4 Infusions That Can Help Relieve Chronic Pain

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

I am so excited to finally be to my favorite letter – "I" -- in my series on alternative pain treatments. The “I” stands for infusions.

There are many different types of infusions, but the four I will cover are ketamine, immunoglobulins, lidocaine and stem cells. I have done 3 of the 4, and one of my good friends has done the fourth with great success. So I feel comfortable sharing what I know about infusions based on my personal health journey.

Ketamine

I was afraid of ketamine when I first heard about it. Ketamine was created in 1962, when it was first synthesized by scientist Calvin Stevens at the Parke Davis Laboratories. Ketamine is a potent anesthetic that blocks pain by acting as a N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist. It can also reset glia nerve cells in the spine and brain.

Ketamine is not appropriate for everyone. For me, I saw it as a chance to reverse the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) that I had been living with since 2002.  My excitement was great, along with my family’s. My regular treating doctors were not so optimistic about ketamine, but were not discouraging it either.

I began receiving ketamine infusions in 2009. They put me into remission and I continue with booster therapy as needed. I still have flares, but ketamine got me through the biggest challenges of living with RSD. Here is a video of me after my initial infusion treatments, which many find motivational.

1024px-Ketamine_10ml_bottle.jpg

Before I started getting ketamine infusions, they wanted me off opioids completely so that my nervous system would reboot better. Research showed that ketamine patients on opioids were not getting the same good results as people who stopped taking them. Since then, I have also learned that opioids also set off glia cells, which is not a good thing for nerve pain patients.

Immunoglobulins

Intravenous Immunoglobulin – known as IVIg --  is used to treat various autoimmune, infectious and idiopathic diseases. One of my best friends, who has multifocal motor neuropathy, uses it to stay functional.

I have not had IVIg yet, but if ketamine didn’t work for me, I would give it a try, insurance permitting. The cost per treatment is between $5,000 and $10,000, so for many it is not an option.

hospital-834157_960_720.jpg

If you have the cash, the FDA has approved IVIg for graft disease and idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). It is also used to treat patients with Kawasaki disease, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and polymyositis/dermatomyositis. I know a number of people who have used it for RSD.

One of the complaints I have heard from friends who use IVIg is that it takes time before your feel any benefits – sometimes days or weeks. If it is a viable treatment for you, there should be some changes in your symptoms and pain levels within 4 weeks.

However, some people do not respond to IVIg and it is very expensive to try just to see what happens. The cost is high because immunoglobulin products come from the pooled human plasma of a thousand or more blood donors, who have to go through an extraction process themselves before it can be processed and ready for use in infusions.

Stem Cells

Stem cell research could pave the way for an entirely new approach to chronic pain that reduces the current reliance on opioids and other analgesics.

I tried two rounds of stem cell infusions for gastroparesis, intestinal ischemia, heart valve dysfunction, cardiac ischemia, and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD).

The infusions reversed my gastrointestinal issues within 24 hours and my heart issues in 7 days, but it took longer for my TMJD to feel any relief. I did get some, just not as much as the other areas of my body. I also got improved function in my ovaries, with an increase in estrogen production I did not have before stem cell therapy.

The providers I worked with said it would take 6 to 8 rounds of stem cell infusions to help my nerve pain. I don’t have the money for that, so I stopped after two treatments.

Stem cell studies I have seen show great promise for multiple sclerosis patients, and I will be watching closely to see if it works for RSD and other neuro-autoimmune diseases. Stem cells could also be used as a tool to reverse opioid tolerance and opioid-induced hyperalgesia, two problematic side effects of opioid therapy.

operation-540598_960_720.jpg

Lidocaine

Although my providers told me that lidocaine infusions are practically pain free, I can tell you they are not. The lidocaine infusions I was given were in conjunction with my stem cell therapy. I felt everything and came away feeling that lidocaine was not a good option for me.

My step sister did have good results from her 7-day infusions of lidocaine, so it goes to show that you have to check to see what works best for you.

.jpg

Lidocaine is an amide anesthetic and has a wide range of mechanisms of action. Research has shown that lidocaine, when given in a low dose intravenous infusion, has successfully provided pain relief for several chronic pain conditions that have failed other treatment modalities. A recent study in Pain Medicine found that lidocaine provided pain relief to 41 percent of patients, most of whom had neuropathic pain. 

According to providers at Stanford University, the success of lidocaine infusion is dependent on the specific cause of your pain. Some patients report immediate and long lasting pain relief, while others say relief came slowly and only lasted while the medication is being infused. Some patients also report unpleasant side effects.

