By Rochelle Odell, Columnist
As a 25 year survivor of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS/RSD), I ask myself all the time if I have lost hope, become too cynical and if reality has finally hit home.
Yes to all three, unfortunately. And I don't like that.
For most chronic pain conditions, there is usually hope for a cure. But for some there is no hope at all -- people just have to learn to live with the outcome and hope there are doctors who know how to treat it accordingly.
When viewing the main CRPS/RSD websites and support groups, hope for a cure is a common thread. But in reality for me and others like me who have lived with this insidious monster for far too long, there truly is no hope. Medical treatment and modalities have changed little in the 25 years I have battled this disease and that concerns me.
Why haven't greater strides been made? Possibly because researchers and scientists just do not fully understand the human brain yet. Until there is a complete understanding of the mechanics of this disease and others like it, hope ends there.
I recently learned from a friend that her physician, a general practitioner, had little respect for anesthesiologists who treated post-surgical pain and how he felt a patient wasn't treated appropriately. So I looked into when pain management became its own medical specialty.
Pain management became the first sub-specialty of anesthesia in 1993, the same year that I was diagnosed with CRPS/RSD. Most pain management specialists are anesthesiologists, but neurologists and psychiatrists can also become board certified in pain management. The training is long and arduous, but they are among the highest paid in the medical profession.
When my treatment began, my first pain management physician was still learning and I was his all too cooperative guinea pig. I just wanted the CRPS/RSD pain in my left foot to go away. Would I go down that path again? Never.
My outcome may have been much better without all the “minimally invasive” procedures that were attempted. It started with epidural blocks and progressed from there. The more procedures that were done, the faster the CRPS/RSD spread and the worse the pain became.
I often wonder where the term “minimally invasive” began. Even though doctors may not go deeply into the body, just by going into our spine or brain for whatever reason, they are venturing into the very nerve fiber of every patient. That is not minimal.
I have read where researchers, scientists and even some pain management physicians now believe that all those minimally invasive procedures may in the end do more harm than good. Do I believe it? Absolutely! But that's just me -- although many long term CRPS/RSD patients will admit that it was wrong for them too. Most just do not go around talking about this other dark side of the pain.
There are times I want to scream at a patient: DON'T DO IT! EXPLORE ALL YOUR OPTIONS FIRST. AND ABOVE ALL EDUCATE YOURSELF!
But I don't, I temper my tongue.
Many of us don't believe our physicians as we are rushed through an appointment. We may be allotted only about 10-15 minutes. If you haven't written down your questions and concerns first, you soon realize you are sitting in the exam room with your mouth open as the doctor leaves, telling you to pick up your prescription at the front desk, schedule your next appointment or, worse yet, that they will be unable to treat you any longer.
This type of inadequate treatment, with your pain increasing and no end in sight, is where cynicism soon develops. It is also when reality hits you smack in the face and you start to question yourself. What in the hell am I doing here?
When clinical trials are started, they are aimed at a specific group of people, often in the early stages of a disease. There is often a large exclusion list, such as those of us who have had CRPS/RSD for many years. New treatments are not being investigated or developed for us, so the standard nerve blocks, injections, surgical procedures and implants are utilized. And now, because of the opioid crisis, more patients than ever are being dropped.
Treating a CRPS/RSD patient has so many variables. What works for one, doesn't work for the other, and what worked yesterday may not work the next day. Treating us has to be a nightmare for any physician.
I do have hope for patients who are newly diagnosed with CRPS/RSD, absolutely. But at this point in time, unless medical advances are developed, they soon will be walking down the same path so many of us long time pain patients or on, when hope is dashed, and cynicism and reality make a grand entrance.
I get tired of hearing the word “hope” as it has no meaning for me. Yet we are continually told to hope for a cure, to be brave, and to develop a positive attitude. Am I all doom and gloom? Not yet. I still smile and laugh.
But when alone in the dark, when reality hits me once again, I cry.
Rochelle Odell lives in California. She lives with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS/RSD).
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.