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The Problem With Getting Sick While Chronically Ill


Living with chronic illnesses has led me to diminish or ignore symptoms of acute conditions. This past week I plowed through work and life despite an unusually agonizing headache that further developed into neck pain. Medication did nothing for the pain. This is the most aggravating question people pose if I share I have a headache. “Why don’t your pain meds keep the headache under control?”

At work I took an OTC pain med with coffee and tried to stay at my desk. At home I rested and prayed. My husband clearly observed the problem and asked me to call my doctor.  My doctor is on vacation. I have learned that fill-in doctors are usually unwilling to prescribe any medication because they fear they are being hustled by a drug seeker. I guess it’s just too much trouble to update on another patient when the primary physician returns in a month.

Saturday I got up after a night of no sleep and agreed to get checked out after my husband persisted. The urgent clinic was not crowded. I was quickly triaged, placed in an exam room and told someone would see me shortly. As I thought about what might or might not happen, in came the nurse practitioner.

He listened to my symptoms, interrupting me to ask how long I have had nasal congestion. My ears were both infected, my throat red and swollen. The stabbing pain in my head was a symptom of sphenoid sinusitis infection. I got a Toradol injection and two prescriptions with advice to rest over the weekend.

I asked the NP why pain broke through my meds. He said the infection was worsening without treatment. The antibiotic will eradicate infection, and as infection leaves so too will inflammation and pain.

It seems so simple; I could have gone in sooner. But my chronic illnesses have complicated seeking health care. The doubt and disrespect and derision is harsh when people with chronic illnesses have one more symptom — but there’s also an opportunity for compassion, support and learning.

Getty image by Tero Vesalainen.