinic because he didn’t want to deal with my doctor’s patients.  The doctor that took his place said she would not prescribe pain medication.  I got a letter saying they did not want me as a patient – even though I was a great patient staying with the same doctor for many years. In fact, they kicked out ALL pain patients from that clinic!

I did eventually find a pain clinic near us. So far they are keeping me on the same program as my retired doctor had me on.

The CDC, FDA and the Obama administration are telling doctors to take pain medication away from us. They are lumping pain patients in with addicts and causing horrible problems.  Doctors don't want to deal with us. Whatever happened to "Do No Harm"? 

Carol Hansen lived in Idaho. She invites people to learn more about chronic pain by reading "Opioid Epidemic Myths" and this Petition2Congress.

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The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.