When Chronic Pain Masks Other Health Complications

September is Pain Awareness Month.

I’m no stranger to pain. I’ve lived with chronic pain most of my life. Chronic, relentless pain. Pain from my back, hips and ribs, thanks to scoliosis. Pain from my face and head thanks to trigeminal neuralgia. Pain in my head thanks to migraine. Pain in lots of places thanks to who knows what.

I accept it…it’s just part of my life. Part of my life, part of me. I’m used to it. I get up in the morning knowing it will be a painful day, but try to get a smile on my face and enjoy what I can in life.


Because I have pain all the time, I don’t go running off to the doctor every time something new hurts. I tend to presume the doctor would think, “Oh, here she comes again,” then dish out some sympathy and more painkillers.

But a few weeks ago, I did go to the doctor one day.

My back hurt. My front hurt. Everything kind of hurt. But, really, that was nothing unusual. I was feeling lightheaded, but I often have low blood pressure anyway. I was feeling generally unwell. Side effects from meds can do that, so again, nothing that unusual.

My husband was becoming worried (and probably frustrated) and eventually said, “OK, if I was feeling the way you feel, what would you tell me?”

So, about 45 minutes later, I was in the doctor’s office. I fully expected him to send me back home with a mark against my name as being a time waster.

However…he was very concerned about me. Concerned about my pain, but my blood pressure was desperately low and he wanted me admitted to hospital. He was actually so concerned that he didn’t want my husband to drive me there and arranged for an ambulance to take me.

A few hours and a few morphine injections later, I was diagnosed as having acute pancreatitis. An ultrasound scan revealed it was caused by gallstones and emergency surgery was scheduled for a few days later to have my gallbladder removed.

I was on an IV drip and was being monitored closely and I couldn’t really understand why. I felt like a fraud, taking up a hospital bed. I didn’t feel that ill…I just felt fairly normal. The high dependency nurse who was checking on me assured me I was not a fraud. They examine the amylase score in the blood to check the pancreas. A normal score is between 10 and 90. Mine was over 3,600. Then she explained the severity of pancreatitis. I stopped feeling like a fraud.

But I almost hadn’t gone to the doctor because I am just used to feeling like that at times.

I had my gallbladder removed by keyhole surgery. The surgeon told me my gallbladder was extremely large and badly scarred and said I must have been living with gallbladder pain for a long time.

Well, if I had, I hadn’t known about it. Perhaps I didn’t know the difference between my normal pain and gallbladder pain, or perhaps my meds had helped to cover it up.

I was sent home to recover the day after my operation. Two weeks later, I had an appointment with my GP. I was still in a lot of pain, but that was to be expected…I thought. But my GP was concerned that I was in a lot more pain than I should have been and arranged for me to be readmitted.

X-rays and an ultrasound were done. And all my organs were looking healthy.

So the pain?

I had a broken rib. I had been putting up with the pain thinking it was normal post-surgical pain. I have no idea how it had broken.

I’ve now recovered and am back to my “normal” pain. But I learned not to just simply accept all my pain. Sometimes there might be another reason for it.

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Thinkstock photo via kimberrywood.

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