by Heather Grace IPJ Staff Writer
A few weeks ago, some friends and I were discussing how so many people we knew had a really rough time dealing with their chronic pain. Not just because pain sucks, and takes a lot out of you, both physically and emotionally. No, sadly, that’s not the worst part. We were discussing the awful, unspoken trauma we experience when loved ones—the people that we believed would be there for us no matter what, 100%—had left when we needed their support most. If you’ve walked down the dark and uncertain path into chronic pain, you know what I am talking about… People leave.
No matter how wonderful your friends and family are, they may not be there through the worst of your pain. If it just happened to people with chronic pain that would be bad enough. But, it almost doesn’t matter what the disease is. People with serious illnesses, no matter the diagnosis, often find themselves abandoned. Critically ill people are deserted by the same loved ones who they thought would always be by their side. The question we were discussing is why?
Why Do They Leave?
One of the people involved in the discussion was the husband and caregiver of a good friend of mine, who was bedridden due to the severity of her Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Though they didn’t have an easy time of it, and he admits he thought about leaving at times, he stayed by her side. She was one of the lucky ones. He marveled at how many people walk away, how they’re able to leave when someone is so sick, they might die.
“It’s as if those vows are forgotten,” I said. “I think it’s easy to say you will be there in good times and bad, in sickness and health, but do most people really mean that?”
“I don’t know. A good friend of ours dealt with cancer alone—her husband left. I’m not sure why,” John said. “Maybe it’s in our nature… you know, just like animals who carry on, leaving behind a member of the herd that is weak or sick for their own safety.”
I remembered reading about that, too. In the wild, animals instinctively desert those who are attracting predators. If one animal in the herd is dying, and the entire group was to slow down for that one animal, they’d all be in danger. So, they keep moving. Even domesticated animals have enough “wild” in them to follow their instincts about death. Cats are well-known to sneak off on their own when it’s their time, much to the dismay of their human family members.
Though it is common in the wild, not all animals turn on their kin or run off when they’re near death. Elephants have a very distinct death ritual. They remain by their ill family member’s side to the very end. Some wail sadly, running their trunks over the sick one, with tears streaming down their faces.
Could It Be Human Nature?
I had to consider whether John’s observation was, perhaps, an explanation for why this happens time and again. We weren’t wild animals obviously, but was all of this rooted in human nature? I wanted to believe we were at least as advanced as the elephants. Sure, I’d read the studies—seen how the data on attraction and how it’s wrapped up in our human evolution. I knew that what we find attractive is a complex mixture of biology, cultural norms and beliefs, our upbringing, and personal choice.
I could even buy that in some respects, we are no different than animals who unconsciously seek out a sound mate, in order to ensure the survival of the species. Let’s face it, even men that don’t wish to have children still find a woman most attractive when she is of child-bearing age and has a shapely figure, including ample breasts. Is it possible that somewhere in our nature, we are wired to leave the sick mate, and attempt to seek out a healthy one? That was where I drew the line, emotionally. I just couldn’t accept that human nature would drive anyone to leave their sick mate—to discard them in favor of a newer, less worn-out model.
My Own Experience…
Merely talking about the “why” of this phenomenon had opened a deep wound for me. I still mourn the loss of some of the people who left my side when my pain was worst, never to return. I’d lost so much then: first my job, then my house, then just about everything else. Because I’d been through the ringer as a young girl, I’d learned not to count on too many people. I was a survivor; strong enough to handle anything that came my way. I reveled in the knowledge that I worked hard enough and was resourceful enough, that I would always land on my feet. It was my unofficial motto–the thing I said to myself when times were tough and I was worried.
When it was clear I could no longer work, I crumpled in a heap of despair. The rug was pulled out from under me in a way I’d never imagined possible. If I couldn’t count on myself, what would I do? The unknown was dark and looming, growing by the minute, enveloping me a little more, each day. I tried to keep it together, but how do you do that, when you aren’t sure you will ever work again? When your support is dwindling even quicker than your money?
I’d lived with chronic pain for some time—then it became constant and severe, every minute, every day. By the time I developed intractable pain, my lack of support was excruciating. I felt like I’d happened upon a desert wasteland. There was no one left that I could truly rely on. The few friends I had left checked in on me by phone every month or so, but I became afraid to call them. Would they leave me, too?
