Pain in Canada and the need for a national pain strategy.

First off, I want to thank all of you for your support during this National Pain Awareness week! I’m thrilled to say that Brittany’s story – deservedly –  brought in the most traffic I’ve ever had on this blog! Go Brittany!

Now, back to the reason I’m blogging tonight. I know that I’ve posted some of the following facts from the Canadian Pain Coalition before but here they are again (just as they appear on the website) for my new followers and those of you who haven’t seen them. It gives some startling insight into just how many people are directly impacted by chronic pain in Canada alone.

Pain in Canada Fact Sheet

• Although we have the knowledge and technology, Canadians are left in pain after surgery, even in our top hospitals
• Only 30% of ordered medication is given, 50% of patients are left in moderate to severe pain after surgery and the situation is not improving (Watt-Watson, Stevens et al. 2004; Watt-Watson, Choiniere et al. 2010)
• Growing evidence has identified that many common surgical procedures cause persistent post-operative pain that becomes chronic (Kehlet, Jensen et al. 2006)
• Pain is the most common reason for seeking health care and as a presenting complaint accounts for up to 78% of visits to the emergency department, recent research continues to document high pain intensity and suboptimal pain management in a large multicenter emergency department network in Canada and the United States (Todd, Ducharme et al. 2007).
• Uncontrolled pain compromises immune function, promotes tumor growth and compromises healing with increased morbidity and mortality following surgery (Liebeskind 1991)
• One in five Canadians suffer from chronic pain, children are not spared and the prevalence increases with age (Moulin, Clark et al. 2002; Schopflocher, Jovey et al. 2010)
• Many cancer and HIV survivors have greater quantity of life but unfortunately a poor quality of life due to chronic pain conditions caused by the disease or the treatments that cause irreversible damage to nerves (Levy, Chwistek et al. 2008; Phillips, Cherry et al. 2010)
• Chronic pain is associated with the worst quality of life as compared with other chronic diseases such as chronic lung or heart disease (Schopflocher, Jovey et al. 2010).
• Chronic pain costs more than cancer, heart disease and HIV combined. Estimates place direct health care costs for Canada to be more than $6 billion per year and productivity costs related to job loss and sick days at $37 billion per year (Phillips and Schopflocher 2008; Schopflocher, Jovey et al. 2010)
• People living with pain have double the risk of suicide as compared with people without chronic pain (Tang and Crane 2006)
• A recent review of opioid (narcotic) related deaths in Ontario, identified the tragic fact that pain medication related deaths in Ontario are increasing and that most of the people who died had been seen by a physician within 9-11 days prior to death (emergency room visits and office visits respectively) and the final encounter with the physician involved a mental health or pain related diagnosis. In almost a quarter of the cases the coroner had determined that the manner of death was suicide (Dhalla, Mamdani et al. 2009)
• Veterinarians get 5 times more training in pain than people doctors and 3 times more training than nurses (Watt-Watson, McGillion et al. 2008)
• Pain research is grossly under-funded in Canada (Lynch, Schopflocher et al. 2009)

Here are a few things that you can do to help:
Find your member of parliament and write them about the significant public health issues chronic pain in Canada presents.
• Volunteer with the Canadian Pain Coalition, click here to learn more.
• Spread the word about chronic pain on social media.
• Hang informative posters in your local doctor’s offices and hospital lobbies.
• Ask for permission to operate an information booth at your local hospital.
• Contact your local paper about doing a story on chronic pain in Canada.

Call to action

We haven’t yet been successful in getting the federal government to implement a national pain strategy in Canada – the main reason behind the Canadian Pain Summit. But, with continued effort, hopefully we’ll be able to accomplish this in the near future. The pain strategy aims to improve and target 4 key areas in relation to chronic pain: awareness and education; increased access to best care practices; enhanced pain research capacity; and ongoing monitoring of delivery of care, patient experience, quality of life and level of function. 

Clearly, there are so many things that need to be addressed in order to improve the lives of those with chronic pain. It’s a very complex problem and it’s not going to just disappear with a few simple fixes by a few specific people – it’s so much bigger than that. But, I can say having met some of the members of the Canadian Pain Coalition as well as Sandy Smeenk of the ILC Foundation, that we are extremely lucky to have such dedicated, compassionate and hardworking people out there, fighting so tirelessly to make change. I can’t even begin to thank them for all that they have done and continue to do for not only me but all of us.

I never could have imagined just how much sending in that essay to the faces of pain writing contest would forever change my life. If I hadn’t done so I never would’ve met all of these incredible, life changing people.

The Canadian Pain Summit: Part II

This is part II of my Canadian pain summit experience. Click here for part I.