The only adverse reaction I had – besides the fact it didn’t work for me – is that the infusion itself was extremely painful. Physicians have no way of knowing how you’ll react until you try it. By the time I was begging for help during the infusion, it was too late.

PNN columnist Crystal Lindell has been getting lidocaine infusions and they’ve helped Crystal reduce her use of painkillers. A recent study in Pain Medicine found that lidocaine provided long-lasting pain relief in 41 percent of patients, most of whom had neuropathic pain. 

I would be glad to share more of my experiences with infusions for anyone who has questions from the patient perspective. I would also love to hear your stories about infusions and whether they worked for you. 

Barby Ingle.jpg

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 FoundationShe 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.

Why I Keep a Pain Journal

By Barby Ingle, Columnist  

In 2002, I was in what was thought to be a minor car accident. After months of getting worse, noticing new symptoms and doctors telling me it was all in my head, I set out to find answers that made sense for what was happening to me. 

Many of the medical tests that were performed did not show any problems. Even so, my symptoms were still bad and getting worse. I started physical therapy about a month after the accident, which was excruciating and seemed to make things worse.

Flash forward three years, and I found my way to a pain clinic here in Arizona. My doctor took the time to listen to my history and examine me.  The thought of being examined again by a new doctor was frightening. After an hour with me, the doctor said I might have Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a painful neurological condition. A test later confirmed I had RSD -- as all my signs and symptoms had pointed to for all that time. 

bigstock-computer.jpg

After finding so little information out there about RSD and having so many doctors try to treat me who did not know about it, I realized that I was the one who had to teach my caretakers.

Many doctors who are not connected with a research hospital or university do not have the time to stay up-to-date with the latest information on RSD and other chronic illnesses. RSD does not always respond to treatments that relieve other types of chronic pain. Even among RSD patients, there are different responses to treatment.

The condition affects many aspects of the patient's life in varying degrees. For me, the simple things are the toughest. Activities of daily living, personal grooming, and my social and personal life have all been affected. I was not prepared for a catastrophic injury and lost my professional life during the bad days of RSD. I have had to adjust my daily routine because of the difficulty of performing simple tasks. 

I also learned to participate in very limited leisure activities, as I had to find my tolerance levels and work within them. I used to be very athletic, and loved hiking, biking and dancing. I constantly worked out and trained my body. Now I have a limited exercise regimen.

Because of my pain, falls and blackouts, as well as medication side effects, I am no longer able to drive. I need assistance with shopping, cooking, remembering things and traveling. I am in constant need of assistance, which makes traveling, social activities, personal care and holidays more complicated.

I have difficulty sleeping, lack energy and experience stress in my daily life. All of these help the cycle of pain continue.

Over time, I have found that pre-planning for daily events, activities and trips is not something I should do out of convenience; it is something I have to do to be able to function at even a basic capacity.

When I started a daily journal, I found that prayer, having a low-stress lifestyle, and staying hopeful keeps me in a positive place mentally. It also helps me keep my records organized, allowing for better healthcare. I have learned not to sweat the small stuff, to let go of troubles from the past, and look for ways to better my future. With a good team around you, the same is possible for you.

Like most chronic pain conditions, RSD is an invisible disability, which makes it harder for people to “see” your pain. People often have misconceptions about people with disabilities, so I disclose my condition to anyone who will listen, to let them know that RSD exists, and that early detection and proper treatment are important for RSD patients to have any chance of remission.

The more people I educate, the better the chances will be that someone else with RSD will have it easier. I know what I live, I journal it and I want to help others. Maybe a journal will help you.

Barby Ingle.jpg

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 FoundationShe 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.

Living With an Invisible Monster

By Marcie Ann Dillard, Guest Columnist

I live with an invisible monster that consumes both body and mind. A monster that steals the ability of children, mothers, fathers and grandparents to sit, stand or walk. A monster that consumes finances, destroys friendships, marriages and families.

I say invisible monster because when I speak these three letters -- RSD --- which stand for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, I am faced with the blank stares of the ignorant.

What is such a thing I myself in 47 years of living had never heard of? How could I have not known of this monster that stalks me like a crouching lioness after a simple leg fracture?

She pounced suddenly and fiercely, feeling her teeth, her bite sink into my body, setting my flesh on fire in moments. Now in the grasp of a beast that respects no one, she sinks her claws deeper. Her death grip no one will ever escape.