I’m not going to pretend that being a friend to me at that time was the easiest request. I was asking the people I loved most to be there with me through a shit storm of emotions. Sad, scared, angry, anxious… running through every negative emotion you could think of, in rapid succession. Sure, it was hard. It sucked. But, dammit, I really needed a friend. There were so many times when I just wanted to be able to call someone on the phone, and know that one of them—just one—would care enough to pick up the phone and just be there for me. They didn’t need to solve anything, just listen & maybe say a kind word or two. I’d always been a good listener, was it really too much to ask someone to do that for me?
Is It “The Norm?”
I’m not sure how I found my way to a good doctor and the wonderful support I have now, but it must’ve been divine intervention. After I adjusted to life with RSD and Central Pain Syndrome, I found this whole world of people who had learned—the hard way—that people aren’t always there when the chips are down. It’s an all too common phenomenon; something nearly everyone with serious chronic pain has experienced. We almost expect it to happen to people with pain, once things get really tough.
Everyone I’d talked to about this issue had felt the same way I did; each thought they had unconditional love all around them. However, like me they had each lost several people close to them. And without fail, each of them sadly told me they had not gotten all of those loved ones back, if/when things got better. (Even when people returned, the relationship was typically forever changed. It’s not easy to mend a broken relationship when you know your loved one may once again leave if things are ever that difficult again.) Is this sort of abandonment the norm? It was tough for me to consider, probably because I’d had a rough road, personally.
Taking a step back from the worst of it, I’ve also wondered if it was somewhat of a chicken/egg problem. Did I pull away from them, or was I pushed? Was it a little of both? It’s hard to say, but having gone through so much alone, I now know: I could never do that to someone, no matter how many times they cried on my shoulder.
Chronically Ill Women Fare Worse
Looking at the loss of family due to chronic illness, the statistics are worst for women. Seattle oncologist Dr. Marc Chamberlain noticed an alarming pattern when comparing male and female patients with brain tumors. His male patients typically received the much-needed support from their wives, while a number of his female patients were going it alone, ending up separated or divorced soon after diagnosis.
He decided to do a formal study, working with four other physicians. They studied 515 patients who received diagnoses of brain tumors or Multiple Sclerosis from 2001-2006. The women were seven times as likely to become separated or divorced as the men, according to the study, published in the journal Cancer (November, 2009). Divorce was most common about six months after diagnosis, and people who were married longer seemed to fare better, overall.
While the causes of the divorces in this study are not known, Dr. Chamberlain speculated: “There clearly is an emotional attachment women have to spouse, family and home that in times of stress causes women to hunker down and deal with it, while men may want to flee,” he said.
Though chronically ill women fare worse, anyone who’s chronically ill can suffer the loss of their mate. Marriages of both men and women who are chronically ill are in jeopardy, according to a National Health Interview Survey. The divorce rate among the chronically ill is over 75%.
Why is it so hard for people to stay with someone they love in their time of need?
Yes, the marriage vows should mean something. But, we all realize that being sick is a huge loss to our partners, and that our illness changes the dynamics of the relationship. Being seriously ill impairs our ability to do the things we used to do as a couple. Feelings like guilt, anger and the accompanying miscommunication can further impact a relationship, making it rocky.
“When you lose your social and sexual partner as a result of a disability, it has a huge impact.” Dr. Sandra Weintraub, Director of an Alzheimer’s clinic at Northwestern University, said: “There’s a whole psychological layer. When you get married, it’s not to be somebody’s nurse, and suddenly you are somebody’s nurse.”
Financial problems only make the situation more difficult. When one of the household’s incomes is lost, the cost of healthcare rises, further increasing the tension at home.
The deck is stacked against us, but couples can and do survive chronic illness. What can you do to prevent the breakdown of your marriage or family? What sets couples who stay together apart from those who don’t? The key appears to be ongoing support for all involved.
In the book Families, Illness & Disability: An Integrative Treatment Model by John S. Rolland, M.D., the author, a psychiatrist, admits it was difficult to cope with his wife’s illness while simultaneously caring for his aging mother. “I became aware of how little my own professional discipline seemed to have to offer people in my family’s predicament.” He says, “Any family facing illness and disability should routinely be provided the opportunity for a family consultation around the time of the onset of the condition, as well as continued access to such services over the course of the disorder.
The research of Dr. Chamberlain and his associates can also shed some light on key areas of focus. His team feels that medical professionals who treat the chronically ill should consider including social workers and family therapists as part of a patient’s healthcare team, particularly for younger couples. They found that patients who lose spousal support after a cancer diagnosis are less likely to complete therapy or try new treatments. They also have higher rates of hospitalization and lower rates of hospice care, despite the fact that most people who are terminally ill prefer hospice care to hospitalization.
