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To Anyone Working in the Medical Field Who Comes Across a Chronic Pain Patient

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This is a letter to anyone who works in the medical field that comes across someone with chronic pain. 

I live in chronic, 24/7, 365 pain. I am not a drug addict. When I tell you that my pain is constant, I’m not saying that to be dramatic. I wake up in pain, exist in pain, go to bed in pain… I say exist because that is in fact all that I have been reduced to. Chronic pain has stolen so much from me in the past three years including my college education from my dream school, my job, relationships, my independence, some of my vision, my sanity, my happiness and so much more. I am not wearing these dark sunglasses indoors because I think it is fun. I know that when you come to check on me in the emergency room and I tell you my pain level is a 10, you may be skeptical because I am talking to people and sitting up, seemingly OK. That is not because I have a drug problem or just want your attention. If I have made the choice to make the trip to the emergency department, it is because I have battled this as far as I can on my own and have been unsuccessful in getting it under control.

But when I come to the one place that I think may be able to help me, I’m generally greeted with condescending looks and disbelief. That Toradol you just ordered that I say does nothing for me? I’m not joking. I’ve given that my best shot before seeing you and when you look at me with that glare in your eye that just “knows” I’m only there for the strong drugs and tell me, “Well, it won’t hurt anything so we’re going to try it anyway” in a tone that can only be described as horribly judgmental, you make that feeling in the pit of my stomach that says “No one can help you and you will never escape this” even more sickening. 

I took my last emergency room trip because I lost a lot of my vision and was losing more each day. It was accompanied by my ever-present headache and the feeling of knives stabbing the backs of my eyes. I was sent to the observation floor where I was to wait to run some tests the following morning. I asked for some pain medication after being awake for over 30 hours (the pain does not invite sleep). Once I waited until shift change was over so as to not stress the nursing staff, I asked for some pain medication. My nurse, who had already pigeonholed me into the drug seeker category (per a conversation I overheard from the nurses station), said she would ask the doctor but that the only thing they had ordered for me was Tylenol. Two hours later I asked again if she had spoken with the doctor. She hadn’t and there were still no meds ordered. Another two hours later, after asking a different nurse, I was given Toradol, which has absolutely no effect on the pain for me.

I was told that the MRI and angiogram came back completely normal yet again, and my mom and I couldn’t help but just sit there and sob. We had been praying for anything to be wrong so that I could maybe finally have a reason for the years I’ve spent clawing my way to the end of every day. Every doctor that spoke to me to me told me to “be thankful it isn’t worse” or something to that effect. Let me tell you, when you are trapped in a body that is only 23 but you have the limitations of someone much older but no reason, no treatment plan, no doctor that is even interested in attempting to treat you, and no sign of it ever ending, there are few things that feel worse. It feels like I have been trapped in this body with a life sentence of constant, slow torture.  

I take advantage of the days when I am able to function somewhat normally, but those days are not without pain nor payment. If I use too much energy one day, the next day my body is sure to let me know. I don’t sleep well anymore and sometimes I don’t sleep at all. I don’t make plans with people often because I usually have to cancel, not that I have many friends left anyway. I will be forever grateful for the one friend in my life who is so patient and understanding. Those people are few and far between. There are many days, though, that the best I can do is draw the curtains and sit in a dark room with Netflix for company. 

So to the nurse who treated me like a drug seeker, I know it is hard to grasp that someone could live like this with no explanation and it actually be a real thing. It’s hard for me to understand, too. I know you come across some people who really are just coming to see you to abuse drugs. But before you become calloused and cold, maybe try putting yourself in my shoes for a moment and think about the position you are in. I don’t know what your life looks like at the end of your shift, but I do know that you still have the ability to hold a job. Me? I’ll still be stuck here. Stuck in this body that betrays me every single day of my life. Stuck in pain. Stuck in the same part of my life because I no longer have the ability to move forward. And thanks to you, I’ll be stuck feeling like I have nowhere to turn for help and stuck feeling so alone I think I might actually implode on myself.

I hate the fact that I am afraid to be honest about how I’m feeling to the medical professionals that should be treating me because I know I will promptly be stuck in the “drug seeker” box. And you are to blame for that. The people who come in abusing drugs are to blame. This broken word is to blame. The patient lying in that uncomfortable bed with the blindfold on because the light is too painful to bear who has already spent hours or even days putting off this visit trying to deal with it on her own? That is the person who will end up taking the fall for it.

So yes, I guess I am coming to see you for the morphine. I’ve run out of alternatives. That doesn’t mean that what I feel isn’t real and it doesn’t give you an excuse to dismiss me. That does not mean that I am an addict, but when I am refused help from the one place that should be a safe place to ask for it, I do start to sympathize with the pain patient that ends up addicted to heroin. This is an incredibly lonely road and support is not freely given. 

I am not weak. I am not being dramatic. I am not here for the attention. I am not here because it’s a fun activity. I am quite possibly one of the strongest people you have ever met. But I am here for help. And yes, I’m here for the morphine. 

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 13, 2016
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