Going from doctor to doctor, I can feel her but she goes unseen even after dozens of MRIs, CT scans and x-rays. The searing unseen pain forces me to look for freedom from what I now understand to be the most painful disease known to man.

bigstock-Business-person-afraid-of-a-bi-187536745.jpg

I begged for those sworn to help me to release me from her grasp, but ignorance -- mine and theirs -- gave her time to continue her devastation.

I marched through this life boldly; a mother, wife and business owner, never giving a thought to the day that would end. Then that day came. The only evidence often of her existence was the life stealing pain, and the integrity of my words lost among strangers.

The skeptical looks of the medical community as I once again describe the effect her grasp has on my body.

Through the tears of pain and hopelessness, the joy of living is veiled in agony. The blank stares of loved ones when I choose to be honest about what I daily experience. Self-confidence fades, the beat of the drum I confidently marched to become unclear, self-worth gone, as one by one the things that made me Marcie Ann become painfully impossible feats.

She never stops chewing my flesh, the nerve twitches and the muscle spasms a constant reminder that I remain helpless prey to a ruthless predator.

If I spoke these six letters -- CANCER -- I would be met with the sympathy of the community. Not to offend those who suffer from that monster or have suffered a loss to it, but perhaps someone would run a marathon in my honor or host a fundraiser to help me secure lifesaving treatment.

If I said it was a terminal illness there would be no misunderstanding of the impending outcome. But with chronic, progressive and incurable pain, the well of sympathy quickly dries.

Silent suffering.

In this lifetime, the lioness will never deliver her final blow and end my suffering .

image1.jpeg

Marcie Ann Dillard lives in Washington state. She was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy in 2012, two years after her symptoms began.

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 represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Learning How to Live with Chronic Pain

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

When I became so debilitated by chronic pain and doctors could not figure out what was going on, I could no longer hold my life together. It was a minor auto accident that triggered crazy symptoms that didn’t make sense to me or my doctors.

When the first symptoms of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) began, I thought I was being ridiculous. The pain was overwhelming. It took all of my attention and energy just to be able to focus. It felt a burning fire in my face, neck and shoulder, and my skin became discolored. I also started having balance issues and falling.

I remember at a practice I was working with a male cheerleader and we did a stunt. Everyone around us was yelling, “Coach, stand up straight. What are you doing?”

bigstock-Headache-migraine-people--Doc-79378753.jpg

I kept saying I was straight, but then I looked down. I didn’t even know how he was holding me up in the air. I was in the weirdest position; legs bent, leaning forward, arms not in the right place. Until I saw what my body was doing I had no idea what everyone was so upset about. 

I was coaching, heading to counseling appointments, chiropractors and neurologists, and sleeping in my office or wherever I could find a place to sleep. It wasn’t solid sleep. It was for 20 to 45 minutes at a time. I was overwhelmed physically and emotionally, not being able to coach like I wanted, but still trying not to let my team members down.

I wish I could go back and help them understand what I was going through. I wish I had let go of my job sooner so that they could have had a better year. I didn’t know that what I was dealing with was not going to be as easily overcome as endometriosis was. That was a struggle that made me believe everything was just a challenge that I could get past. Not this time. It was going to take years, financial strain, and learning new life skills. I just didn’t know it. 

I was no longer able to handle my dream job of coaching cheer and dance at a Division I-A university. My business started to crumble and eventually closed. My husband stopped supporting me emotionally and physically. I didn’t have the energy to take care of me and him any longer. One good thing that came from it was that after our separation he found God, and was baptized into the Catholic Church the next Easter.

The biggest reason our marriage fell apart was he had me feeling that it was all in my head, and tried to convince my family and our friends of the same. My psychologist and psychiatrist both told me he was wrong. What I had was situational depression and they assured me what I was going through was normal. They had faith in me and helped me get faith back in myself. 

We began marriage counseling before the accident because of our struggling relationship, but that was no longer an issue because the relationship was over. We were divorced within 3 months of filing for separation. Now I needed help getting my new life in order and to continue counseling, until I felt I had the life tools I needed to be the best me I could be.  

I rated the physical pain I had from the accident in the beginning as a level ten. I did not think I could take anything worse. But as each surgery or procedure was performed and the pain only worsened, I wanted sometimes to have that first pain back.

As our bodies get “used to the pain,” it sometimes gets easier to manage and deal with. With each additional trauma and spread of RSD, the pain I thought was unbearable becomes a livable level. But I wasn’t living.

“Reflex” is any process in your body that automatically goes haywire. “Sympathetic” is your sympathetic nervous system, which makes you feel like you are on fire and you can’t put it out. “Dystrophy” is the loss of muscle and bone, which left me in a wheelchair for many years.