“It has an enormous impact,” Dr. Chamberlain said. “We know from other studies of patients with cancer that social support is so extremely important.”
Support is important for us all, no matter the diagnosis. If you don’t have the support you need from friends and family, please reach out to the diverse online community.
*NOTE: This article first appeared at ChronicBabe.com in 11/2011, thanks to Editrix Jenni Prokopy. Check out ChronicBabe.com… You’ll love it, just like I do!
About The Author
© 2011-2014 Intractable Pain Journal & Heather Grace. All rights reserved.
by Heather Grace IPJ Staff Writer
After reading information on the Affordable Care Act from (what I believe is) an unbiased source: http://www.businessinsider.com/what-will-change-with-obamacare-2013-10, I wasn’t put at ease. The article confirms what I’ve been hearing from patients and doctors alike. I fear for our future–I really do.
BIG ISSUES WITH THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT:
About The Author
© 2014 Intractable Pain Journal & Heather Grace. All rights reserved.
So I’m sitting here trying to remember myself
by Heather Grace, IPJ Staff Writer
I am appalled at the tactics being taken under the guise of “equality” by the U.N. And presumably, the U.S. Senate if this vote goes through on Tuesday. The U.N. Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or CRPD, is flat out *wrong.*
To require disabled infants to register immediately after birth (Article 18) and forcing disabled people to comply w/ mandatory monitoring (Article 33) is disgusting. Where in those requirements is there individuality *or* equal rights?! Last time I checked, this wasn’t Nazi Germany! What exactly is the U.N. attempting here?
As a disabled American, I am extremely offended–NO, OUTRAGED! Rounding people up to “protect” them will be next, right? Thanks but NO THANKS! I have done just fine without being labeled & monitored like a lab rat. The rights of disabled people have already been well established without branding us all with a scarlet “D.”
So I urge you, my Senator, to *PLEASE* VOTE NO! And, please also urge the entire Senate & U.N. to reconsider this dangerous ideology. CRPD is not about giving anyone equal footing, it’s about STEPPING ON THE LESS ABLE.
I say it again: *PLEASE* VOTE NO!
Thank you for your time & attention,
Californian since birth
Disabled since 1999
NOTE: The above letter was sent to senators as well as posted to my web site and on social media. I’m speaking up for all people with disabilities, without requiring any strange & underhanded things on the part of my fellow man. Imagine that! I hope the U.N. & our U.S. government will do the same. Rethink your actions and stop playing games with people’s lives! Neither the U.S.–or any country–need your hand in the lives of our disabled citizenry!
To my readers: The full text of the CRPD is online at http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml. Please read it for yourself. YOU MAY ALSO BORROW MY ENTIRE LETTER (OR EDIT/SEND PART OF IT) TO SEND TO YOUR SENATOR. Contact them online at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm. Or, call them via 202.224.3121. If you plan to do so, do it asap! The vote is tomorrow, December 4.
* Follow me on Twitter @IntractablePain
* See more articles at http://thepainstore.blogspot.com.
This is my first time responding to any type of blog, forum, etc. This story hit home (Surprise! We’re Chronic & Intractable Pain Patients NOT Addicts)!
You explained my life to a “T”. I can feel my body dying. I dont know where to get help. The harder I try to find a good doctor, the worse it looks. As I am writing this, tears are rolling down my face. The suffering is not only affecting me, but also my children and wonderful husband. I am crying also because there are so many of us.
Please if anyone knows how I can get help let me know. I am at the end…only enough strength left in me to try ONE more time to get help,and this is only because I love my husband and children too much to give up. I dont know what to do, and I am so frightened. — Shannon (Original Post here)
Getting Help While In Chronic Pain Crisis
Answered by Heather Grace
Shannon: First & foremost, I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through, and all you continue to go through. And, I’m so glad you took a chance & reached out! That tells me you know you deserve better than what you’ve been given. And somewhere inside you, I think you believe it is possible for things to turn around for you, too. Because *it is* – truly!
I can feel the pain & desperation in your message, because sadly, I know where you’ve been. Yes, it feels like a crushing nightmare that you cannot awake from…
Not only are you suffering physically–all the people who are supposed to help you are NOT doing so. Not doctors, perhaps not even some loved ones. Pain is a cruel, cruel illness–it is so misunderstood. The toll it takes on one’s health is serious enough. Add to that the torment of being judged, doubted and mistreated… It DOES feel like it’s more than anyone can or should be able to bear. And, for some, this suffering IS too much to take.
