As a CCLS, I’m no stranger to pain. Chronic pain, acute pain, sudden pain – it’s all in a day’s work to help our little superheroes overcome their hospital visit. Lately, however, I have been on the other side of pain as a patient.
In August of 2016, I woke up one morning with dull neck pain. I hadn’t done anything particularly odd prior to this morning, so I just shrugged it off as “I must’ve slept weird”. Little did I know that my assumed diagnosis was wrong & that this wasn’t just going to go away after a few days.
I’ve tried everything to rid my neck pain; everything! Cortisone injections, 2 MRI’s, X-Rays, visited a spine specialist, acupuncture, acupuncture with electrotherapy, changed my pillows, changed my diet to be sugar-free, visited a holistic doctor, two rounds of physical therapy treatments, muscle relaxers, chiropractic adjustments, regular massages, regular yoga, regularly applying peppermint oil on my neck – everything. All of this and yet the neck pain stays with me every minute of every day. Some days are better than others, but I can’t remember the last time I was a zero on a pain scale.
The most frustrating part of what I like to call my “neck pain saga”, has been the lack of support I’ve felt from doctors; many of which writing off my neck pain as just stress related. I know that I’m not stressed, especially not enough to have chronic neck pain! But no matter how much I’ve told my doctor’s this, they insisted it was, just stress related. One doctor even told me to ” suck it up, everyone lives with pain and this is just part of getting older”. Needless to say, this entire journey with chronic pain has been draining, expensive, and in some way a learning experience.
This last year of pain has taught me a great amount and I truly feel that it’s made me a better CCLS. Here are some tips & tricks I’ve learned along the way:
- The freezy spray really works! When getting my Toradol/lidocaine injections into my neck the freezy spray really takes the sting out of the initial needle poke. However, the actual liquid medication going into the muscle is clearly felt.
- Deep breathing exercises have saved me. While getting injections, waiting for diagnostic results, having my neck manipulated, laying in an MRI, and even sitting in traffic feeling the burning neck pain; I wouldn’t have been able to get through it if I didn’t know how to breathe. Click here for more on deep breathing
- There are lots of apps that help you track your pain. My favorite has been Symple. Tracking my pain has helped me find patterns in my pain and really be mindful when assessing how I’m feeling. This can definitely be a helpful tool for teens when transitioning to adult care from pediatrics.
- Sometimes all I needed was someone to validate my pain – not tell me how to fix it. Having my pain be dismissed so frequently by doctors made me question how real my pain even was. Which is, of course, ridiculous because I’m the only person who can feel my pain and believe me: it’s real and always present. Now when my patients tell me that they are in pain I always, first and foremost, validate their pain.
- It is incredibly frustrating to be told that I am in pain because of something I have control over (i.e., “you have neck pain because you eat too much sugar”, “you have too much stress; you need to relax”, “your posture isn’t perfect”, “you stare at your phone too much”, “the pillow you use is too fluffy”, “the pillow you use is too flat”, “you’re seeing a chiropractor? you should see a spine specialist”, “you’re seeing a neurologist? you should go do acupuncture”, etc). Whenever addressing someone’s pain, be mindful of how you’re wording your kind advice/suggestions. I know it’s coming from a good place & I certainly appreciate the concern. However, the last thing a person in pain wants is to be kicked while they’re down by being told they’re doing it all wrong.
- Talking about my pain isn’t always comforting. Being asked on a daily basis by friends and family how my neck feels brought on more feelings of guilt and disappointment, rather than comfort in knowing others care about my health. Especially with chronic pain, whenever I’m asked how my neck is doing I know the other person wants to hear “I feel great! the pain is gone! Thank you for asking” but to say that would be a lie. Instead, I say the truth, that I am still in pain, which then leads to feelings of guilt on my part and disappointment on their part. Trust me, from personal experience and having witnessed my patients this last year, when the pain does get better the patient wants to tell the world!
As for my pain, luckily, by some random movie-like coincidences, I stumbled into a new clinic where I finally feel like I’m being taken care of. I’ve even been given an actual diagnosis; cervical kyphosis – not just stress related! I am still undergoing treatment at this clinic but I am very hopeful that this is where my neck pain will end.
Have you ever experienced the patient side of pain/healthcare? What are some things you were able to apply to your work with children afterward?