As an athlete, it was difficult to understand how working out and pushing myself were making me worse, but it was. Pushing myself too far taught me that it can cause damage. I realized that doing this was creating further damage to my body and pain pathways. I learned that trying smarter is more important than trying harder.

Barby Ingle.jpg

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 FoundationShe 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.

Are You Still Hoping for a Cure?

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.

FDA Designates CRPS Drug as ‘Breakthrough Therapy’

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has designated an experimental drug as a potential breakthrough therapy for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a chronic and disabling neurological disease for which there is no cure or treatment.

Neridronic acid was discovered by Abiogen Pharma, an Italian drug maker, and is jointly being developed with Grünenthal, a German pharmaceutical company.

The Breakthrough Therapy designation by the FDA came after the companies reported the results of a Phase II clinical trial showing a significant reduction in pain and symptoms of CRPS with neridronic acid treatment. The drug has already received fast track and orphan drug designations from the FDA.

The agency considers a new drug as a breakthrough therapy if it is intended to treat a serious condition and if preliminary clinical evidence demonstrates substantial improvement over current treatments. There are no current FDA approved treatments for CRPS, which is also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).

"It is very encouraging to see that the FDA recognizes the urgent need for new treatments for patients with CRPS and has granted neridronic acid the status of a Breakthrough Therapy. This supports our efforts to develop an efficacious treatment option to these patients,” said Klaus-Dieter Langner, MD, Chief Scientific Officer of Grünenthal. “We are committed to working closely with the FDA to bring neridronic acid to patients with CRPS as fast as possible.”

In the Phase II study, neridronic acid or a placebo was administered intravenously to 464 patients with CRPS type 1, when the disease is in its early stages. The study ended in November.  

A previous study of 82 CRPS patients in Italy found that those who were treated with infusions of neridronic acid experienced significant and persistent reductions in pain.

Neridronic acid is currently being evaluated in a Phase III clinical trial. If successful, the drug could be the first FDA-approved treatment for CRPS, which is characterized by severe, burning pain that usually begins in the arms or legs after an injury or surgery. The pain often spreads throughout the body.

"Grünenthal is highly dedicated to improving the lives of patients with pain as well as rare diseases with limited treatment options. This is an area of high unmet medical need,” Gabriel Baertschi, CEO of the Grünenthal.

The company recently purchased Thar Pharmaceuticals, which is developing an oral form of zoledronic acid for the treatment of CRPS. That drug is also undergoing a Phase III study.

Neridronic acid is an investigational aminobisphosphonate. According to the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association (RSDSA), bisphosphonates have been used for years overseas to treat CRPS.

“We need options and if this can help patients and encourage other medications and treatment options to come onto the market for CRPS’ers, it’s a great thing,” said Barby Ingle, who suffers from CRPS/RSD and is President of the International Pain Foundation.

“We saw with fibromyalgia and Lyrica that once it (fibromyalgia) had a medication designated it gained more awareness and acceptance in society, leading to better access to care. The same could happen with a CRPS designation for a medication, leading to greater treatments and a cure in the future.”

Waiting for Santa in the ER

By Emily Ullrich, Columnist

Some of you may have noticed I’ve been silent for a while. I’ve been shirking my duties to the pain community because I am so fed up that it all seems futile.

I’ve been struggling with feelings of defeat and guilt at my unusual inability to muster the courage to continue. I have been deeply introspective and, for once, I’ve had no words for the profound emotional disenchantment that one experiences when they realize that most doctors really don’t care.

My mother tells the following story about me when I was a little girl, and it struck me that this feeling I have today is the same one I had when I realized there was no Santa Claus.

She says that I essentially disassembled the entire house of cards that kids are brought up believing in. She says I was lying in bed when I asked her if Santa was real. She attempted an explanation that Santa was the spirit of Christmas and that he wasn’t an actual person, but that his essence was within all of us. According to her, I went on to ask if there was an Easter bunny, a tooth fairy, or even a God.

A few years later, I left the sheltered life of Montessori school, where creativity was valued, analytical thinking promoted, and social interactions remained innocent. I entered public school in the midst of puberty. Despite my many futile attempts at preppy mall fashion, and rehearsed and repetitive social coolness, I could not blend in.

To my dismay, my quirky, outside-of-the-box thinking betrayed me daily. I became the weird, socially awkward, politically and culturally over-saturated smart girl, wearing the body of a 6-foot tall woman.  As a writer, these experiences have given me a unique lens through which to view life and are now the things I pride myself in.

