Roseanne Shed Light on Chronic Pain

By Barby Ingle, PNN Columnist

The reboot season of the “Roseanne” show recently wrapped up and there won't be another. Lead actress Roseanne Barr put out a racist tweet that went viral and ABC immediately canceled her show.

Although Barr’s tweet -- or ‘bad joke’ as she calls it --- was a big disappointment to her fans and everyone involved in the show’s production, I think she did some good in Season 10. It shined a light on how chronic pain can affect a patient and their family, and how important access to proper and timely mental and physical care really is.

Roseanne (both her character and in real-life) is a chronic pain patient. As a child, she suffered a traumatic brain injury. Over the years she’s shared her mental health challenges, which include nervous breakdowns and a multiple personality disorder.

"I did have a few nervous breakdowns and was hospitalized several times. It was very difficult. Fame was difficult too," Barr said in an interview with 20/20.

In a 2015 interview with The Daily Beast, Roseanne talked about using marijuana to help relieve pain.

“It’s a good medicine, you know,” she said. “I have macular degeneration and glaucoma, so it’s good for me for that because I have pressure in my eyes. It’s a good medicine for a lot of things.”

Two years ago, Roseanne began using a cane after she slipped and broke her kneecap in three places during a trip to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Roseanne was prescribed opioid medication for her knee injury and her real-life story was an impetus for addressing chronic pain and opioids in her show this past season. Her character also had a knee injury and used a cane.

 ROSEANNE BARR

ROSEANNE BARR

Throughout the final season, Roseanne's knee injury and chronic pain were woven into the storyline. The last two episodes were the hardest hitting. I have read articles that talk about how she was trying to share the plight of people living with addiction. I have another take on that. I believe Roseanne was actually trying to show what many pain sufferers go through because of the lack of proper and timely care.

I watched and saw a woman in real pain. Roseanne and her husband Dan worked together to overcome some of the invisible challenges of living with chronic pain. They installed an electric stair chair in Episode 3. I get this. When my husband and I chose our house, we chose one with no steps. I was still in a wheelchair at the time  and needed to get around the house without my husband’s help.

Roseanne couldn’t move to a new house due to financial challenges her TV family faced for over 20 years. She helped demonstrate how people in chronic pain must make adjustments to their living spaces to accommodate mobility.

Throughout her final season, Roseanne used a cane, went to physical therapy, and used mindfulness exercises. She even brought up that she didn’t have the money to have a procedure on her knee or to even see the doctor as often as she needed. I get that. The treatments that help me the most are not covered by my health insurance.

I have hosted personal fundraisers with family and friends to help raise the money I needed to get proper care. I’ve also had to make many appeals to my insurance company over the years. I had to find options that work for me, just as Roseanne has in both real life and as her character.

In one episode, she didn’t have enough pain pills and wondered if someone was stealing them. It turned out that Roseanne was hoarding them. She was not taking extra pills as a person with addiction would do. She was stockpiling them because she was not receiving adequate pain care and didn’t know when the pills would be cut off or how long she would need to make them last.

Two and a half million Americans live with opioid addiction, but we must never forget that 100 million will face chronic pain at some point in their lives and 30 million will need opioid pain medication. The vast majority will never abuse it.

Roseanne Barr and her show did a great job showing the limitations of our healthcare system and what happens as result of poor care. I was looking forward to next season and seeing what happened to Roseanne’s health and whether her treatment improved.

We need more media examples of what the challenges are in chronic pain and how to overcome them. I hope to see them addressed properly in future TV shows so that we change the lives of many Americans in need of better healthcare.  

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy 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.