(Editor’s note: Pain News Network is pleased to welcome Barby Ingle as our newest columnist. Some of you may already know Barby from her work with the Power of Pain Foundation, but you may not know the story behind her activism on behalf of pain sufferers. You can read all about it here.)
By Barby Ingle, Columnist
The good news is I have taken control of my chronic pain diseases. It has been a long tough road -- 18 years of living in the healthcare system have taught me to stand up for myself and learn to be my own best advocate.
It all began when I developed endometriosis in 1997 and worsened when I developed Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) after a minor car accident in 2002. I thought endometriosis was bad until I got it RSD.
Prior to the accident, I was a business owner and head coach at Washington State University for the cheer and dance program. I was living a great life and was successful in managing the endometriosis through medication and surgery. After the accident I had shoulder pain. Even though there were no signs of an injury on x-rays or MRI images, doctors suggested I have shoulder surgery. This surgery did not fix the pain and only made things worse.
Doctors were stumped and sent me a TOS specialist. After more tests the doctor realized I needed surgery again because bone spurs from the first TOS surgery were going into my lung and nerve bundles in my right shoulder.
In 2005, I was finally diagnosed with RSD and learned that TOS was a symptom of RSD. By the time of that diagnosis, I had been treated by 42 other healthcare providers and been told many random strange things, from “It’s all in your head” to “Your boobs are too big. You should get a breast reduction.”
My RSD symptoms were called “bizarre” by one prominent neurovascular surgeon. Some of those symptoms included severe pain, sweating, skin discoloration, sensitivity to touch and light breezes, dizziness, vomiting, syncope, and gastrointestinal issues.
Every procedure was a new trauma that increased my pain and other symptoms.
Learning about RSD
The 43rd provider finally looked at my records in their entirety before coming into the exam room. He was the one to figure out I had RSD and give me some of my first answers. I remember being so excited because I finally had a name for what I was dealing with.
But once I started to research RSD on the internet, that excitement turned to fear. I took the time to find out who the best providers were and found ways to get to see them. I have now been treated by over 100 providers since 1997.
Having experienced painful injuries many times in my life, I thought all pain was the same. Now, I know there is a difference. I learned that you can have more than one type of pain at the same time (burning, stabbing, cutting, electric, etc.). I feel bad for the people I knew with chronic pain before my experience began. I thought they were constant complainers. I was wrong.
I was humbled as I needed help with ordinary activities of daily living, like dressing, bathing, traveling, cooking, shopping, and walking. What I was going through was traumatic and depressing. The burning pain was never ending.
Living with pain is a big life challenge. It has been hard. Through this challenge I have learned we all have a right to proper care and treatment to ease our pain. Don't stop until you get the help you need.
As of 2009, I have been in and out of remission. What I found that worked best for me is the use of an oral orthotic (a mouth device that lowers brain stem inflammation), IV infusion therapy, aqua therapy, heat, traction, better posture, improved eating habits, and stretching exercises. There was not a one size fits all cure for me or any of the thousands of patients I have met in my pain journey.
I have come in and out of remission since then. In the beginning I would be so afraid that this time the doctor would not be able to help me. Now I know that if one doctor can’t help there are others that can. Not all providers offer the same knowledge or access to treatments that may be right for me. I have to research for myself to find out what I am comfortable going through.
We all have to learn to be the chief of staff of our medical team. Be empowered patients and live life to the fullest each moment. Don’t feel guilt if you can’t do something right now -- make it a goal to accomplish once you are able.
When you think it can’t get any worse, it can. And when you think is can never get better, it can. Take life moment by moment and know that we all have ups and downs. Never give up and never give in!
My drive to turn pain into power comes from my motivation to find a cure for RSD. No one should have to go through my experience.
Barby Ingle is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the Power of Pain Foundation.
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.