By Marlee Hanson, Guest Columnist
I am 31, and my husband Ray is 34. Ray is disabled. His biggest daily struggle is chronic pain from a serious back injury. Adding to our troubles is that we live in Montana, a state where there is an acute shortage of doctors willing to treat chronic pain with pain medication.
Ray has undergone multiple surgeries to fuse his spine. We went into these surgeries knowing he would lose some range of motion, but hopeful that they would lessen his pain, allowing Ray to be the husband and father he desperately wants to be. Sadly, the surgeries were difficult, the recoveries were long, and his pain has only worsened postoperatively. The disappointment has been crushing.
Interventional pain procedures have sadly failed to help my husband as well. He has endured diagnostic CT myelograms and developed post-procedure cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks. One was severe enough to require an epidural blood patch. A CSF leak causes vomiting and a severe headache commonly known as a spinal headache. These are not only painful, but can lead to meningitis. The primary treatment is bed-rest. When this fails, an epidural blood patch is performed. Though it relieves the headache in most cases, it puts the patient at further risk of developing meningitis.
On many days my husband is not able to move, get out of bed, prepare food, or even take a simple shower because the pain is so severe. Thankfully, Ray has found relief through opioids. Oxycodone allows him to function so he can be a husband and father. It gives him enough relief that he is able to stretch and do physical therapy exercises.
Exercise has also allowed him to rebuild muscle, improve stamina and helped decrease his pain. None of this would be possible without the pain relief opioids provide him. Unfortunately, we fear my husband is weeks away from losing access to the one medication that truly gives him relief, as his physician’s license has been suspended.
Once we knew this was a possibility, Ray and I began seeking a new doctor to treat him. I believe my husband is a low risk patient. He takes his medication as prescribed, does not abuse it, and has never been discharged by a doctor for misusing his medication. He has never overdosed.
So far we have scheduled appointments with two doctors. The first one neither examined my husband nor reviewed the X-Rays and MRI’s we brought to the appointment. This physician made his treatment decision based on the prescription monitoring database and gave my disabled husband a prescription for one quarter of what he usually takes in a month, along with a pamphlet on vocational rehabilitation.
We told the doctor Ray had already consulted vocational rehabilitation when it was suggested by his workers compensation caseworker. We explained to the doctor how much opioids have reduced his pain and improved his ability to function. The doctor said it was simply not worth the risk of his license being suspended.
Years ago, workers’ compensation and Social Security deemed that Ray was disabled, based on input from several physicians. We felt this new doctor was not listening, and we were disappointed when he refused to provide the chronic pain management my husband needs.
We were still hopeful that the second doctor, who was recommended by a friend, would assume responsibility for his care. Ray waited five months for this appointment. The day before the appointment, the doctor's office called to cancel, stating she would not see Ray for pain management. She also refused to fill his prescription. He has taken these medications with good functional benefit for the past eight years.
We used to travel to Missoula for chronic pain management. The trip was inconvenient and the long drive exacerbated his pain. Eventually we were fortunate enough to find a physician in Helena near our home. Unfortunately, we will now be forced to travel for appointments once again and deal with all that this entails. Our next appointment will be in Great Falls. If Ray does not receive care there, not only will we be forced to travel out of state, but my husband will also have exhausted his supply of medication.
Ray is a law abiding citizen with a chronic pain condition that needs to be addressed. Finding care is nearly impossible in the current regulatory climate. I fear deeply that one day he will escape his pain by suicide. Ray is not suicidal at all, but I fear if he is forced to go without medication, he will become bound to bed in pain, and I fear that suicide will be the outcome.
The government is looking at opioid pain relievers as harmful substances. When these medications are illicitly used and abused there is a problem. That problem does need to be addressed. However, as harmful as those medications have been for some, they are just as helpful for others. We do not need laws restricting or banning opioids; we need a nationwide effort to ease the suffering of those who are in pain. We need doctors and practitioners who are trained in proper use & dosage of pain medication, as well as alternative pain treatment.
Physicians need to look at chronic pain patients as individuals, just as they do with other patients. Each condition varies in severity and everyone metabolizes drugs differently. Please allow doctors to prescribe the medications Ray needs to survive so can be the husband and father he wants to be. His children and I deserve that, as does he.
Marlee and Ray Hanson live in Montana.
Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to: editor@PainNewsNetwork.org.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.