Intense pain caused by injury or illness does lead many to thoughts of suicide. It’s the lack of treatment when a person gets to that point that I believe pushes people over the edge. Pain KILLS.
I know, because I have been on that ledge, Shannon, right where you now stand. I tried twice to step off it. Twice a voice somewhere inside me said “NO! You can’t. It’s *not* over.” Like you, I told myself, ‘FINE. Just one more try. If this doesn’t help, I can still end my pain on my terms.’
And when I decided to try once more, a strange set of circumstances lead me to the perfect doctor *and* the perfect support system. Ironically, it was a stranger who helped me, too. He gave me the phone number of the doctor who saved his wife’s life. What a gift that was! And here I am.
As hard as it is to do, you have reached out your hand to ask for help. Don’t you see how perfect it is that you asked ME to help you find your way out of this darkness? I was you, Shannon, in 2007. Though it was just five years ago, I am now a completely different person.
I now see the power of what ONE PERSON can do. Pain Advocacy has become my life. I do what I can every day, hoping to repay the kindness that was shown to me when I needed it most. Your letter really touched me, and I want to give you all the help I can, so you can be well again.
Though you have every doubt in the world, though is the hardest fight you’ve ever faced… Even if you don’t see if yet, YOU ARE A SURVIVOR. You ARE strong enough, you CAN do this. I know from personal experience! It can and will get better for you with the right help. A doctor who “gets you” makes all the difference. I will help you find the right treatment to save your life.
Two things to get you started:
(1) All patients without effective care may benefit from the advice given in the article, Tips & Secrets: How to Find a Good Pain Management Doctor online at http://thepainstore.blogspot.com/2010/10/how-to-find-good-pain-doctor-tips.html. This is based on information I have used, myself–as well as tools I’ve used to help others.
(2) It becomes especially important to ensure physicians see that you are suffering with severely pain. How do you do this? Provide current and prospective physicians information on the OBJECTIVE signs of severe pain: http://pain-topics.org/pdf/Tennant-PainSigns.pdf. Medical professionals often refer to pain as the 5th vital sign, but how many actually look for it in their patients? So many doctors believe pain is a subjective complaint. In fact, there are many signs!
Going forward… Know that effective pain care does exist. And, I will help you find it.
All I ask of you, Shannon: Promise me you will trust me enough to hang on. Not just for your family, but because YOU deserve a chance at life again. To really live. You will get there! And one day, you will be so well, you may find yourself in my shoes… helping someone else to survive this terribly difficult disease.
If at any point you feel like you are in need of immediate attention, please call 9-1-1. There is also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. I sincerely hope you don’t get to this point, because I believe you want help as much as you truly deserve it. Hang in there, ok?
I’ve emailed you my contact info. Feel free to write back or contact me via Twitter @IntractablePain, anytime, as well.
Take care Shannon, and I’m so glad you reached out! I’m hoping to hear from you very soon. Hopefully today… I’m here for you.
Hugs, Heather G.
UPDATE December 2012: I am happy to report than Shannon is doing much better, under the care of a specialist who is working to resolve her intractable pain and related conditions. I’m so pleased–everyone deserves appropriate access to care for their chronic & intractable pain!
© 2012 Intractable Pain Journal & Heather Grace. All rights reserved.
by Heather Grace IPJ Staff Writer
While many people believe President John F. Kennedy struggled with chronic pain after World War II, the truth is much more complicated. JFK’s health was far worse than anyone knew, as he struggled throughout his life with serious invisible illness.
While an accident in 1944 worsened his condition, JFK’s struggles with pain actually began in childhood. The former president’s medical records were only released publicly a decade ago. And in 2009, they were analyzed by Dr. Lee Mandel. The conclusions presented a lifelong battle with a very serious illness. His autoimmune disease, Schmidt’s Syndrome, could’ve even prevented JFK from serving in office, had he not received effective treatment early on.
Schmidt’s Syndrome is complex illness, that encompasses Addison’s Disease (adrenal insufficiency caused by abnormal cortisol levels), thyroid disease, diabetes and/or failure of sex hormones. People with Schmidt’s have low immunity to communicable illnesses–they’re always getting catching colds and flus. In JFK’s era, this could be life-threatening.
JFK was sicker than most children, suffering many illnesses and seemingly unrelated symptoms from birth onward. These include near constant infections in infancy, scarlet fever, ongoing diarrhea/nausea, joint pain and fatigue. He was in and out of the hospital numerous times.
