Despite growing up with chronic pain my entire life, I didn’t go to my first pain management clinic until around 2015. I was in college at the time and heading into one of many flares. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get going in, and was quite apprehensive to begin with. I was met with the doctor whose practice it was, and was under his care for a few months. Things went alright, managing to find a pain management route that worked for me. But of course, as Murphy’s law demands of the surrounding universe, my health insurance suddenly denied the medications I had been on that kept my pain in control.
As my pain began to spiral, so did my life and time management skills. I found myself about a half hour late to a pain management appointment one day; my usual doctor was tied up by that point, so they squeezed me in with the nurse practitioner. And since that day, for the past four years, I have seen this same nurse practitioner, who I shall lovingly refer to as Dr. C.
I have probably cried more in Dr. C’s examination room than any other office. I would cry out of helplessness in regards to the pain, cry out of fear that no one would believe me, and cry out of shame that I was needing to resort to such extreme pain management measures at a young age. While I tried to save a lot of these intense and deep emotions for therapy, there would always be a part of me craving the assurance that I’m not making up the pain. Yes, you read that right. Years of what I now understand to be medical neglect caused me to continuously question the reality of my own pain. Hearing the words from a medical professional that they believe me — or better yet, that they see and know the source of the pain — does wonders. Every time. And every appointment, Dr. C would assure me that the pain wasn’t in my head.
One time, upon examining my back muscles, I asked, “can you feel the muscle knots, though?” Even though a muscle spasm is fairly straight forward, I of course, would question myself.
“Feel them?” Dr C said. “Girl, I can feel them, I can see them…you definitely win for the day.” It doesn’t feel good to ‘win’ in the category of muscle spasms. But it feels great to have my pain seen.
My biggest fear is finding a doctor that refuses to prescribe me the current medication regiment that I am on. In the past, doctors have refused me such pain management under the guise of worrying about my age or my liver (despite lab results never turning into anything significant). The day I walked into Dr. C’s exam room and cried when she asked how I was, she vowed to work to get my life to a functioning level.
She didn’t throw me to physical therapy like every other doctor had, despite it having no actual quantifiable impact on my quality of life and day to day pain. And she didn’t, even more-so absurd, suggest I take up basketball like one of my pediatric rheumatology fellows. She was wholistic in her approach of encouraging physical activity, communication with other doctors, and something other doctors are afraid of: pain medicine.
And that pain medicine changed my life. It allowed me to work a full time job for the first time in my life, and graduate college, and go to graduate school, and actually enjoy my life.
Life before, with the unmanageable pain, was miserable. Life before, with doctors who didn’t care about my self-reported quality of life, was miserable. And I’m terrified to be back in that position. Because as we do know, compassionate doctors are scarce.
I don’t know what will happen when I switch health insurance policies and ultimately find a new provider. It may work out, and I may find another Dr. C. But it also might not. And I just have to sit in this space for a little bit.
So here’s to Dr. C. And to the next doctor: hope you’re not an asshole.