Pain Isn’t Enough for a Good Healthcare Relationship

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

We often hear that love is not enough to sustain a relationship. That’s true not only in our personal relationships, but in our medical ones – the relationship between the patient and provider. That relationship needs to work for better daily living, better health, and can even be the difference between life and death. 

Take the marriage advice many of us are given before we walk down the aisle. We hear a good relationship does not just happen; you have to give it time and patience, and there needs to be two people who truly want to be together. You need more than just love to make the relationship work.

Now let’s look at it in terms of a healthcare relationship. A good relationship with your provider doesn’t just happen. You have to give it time, patience, and two people (the provider and patient) who truly want to be working towards the same goal. Pain alone is not enough to sustain the relationship. It takes much more.  

When I am going through a really hard challenging time, in a pain flare or bad cycle of pain, it is a pivotal time in my care and I have to make sure my dance partner is on the same count, dance floor, and routine as me. It helps that I have a strong husband who advocates for me, but he can’t order the tests, procedures, equipment or medications that I need. In the pain relationship, your provider matters.  

With provider appointments getting shorter and shorter, how are we going to make our quality time better? How do I bring up that I am having trouble with opioid induced constipation, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, or sex life as a result of living with pain? Do I even bring these things up? Is there anything that my pain partner can do for me anyway? What if I have to go to the dreaded emergency room? Is the ER doctor going to tell everyone I am a ‘bad date’ drug seeker?  

Look folks, I am just looking to manage my pain. Life pops up and happens, leading me into another’s hands. The ER doctor doesn’t know me. Heck, some of my other partners don’t know me like they should. I don’t want them making assumptions based on past experiences with other patients. That can be deadly to me and my health. I have to rely on this person to see past the pain and help treat me as a whole person. I don’t want an enemy. I don’t want to be forever fighting, bickering, and whining to get the care I need. 

Sometimes you get the dreaded letter. You have 30 days to find a new partner and pain team mate. Unlike in love, you can’t choose to go it alone. You need that team member, you need that provider, that person that goes into the trenches with you. Love or hate your provider, you can no longer go on like this. You must stop, analyze the situation and communicate. Do you still want to see each other? Can they help you move on? Are they just going to drop you? Has everything changed so much that the partnership can’t be worked out?

If you decide you will stay together and keep working together, how do you work it out so moving forward you can be committed to the same goals and treat each other with respect and dignity?  Hopefully, you begin to do the three things you need to make it work: time, patience and two people who truly want to be together in spite of all the challenges and not because of them. 

You have to appreciate that neither of you wants you to be in pain. There is no reason to resent each other. Without the pain you wouldn’t be in each other’s lives. Focus your communication on the positives and address the negatives in a productive manner. Try to acknowledge the provider by saying, “It must be difficult to see all of us patients who are dealing with hard challenging situations. Thank you for working to help me.” Having the provider hear your thanks can go a long way.

Once you get the communication going, don’t withdraw from talking about those harder issues. Providers really need to hear your adjectives describing the pain, your life, your needs, your goals, and your progress. Unlike a normal relationship, this is one where you need them more than they need you. Since this is so important, make sure to get the right provider for your disease, who can also partner with you to assist your life. After all, either through insurance or cash, you’re paying this person to be involved with you. Pain brings you together, but it is not enough.  

After appreciation and communication comes helping them help you. Help them want to be on your team. Make it easier for them by being organized. Make your time together count, every time. If they are not fulfilling your needs or helping you reach your goals, don’t be afraid to move on or fix it. It is your responsibility. I know it takes work. I am a patient as well. It is work to be a patient.

When an appointment ends, do your homework, make notes, and create a checklist to keep yourself on track at the next one. Quality time can be hampered if you go off track, so make sure to get in your medical and pain care needs before bringing up other items. And always redirect the end of the appointment back to restating the goals, prescriptions and whatever testing is needed before the next appointment.

You can’t assume the provider knows your whole story, even if you have seen them for years. I have had the same primary care physician for 11 years now. He still has to pull my file to find out what medications he has me on and what I have tried before. Sometimes, I still have to remind him.

I know we have a mutual respect for each other and know that he is helping me get better. He is open to hearing my ideas and talking with the other providers in my life so we are all on the same page. He loves getting compliments, but is the first to admit that he doesn’t know everything about Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. He has taken the resources I bring to him and learned from them. This has helped me and his other patients.

Practicing these simple techniques can help your pain management. Since you have to live life with a provider in it, make it the best patient-provider relationship it can be. Sharing your pain care with a great provider is something you have to help create. .

It all comes down to showing support, responsibility, time management, and knowing that pain alone is not enough to sustain proper and timely care with your provider.

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.

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.