Throughout his military career, JFK suffered in silence. He wore a back brace to stabilize his degenerating spine and hid how sick he was. Though he wrote letters home to tell his family how he was really doing, Kennedy refused to go to the sick bay for help. Later in life, severe back pain caused President Kennedy to use crutches for years of his life, even while he was a Senator.
JFK had multiple surgeries on his back. The second operation was life-threatening, because his adrenal fatigue meant recovery would be much more difficult. Family members did not think it was safe to proceed. JFK’s resolve to be well and not live a lifetime in agony is what convinced him to go through with it.
In time, despite excellent care, the seriousness of his condition caused JFK to develop Central Pain Syndrome. This meant intense constant pain and severe nerve damage. Despite his charm and youth, on the inside President Kennedy had more health problems than many of his elder counterparts. Only when he met a physician who was able to manage his intractable pain was Kennedy able to truly thrive.
Before he was president, Kennedy’s care was revolutionized by specialist Dr. Jane Travell. Because her expert care managed his pain and autoimmune symptoms so effectively, JFK went on to lead the country without missing a single day due to illness. His pain management regimen included vitamins and minerals as well as prescriptions for pain, muscle relaxers and sleep.
To this day, similar regimens are used for intractable pain patients, so they can reclaim some semblance of a normal life. Though the pain and nerve symptoms never completely resolve for patients with intractable pain and/or Central Pain Syndrome, pain management means all the difference!
My story is very similar to JFK’s and while I don’t yet have a diagnosis for my autoimmune condition, I’m extremely fortunate to have effective pain care. If it was good enough for one of our most beloved presidents, surely it is appropriate for people living with severe constant pain today. Thanks JFK, for being revolutionary in more ways than the world knew in your day!
See the full story in Practical Pain Management, written by Forest Tennant, M.D.: http://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/pain/myofascial/autoimmune/john-f-kennedys-pain-story-autoimmune-disease-centralized-pain.
Heather Grace is an Intractable Pain Sufferer, Writer & Advocate. Her intractable pain went from chronic to constant due to medical neglect of a serious yet treatable spinal injury. She now lives with Central Pain Syndrome and underlying illnesses. She Co-Manages Intractable Pain Patients United, has been Technical Director/Guest Speaker at For Grace’s Annual Women in Pain Conference. She is also a Pain Ambassador for the U.S. Pain Foundation.
© 2012 Intractable Pain Journal & Heather Grace. All rights reserved.
By Heather Grace, IPJ Staff Writer
There are not many gluten free desserts that are easy to make at home and make my mouth water. This is a definite exception–a spectacularly sumptuous summertime treat… One of my favorite memories of grandma’s house growing up.
Never one to allow her grandchildren to eat junk food, my grandmother ensured every meal contained only the best ingredients. Even our desserts were that way–wholesome and good for you. Many days, our dessert consisted of fruit from the garden. Or homemade strawberry shortcake from the field nearby. But we knew we were in for a treat when we saw the peaches in the fruit bowl on the table!
Above: White peaches look less exciting, but taste so good!
Gluten Free Goodness: Grilled Peaches & Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
This quick, simple recipe has just a handful of ingredients–four that you probably have in your kitchen right now! It’s great for impromptu summer gatherings or for a bunch or hard-to-please kids. (Best of all, it’s also a healthy gluten-free dessert!)
4 tbsp brown sugar (or to taste)
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cinnamon
4 fresh peaches
vegetable oil (I prefer grapeseed or olive)
1/2 gallon vanilla bean ice cream
Cut peaches all the way around along seam, half them & remove pit. Brush cut side (where pit was) lightly with oil. Cook pit side down on low to medium flame on the grill, until fruit has grill marks. Usually 3 to 4 minutes.
Turn peaches over and move to indirect heat. Sprinkle half of the spice mixture evenly across all peach halves. Cook on low &/or indirect heat until sugar melts and fruit is tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Immediately remove from heat & sprinkle remaining spice mixture in the center of each peach-where the pit was. This will melt best & won’t slide off the hot fruit.
Serve in shallow bowls with a scoop each of vanilla bean ice cream. Top with extra sprinkle of cinnamon/nutmeg if you like. Or for variety, try drizzling on some chocolate sauce.
Serves 8, 1/2 peach each.
** Nectarines or pears are also great on the grill! **
Somehow dessert was always better when grandma made it. Even the peaches alone are delish. And with ice cream on top? Now that’s heavenly! Peaches are in season, so try this sweet summer treat today. Yum!
© 2010-2012 Intractable Pain Journal & Heather Grace. All rights reserved.