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Dear ER Staff, Please Don't Label Me as Someone Seeking Out Medication


As someone living with chronic pain, I have been to the emergency room more times than I would like to admit. And every single time, I dread it. Not because of the medicines, or the long waits, or the cost. Don’t get me wrong, those suck, too. But, I dread it because I know what I will inevitably hear, and I am sure you have heard it, too.

“How long have you been dealing with chronic pain?” they say with a skeptical look in their eyes.

“Twelve years,” I reply. Looking down at my hands. I’m wringing my fingers together, on the verge of tears. At this point, I don’t know if the tears are from the excruciating and unrelenting pain in my head or because I know what the person at the desk is likely thinking.

“She looks awfully young and healthy to have chronic pain…”

They scan over my medication list that contains a dozen or more medications at any given time. They look at me again with either pity or suspicion. They ask me how often I take my pain medications. They comment on how high my doses may be or the sheer number of medications on my list. Then I see “the look.” They have labeled me as a medication seeking patient and from there on out, my experience is going to be full of professionals who doubt the realness of my pain. I will spend the remainder of my time giving explanations as to why my pain is real, valid, and me begging them to just give me some moments of relief from this terrible migraine.

Despite my physicians calling ahead to let the local emergency room know I am coming in, offering their pagers and after hour contact information, forwarding documentation on my diagnosis or medications, it always goes the same. My pain is minimized since it is labeled chronic and I am seen as someone looking for their next fix of pain medications. I know that emergency room staff and providers see their fair share of medication seeking patients. I volunteered at a very busy emergency room for over three years and encountered many. But, I ask that you please see me for what I am. A human who is struggling. Give me a chance before you leap to the conclusion that I just want medication. Chances are, I have tried all of my medications, multiple times, over multiple days and even weeks before I finally succumb to my pain and visit your emergency room. My medications have failed me, as has my body.

Please be kind. Understanding. Compassionate. Treat me as you would treat a dear friend or family member. I am only here to feel better, the same as most other patients you will encounter here.

Twelve years is a long time. A dozen medications is a lot. My health history is huge. I know how it may look upon first glance, but, in some instances, when you hear hooves, it is not horses – but, rather zebras. I know the few can ruin it for the many, and I ask that you think of that before you label me. Please, call my doctors. They offer their contact information so you can utilize their information on my health history. They have known my struggles and can help you to see me for what I am. A human who is struggling.

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