Chris has lived with chronic pain for around 10 years, after he slipped and fell on his forehead at his own 42nd birthday party. While he heard an alarmingly loud crunching noise when he fell, at the time he got up and walked away, surprisingly feeling fine. Sometime later he discovered that he’d actually cracked a vertebra and ruptured several discs; scans showed he was only 4mm from becoming a quadriplegic.
Six months after the accident he woke to find that both arms were numb, and his back was in agonising pain. Then followed months of tests and scans, until he eventually saw a Neurosurgeon who performed an anterior foraminotomy and discectomy. However, unfortunately there was still no improvement and Chris continued living in constant pain.
Chris went back to his Neurosurgeon who performed a second operation several months later – this time a posterior discectomy and fusion of C5-6 – again with no improvement.
When Chris returned once again to see the Neurosurgeon, he found that he had disappeared, and later discovered that he was in gaol for drug possession and other crimes. Chris also discovered that while the surgeon had been previously banned from working at the local public hospital due to drug use, he was still allowed to practice at the private hospital next door, where Chris had been a patient.
Chris found another Neurosurgeon who performed a third operation, this time to remove the plate and screws from the previous procedure. He then had to undergo a second discectomy, replacement, fusion plated/screwed and a cage for stability.
Four years and two car accidents later and Chris continues to live with chronic pain, which sometimes flares up in his neck, arms and hands, causing pins and needles and numbness. He has also had to undergo a total hip replacement and several other surgeries.
Moruya, where Chris now lives, has no pain services, and no specialist pain doctors who have been able to assist him. While he has a fantastic GP now, in the past he has been accused of being a ‘doctor shopper’ looking for pain medications, despite there being no evidence to support this.
Chris has been told by doctors to never return to the local hospital, after they labelled him a drug-seeker, and so Chris and his wife made the decision to never attend that hospital for any issue, even in an emergency. Chris has found that many health care professionals lack empathy, and he believes the entire medical system is flawed. Chris takes a medley of prescription painkillers including Targin and Oxynorm liquid, and is prescribed very large doses to accommodate for the chronic nature of his condition. Despite having paperwork to show his requirements, he has been routinely denied the drugs he needs.
Chris believes that if there was an appropriate local pain service, all his records would be available so that the local health care professionals would understand his situation and not accuse him of being a drug addict. He hopes to see an improvement in the treatment of patients with chronic pain, including more access to pain specialists and greater understanding of the experiences of those living with chronic pain.
“Other people just don’t understand what it’s like to live with chronic pain. They don’t see me when I haven’t slept for four nights straight because of the pain. They only see me when I’m feeling halfway decent so assume I’m always like that.”
“Going to hospital is a last resort for me. I’ve been accused of being a drug seeker too many times, even though they have my full history. I really hope we see an improvement in the way patients with chronic pain are treated. Having better access to pain specialists, and more awareness and understanding of what it’s like to live with chronic pain would really help.”
“Chronic pain doesn’t just impact me - my whole family has to live with the affects. It’s hard on all of us.”
Chris's story in his own words
I want to tell you a bit about me, and whilst its a bit detailed...I'll try and keep it short... It sort of reads like a Greek Tragedy...but there are some funny and sad moments that reads like something from a Stephen King novel...So I thought I’d "just Do it" as the phrase goes (Copyright Nike US Inc.-cant believe I HAD to put that in there!")
I had a fall about 10 years ago...I was 42...I had a 2x21st party...I slipped on some wet grass and landed on my forehead. I heard what sounded like I'd been to the Chiropractor 100 times all at once. I laid there for a minute or two...wiggled my toes...my fingers... "Ok...I'm good!" and got up and walked away. I actually felt better than I did for a while!
Some time later I would find out that on that fated night I cracked a vertebra, C6, and ruptured discs at C5, 6 & 7. The CT's and MRI's show I was 4mm from becoming a full Quadriplegic! About 6 months later I woke only to feel that both arms had gone to sleep...totally numb and it was as though I had burnt myself on my back. Following months of scans, I got into see a Neurosurgeon. He did an anterior foraminotomy and discectomy on C5-C6. 6 months later no change! Back to see the Neurosurgeon, Posterior Discectomy and Fusion of C5-6. 6 months later, back to see the Neuro again... This time he's unavailable! "But what do I do now?" I asked? I was told that I could see someone else and my current Neuro was having some "personal time"!
Little did I know that, and later that day after some further investigations, I found out that "personal time" meant he was in gaol for dealing and using Cocaine and leaving an overdosing prostitute to die in his apartment. Not only that, but also that this was not his first offence. He was an habitual user, and whilst being banned from practicing at a local public hospital near where I lived, he was allowed, under supervision, to practice in the Private hospital next door!
You can imagine my dismay?
I later found out that it was not uncommon to see the Surgeon turn up to the operating theatre with blood dribbling from his nose after being out on a 30hour bender the 2 days prior! That aside my pain persisted. I was struggling with 8/10 pain day and night.
My 3rd visit to the neurosurgeon saw me having to have the plate and screws removed. I had to undergo a 2nd posterior Discectomy, Replacement, fusion Plated/Screwed (6 screws now) and a cage for stability!
4 years & 2 car accidents later I have ongoing Chronic Pain. As a result of one of those car accidents my pain has flared up in my neck arms and hands where I have pins and needles and numbness 24x7. I also have had to have a Total Right Hip Replacement and more recently a Right Shoulder “fixed”. Actually had a repair to my Rotator cuff tendons that had full thickness tears and an acromioplasty of my clavicle.
I moved to the south coast, in Moruya, about 2 years ago, a lovely place to live, but no pain services and very few doctors that will either want to be involved with a basket case like me or who knows enough about chronic pain to want to be involved. Having said that, I have a great GP here and he treats me with the respect and empathy I need.
I have previously been labelled by past GP’s as a doctor shopper even though there is no evidence to suggest this. I am taking a cocktail of meds including Targin and Oxynorm liquid. I have been on huge doses. All those mentioned by Phillip Siddall at last years Chronic Pain Week I either take or have taken.
I have had 3 prior ketamine infusions and got great results to reduce my meds in total…but like Christmas its an ongoing process.
I now see Prof Sundaraj in Sydney and Prof. Jain in Canberra and they have looked after me very well as my Pain Management Sponsors...I see 1 GP and where ever I have lived that is what I do!
The real issue I have is when you have additional pain and have to go to the local hospital. I’ve been labled a drug seeker and "don't come back"!
Despite my not requesting or asking for pain meds. My wife and I are generally concerned about what’s going on… And I can medicate at home…
My wife and I have made a critical decision to not attend hospital in my area for any emergency issue as I have been made to feel like a drug addict and drug seeker…which I am not and if there were pain services available where information of my whole story was available and understood by some local doctors, including my local GP, then treatment may be different.