As a chronically ill patient, I have been thrown right back into the post-traumatic stress of that time, my intellect and strong personality are not seen as behaviors of a good patient. I feel l have to be a fake to get the care that I need. I feel this sensation washing over me every time I have a doctor’s appointment, surgery, procedure or hospital stay.

I’ve written before about the inhumanity and cold, cruel treatment I have received more times than I care to remember. I am aware that there are doctors and nurses who do care and actually want to help, and I have been blessed more than a few times with having these amazing people as my caregivers.

But if I am truly honest, more often than not, these gems of humanity are not the ones we patients get.

I understand that they’re at work, doing a job, and they have to do more for us than the usual patient. Some are also jaded, uninformed, insensitive and, frankly, shouldn’t be in this line of work.

When a patient’s life, health, and attitude are psychologically and sometimes physically neglected, disrespected, and infused with negativity, it’s scarring. It plays over and over in your head. Although it’s really hard to control my temper and emotions in this situation, I do my best. It’s not natural for me. I am opinionated and strong-willed.

I’ve learned the hard way that when I act how I feel like acting, my care gets even worse. I always wonder what I could have or should have done differently to make the situation better.

I know that I am probably coming across as very negative, but there is one thing that I know about myself -- when I am at my worst, I am often at my best. What I mean is, I want to make others around me comfortable, and the more serious a situation is, the more I try to bring levity and positivity. I try to make people feel at ease, to laugh, and to know that I am grateful for their help. I make a point of being very polite to my caregivers, even when I’m frustrated with them, and I make a point to ask how their day is, even if they haven’t asked about mine. This leads me to my most recent hospital stay.

My Latest Trip to the ER

I went to the emergency room because my home healthcare nurse demanded it after noticing that my arm with a PICC catheter line was very red and inflamed. As usual, the ER doctor treated me like I was there for fun. Because waiting for 6 hours in a room full of sick people and being treated like crap is everybody's idea of a good time!

It turned out that I had pulmonary embolisms -- blood clots in my lungs -- a life-threatening condition which frequently causes stroke or heart attack. The doctor scolded me that I should "take this seriously," as though I got the clots from doing some sort of illicit behavior and was obviously careless about my health. I wonder if it ever occurred to him that maybe I was taking it seriously -- by going to the damned ER!

He then launched into a lecture about the evils of pain medications, and even alluded to the doctor’s oath to "first do no harm," insinuating that the doctor who prescribed my pain medicines (who happens to be the kindest, most compassionate and knowledgeable doctor I’ve ever had) was not helping me, but harming me.

He assessed all of this in two minutes of talking at me, not to me, and without any idea of the myriad health conditions I live with. Sick, and even sicker of dealing with this re-run of the C+ med student-come-doctor with a God complex, I mustered the energy to stand up for myself. I argued that this was probably not the best time for a discussion about changing or completely discontinuing my medications, seeing as I had pulmonary embolisms to worry about, and a pain doctor whose specialty it is to deal with that was not present.

God forbid, I had challenged his almighty ER doctor knowledge and here's where it got good.

He decided to un-diagnose my Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) -- an extremely painful and complicated condition I was finally diagnosed with after two years of surgery, doctors’ visits, and being told there was nothing wrong with me that a knee joint replacement and antidepressants wouldn’t fix.  

Then I spent three days in a hospital being run through a battery of tests and a whole team of doctors had agreed on my diagnosis of RSD.  It’s an illness that I take medications for, have physical therapy for, use a cane for, and which you can tell I have just by looking at my knee -- which he never did.

"You don't have RSD," he said. Based on what? Maybe the fact that I wasn't screaming and writhing in pain, as he thought I should be?  

"Did a neurologist diagnose you?" he asked. I explained that I spent days in the hospital having a battery of tests and a number of different specialists all agreed that I have RSD. Again, he asserted his disbelief, without ever looking at my knee!

Begrudgingly, he admitted me to the hospital, as though I intentionally manifested blood clots in my lungs just so I could hang out with his charming self. He also lectured me further about the gravity with which I should treat this situation.

I wonder since if he has ever thought about this interaction with me, and in any small way realized the hypocritical irony that his entire discussion was loaded with.  

I can't stop thinking about what happened. Or where Santa went to.

Emily Ullrich suffers from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, endometriosis,  Interstitial Cystitis, migraines, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, anxiety, insomnia, bursitis, depression, multiple chemical sensitivity, and chronic pancreatitis

Emily is a writer, artist, filmmaker, and has even been an occasional stand-up comedian. She now focuses on patient advocacy for the International Pain Foundation, as she is able.

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.