Being Told to Give Up
If you follow me on Twitter you’ve learned that I found a new pain management doctor. Not because my previous one was horrid (I know you can read a lot of horror stories on various blogs) but because our vision was going in different directions. So, I found a new doctor and he’s great. My first time seeing him where he evaluated me, he had this great idea for an intrathecal pump. Now, for of those of you who do not know what this is, it’s a pump that is implanted into the flesh of your belly and where the thin, catheter tubing goes up into your spinal cord and the medicine would go directly into your spine. This eliminates the medicine having to detour into the liver, and with the medicine going directly into your spine, it also allows them to give you much lower doses of medicines like morphine, to help with the pain. This all sounded pretty good to me, minus the pump implant and catheter tubing that has to go into the spine, but the theory behind it was great. Better meds and bypassing the liver. Cool. I scheduled a trial, where they deliver the pain medicine to the spine via spinal tap to see if it will help. But I had to be cleared by a few doctors, one of which was my neurologist who hit the brakes hard. So much so that I had a head-on collision with this great idea. He would not discuss it without actually seeing me so I made an appointment and sat down to talk about things.
It began with the fact I had a seizure in January, and because he is a neurologist he knows exactly what the intrathecal pump is and how they would do it and because we have no idea why I have these seizures (undefined seizure disorder), he is afraid that I might have a catastrophic seizure during the procedure and end up in bad shape in the hospital. Okay, I thought. Do I have to wait a few months to be seizure free? What if I wait and everything is fine and schedule it and have another seizure before the procedure date? I’m pretty sure he could see the questions racing in my head by the expression on my face and that is when he stopped me cold.
“I don’t think you should have it done at all. I think you have to accept you are going to be in some amount of pain, and possibly significant pain, for the rest of your life.”
Let me say that he’s been treating me for a long time. He can be abrasive and won’t shy away from telling you he’s an asshole, but he’s the farthest thing from an asshole. What he is, is honest but sometimes honesty is not something you want to hear as much as a version of honesty that offers some hope. There was no hope in his statement and I cried with the impact it made on me. There was nowhere to turn, nowhere to hide. All I could think was:
He gave me a lot of reasons. The seizures. The fact I’ve had several failed back procedures. The fact I’ve tried many things already, to help with the pain that has not improved my situation. Finally, what he feels is the biggest reason: I’m Bipolar. Why is this the biggest reason and why should it matter that I am bipolar or not? I didn’t understand even after he explained it until I began to research it. Me, the person with bipolar, had to research why her bipolar was the biggest reason to give up. Why was my mental illness the sudden obstacle between me and the Holy Grail of cures?
The theory is that there is a link between chronic pain and bipolar, one which worsens chronic pain and symptoms of bipolar over time. The idea is that psychological pain comes with depression and that depression worsens chronic pain. One big vicious cycle. In learning about bipolar you understand that physical pain is often an underlying symptom of anxiety or depression. For example: “Muscle aches, chest pain, gastrointestinal cramping and other types of pain can be symptoms of bipolar disorder. They can also coincide with bouts of extreme fatigue. Aside from the emotional trauma of depression, these symptoms can only add to the burden, especially since they may not go away with traditional pain treatment methods.” [https://blogs.psychcentral.com/bipolar-laid-bare/2016/09/bipolar-disorder-is-linked-to-chronic-pain/] As I read, I was kind of blown away. It suddenly hit me that maybe bipolar and chronic illness were a tandem unit in which the one (bipolar) made the other (chronic illness/pain) more difficult to treat and perhaps, vice-versa.
It’s been almost two weeks since that appointment and it feels like I’ve spent all of it ruminating on his dispiriting words. My mood has been terrible. I’ve been at turns, bitchy and emotional and picked a fight with my husband for no reason. When I apologized to him and we talked about it, I explained to him all of what I was thinking and blamed it on my bipolar. He shook his head and simply told me:
“You’re upset because he took away your hope.”
This shouldn’t have been such illumination to me but it was. While I understood everything that my doctor told me and everything the research, I had read concluded, does it give someone else, like a doctor, the right to single-handedly, extinguish the possibility of hope? Not for me, although I understand his intent and I don’t think it was maliciously done. The problem lies in the nature of chronic illness and chronic pain and how it affects the psyche of the individual suffering. It diminishes hope. The physical deterioration can be slow for some people, where things that we could do are slowly taken away one-by-one, while for other people it can feel as though you went to bed healthy and woke up in such debilitating pain that you can no longer walk, but the hope that ebbs away is real no matter which side of the spectrum you are on and I believe we need every shred of it.
I understand that this intrathecal pump may not be the best option for me. In my personal case, with seizures of an undefined origin, it may be too risky. I’ll even extend this understanding to the bipolar disorder, but only because I understand on an intellectual level that it may have a hand in my pain. However, as to what role it may play in this drama, among which all these comorbities of mine play? The jury is still out until I see some very thorough studies. I can see that on one hand it may unlock many mysteries pertaining to chronic pain and illness, but on the other I am afraid it may de-legitimize the pain and illness of many who suffer if we simply chalk it up to the by-products of mental illness. My final thought here, which was the purpose of this post to begin with, is that I don’t believe it is right for anyone to take away the hope of a chronic illness/pain patient. Hope is one of the few things we have left. It is sometimes the only thing that keeps us going. If you are a doctor out there, reading this, please, protect your patient from un-needed or dangerous surgeries, but do not take their hope away.