First thing’s first though, if you haven’t done so already, click this link to endorse a national pain strategy in Canada. Do it, do it, do it. You’re going to be hearing that a lot from me for the next while, and that’s because my future and the futures of many people I love are directly tied to the success of the pain strategy. So, dare I say it again, do it.

After I finished my speech at the summit I was immediately asked to do an on camera interview, and on the way was stopped every few steps by summit attendees, professionals, saying thank you, telling me I’d done well, giving me their business cards and asking me to contact them. I was asked by Warriors of Pain to possibly be a spokesperson for their foundation and was given an autographed book by another writer – a woman also suffering from chronic pain. I felt like a celebrity for a few moments! I was told by two separate delegates that my words were what decided their support for the pain strategy for them. If it sounds like I’m gloating, it’s because I am!

I was also honored to be able to meet Dr. Allen Finley a pediatric anesthesiologist who has worked for 20 years in pain research and management. Now here is the kind of doctor that Canada needs to have in every city, someone who knows and cares about his patient’s pain. He had also done a presentation about the prevalence of pain in pediatrics, after which he came up and asked me what I thought about the speech because I am the type of person he was speaking for and that my opinion was the most important one to him. His presentation really hit home for me, he even said at one point “the teenager in pain, who no one believes”, and I had been there. I had been told that it was in my head by my pediatrician, that I was making it up, trying to get out of school. He’s seen the same thing too many times. He’s an amazing health professional, if I had known him 5 years ago my story may have been quite different. His speech deeply affected my mom too. Especially during the points where he discussed the deep pain a parent experiences when their child is suffering and there’s nothing they can do to fix it. For me though, just having the relationship that I do with my mom and having her there for me the way she is, is more than I could hope for. And whether it cures the pain or not, it makes a huge difference in my life to have that constant support.

I met too many amazingly kind, supportive people to list here. People that will always hold a place in my heart, people who’ve walked the same long road of chronic pain that I have, people who work tirelessly to improve our lives. Not one person I encountered during the summit showed me anything less than pure kindness and compassion. Something, as someone living in the stigma of chronic pain, I don’t normally experience.

There was a running theme presented at the summit, one echoed by many of the presentations we saw: “Access to pain management without discrimination is a fundamental human right“. One doctor who spoke (who I also very much liked) suggested that failing to provide, or denying a patient in pain, proper pain management was equivalent to criminal negligence, and technically should be able to be tried in court. Now, that doesn’t mean we should start bringing our doctors to court whenever we have a bad experience with them, but it does provide vision of how wrong, how inhumane it is to deny someone who’s suffering a means of relief, when possible.

After the summit concluded me and mom gathered up enough energy to walk around the outside of the parliament buildings (just a block from our hotel). I had no idea how huge the buildings were, neither did I know how completely breathtaking they are. I wanted to just sit and stare at them for hours. The detail and the work that must have been put into them, not to mention the history behind them. I took pictures (which I’ll put up soon) but they’re nothing in comparison to the real thing.

As for later that night, I can’t even explain how much I was dreading the trip home. The amount of pain I was in during the trip to Ottawa was unbearable, but this time we had been going non stop for days beforehand, not to mention an extra 4 hours being added in layover time. But, thankfully my pain medications actually did their job better than usual, for once. The trip wasn’t even a fraction as hard as I thought it would be, and I was so excited to get back to the comforts of home. But I was also sad that I couldn’t bring all of the wonderful people I met back with me. I should also mention, I don’t like flying in planes nearly as much as I thought. The trip to Ottawa I spent a good deal of time thinking this was it, we were going to crash. The trip back I felt calmer, I think if I flew more often I’d get used to it. It just feels weird, that humans have the power to get in this huge machine and fly 35,000 feet above the ground. But I will say this, the views are incredible.

All in all the summit was incredible. I learned a lot, not only from other people but from myself as well. I learned that I can do things I never thought I could, and that there is great reward in pushing yourself beyond your boundaries. The summit gave me something I often never have, hope. Hope that maybe one day people across Canada in pain, myself and those I love included, will no longer feel stigmatized by it. Because, like one doctor at the summit said: “what a cruel thing to do to someone who’s already in pain”. I have hope that one day I may be able to lead a semi normal live, and receive the proper pain management. And lastly, hope that no other young person, no other person period, has to go through what I did, while trying to get help.

I’m extremely thankful to have been able to experience the things that I did during the summit. To be reminded that there are people out there who understand and who care. And that they’re working hard to improve our lives.

The Canadian Pain Summit: Part I

I know that I said I’d write about my experience at the pain summit in Ottawa yesterday but I lied. I ended up having a rough day and going to bed super early, so, here I am, and I’ll write about it now.

