Like millions of others out there, you may find yourself making resolutions for the New Year. Research shows that almost half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and some of the most common choices, like losing weight or exercising, are health related goals. With all that has gone over the last year with regards to regulating painkillers, the election, and some of the uncertainties surrounding what will change in health care in the coming months, this might be a good time to re-think your pain management plan to make 2017 and beyond the most successful it can possibly be.
A new patient that I saw the other day got me thinking about how much things have changed in a short amount of time in the world of pain management. This particular gentleman had been injured on the job about 15 years ago and ended up with an extensive 4 level fusion in his neck. Over the last decade plus, he had been maintained on opioid painkillers, lost his career, and was on long-term disability. His life seemed to revolve around just getting through each day by relying on medications every few hours, but that all changed when doctors stopped prescribing his medications due to problems with compliance and misuse. Perhaps doctors would have overlooked his missteps a few years ago, but now he was having a hard time finding anyone willing to prescribe him opioids any longer even though he remained convinced that was what he needed the most to get through the day.
He had spent the last 15 years living in a traditional medical model where he was told that his neck pain was purely an anatomical one that could only go away with a robust surgical “fix,” and when that didn’t pan out, that he could drown out his pain with strong medications. Unfortunately, that didn’t really happen, either, and there were no avenues presented to prevent him from living the rest of his life isolated from friends and family and on disability. In other words, we can call this pain management strategy the “fix and cover,” meaning doctors first try to fix or cure the condition that they think is behind the pain, and then when the pain persists they do everything they can to cover up the pain with pharmaceuticals.
But we can now safely say that the “fix and cover” strategy for pain really doesn’t provide long-term success for most, and sadly, is the story behind many millions of poor treatment outcomes. Treating pain and the human condition is not like fixing a machine, as we are complex beings made up of many interacting physical and psychological pieces. Nor is it a squeaky wheel that can be silenced with a drop of oil. When we do a poor job helping somebody with chronic pain, the results can be calamitous, including loss of career, friends, family, and in some cases life itself. And when these same results multiply over and over again all across the nation, then we don’t just have a health care crisis on our hands, but also a large scale threat to the human spirit of a whole society.
Sadly, I believe there are virtually millions of stories out there similar to the plight of this gentleman, where lives are sold short by the “fix and cover” approach to pain treatment. I also know the results can be much better, with happier endings, because I see that happen, too.
To avoid falling into a similar rut, think about realigning your goals and the expectations that you may have from your medical care so you can get on a path toward success. What is your pain problem standing in the way of that you want to bring back into your life? At the end of the day, I think most of us facing a challenging medical problem would agree that a big part of what we want to achieve is a fulfilling life. What that means may vary from person to person, but I think we all strive for a sense of purpose and belonging. Think about your core values and how to get them back. Shifting your focus away from just the pain and medications and toward reaching important goals and values can start to open up doors that otherwise remain closed in a “fix and cover” world. As opposed to picking doctors or treatments that don’t see the big picture of what you want your life to look like, gravitate toward healers and therapies that can help you bring back meaning and vitality into your world again.
Let’s make 2017 the year we look past the pain and reach for what is most important and needed for a fulfilling life.
Originally published at medium.com