I’m splitting this post into two parts because I have a lot to say that’s important and I know that sometimes when a post is too long interest wanes. Click here for part II

First thing’s first though, if you haven’t done so already, click this link to endorse a national pain strategy in Canada. Do it, do it, do it. You’re going to be hearing that a lot from me for the next while, and that’s because my future and the futures of many people I love are directly tied to the success of the pain strategy. So, dare I say it again, do it.

For those of you who don’t know, the goal of the pain summit was to help invoke a national pain strategy in Canada. To learn more about what that is, and what it would achieve click this link. Having a national pain strategy in Canada is a huge deal. As someone living in pain everyday I can honestly say that I didn’t even know how big of a deal it truly was and how many people it would positively impact until I came out of the summit. It would mean far better access to proper pain management for all Canadians – babies, children, war veterans, the elderly, fathers, mothers, on and on – suffering with chronic pain (1 in 5, equaling approx 6 million). 

The travel to Ottawa was long and nearly unbearable. There was absolutely no room for any movement on the plane (especially for someone as tall as me), and I had to sit in pretty much one position from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. By the time we arrived in Ottawa my right hand was covered in self inflicted blisters – anything to distract myself from the horrible pain in my body and I was seriously wondering what I had gotten myself into. The way you think things will be, and the way they actually feel when you’re in pain, are entirely different. I had delusional visions of sitting through the entire pain summit, – the day after the long travel to Ottawa – and then walking 20 minutes to a museum, spending a couple of hours there, and walking 20 minutes back to our hotel. It’s safe to say that a couple of hours into the trip I began to realize how ridiculous that notion had been. Things are never as wonderful as you think they’ll be when you’re in pain – that’s just the way it is. I was missing home straight away and wishing I had never left in the first place, I was also having anxiety attacks about doing my speech in the morning (don’t worry this gets WAY better and I’m not being sarcastic). You just wish for the comforts of home and your own bed and not having any commitments – another luxury of living in pain (by the way I will be saying the P word a lot before I’m done this post).

Anyways, we (me and mom) briefly attended the welcome reception and got to meet some of the fantastic members of the Canadian Pain Coalition and Canadian Pain Society that I had been corresponding with via email the past few months, as well as some other wonderful people – some also living with chronic pain. Everyone was very understanding about us leaving so quickly to go back to our room, they knew what a long day we’d had and that we needed a break.

The morning of the summit I was a nervous wreck. When I walked into the ballroom and seen all of the people – delegates, doctors, scientists – that would be watching me and listening to my speech, I was literally ready to burst into tears, and quite angry at myself for getting myself into that situation. There were a few things keeping me from running away and quitting; first, I knew how important it was for me to tell my story, especially the bad parts of it, because people need to know what millions of Canadians are facing. Second, I wanted to force myself out of the box that I crawled into when the pain started. I’ve spent so much time there because it’s easier, that I’ve started to forget that there’s a big wide world out there, whether I’m in pain or not.

The presentations and speeches that I heard during the summit were phenomenal. They were also hard to listen to, only because of the fact that it’s like hearing your same sad story echoed by so many other people. The sheer similarities in story after story compared to my own were unbelievable. It was bittersweet – knowing that I’m far less alone than I often feel, while at the same time knowing that there’s so many others out there fighting the same hard battle. As for my own speech, the reaction I got was unbelievable, even at this moment I can’t quite wrap my mind around it. Because I was so nervous I sort of went on autopilot during my speech, when it was over I couldn’t even recall saying a huge chunk of it. But the first thing that I really registered was the fact that everyone in the room was standing – I received the first and only standing ovation of the entire summit. I was amazed, and so surprised and in the end so proud of myself, not only for the step I took for myself and other people suffering with chronic pain but for the fact that I proved to myself that I could do it, and that I could step so far out of my comfort zone.

I’ll post the rest of the summit’s events tomorrow. The best is yet to come! & pictures of the beautiful parliament buildings and our unbelievable hotel will be up as soon as I’ve had a chance to go through them.

Return From Ottawa: Important Request

Hi guys! I’m back from my trip to the Canadian Pain Summit in Ottawa. I’m exhausted but I will update tomorrow and let you know how it all went.

Right now what I’m asking is this: please, please, please click this link to endorse a national pain strategy in Canada. I can’t even begin to tell you how important this is. Do it for the four year old, dying of cancer who’s in too much pain to even let her mother comfort her during her last days, do it for the soldiers who fought for our country only to be injured and live needlessly and continuously in pain afterwards, do it for the infants, born prematurely and stuck with needles over 20 times within their first day of life, do it for the teenager who thinks the only way to end the suffering is to end his life. Do it for the 1 in 5 Canadians suffering with some form of chronic pain.

We need to get the word out there, we need to step up and make the difference in our country, for our people and hopefully, others will follow. This is so important.