At first, I had been off of work for awhile and on SSDI for PTSD and CKDII. This was after years of living with abuse, domestic violence and more abuse. I got the help that I needed and was going to try and return back to my job in the Fall of 2002. A man ran through a red light one August day in 2002 which changed all of my plans, hopes and dreams. At first I lived with Chronic Intractable Pain s/p the M.V.A. I suffered multiple injuries. Some of these included: a TBI with 3 years of brain injury rehabilitation (and whiplash), multiple herniated/bulging discs, nerve hearing loss, balance/vision loss/issues, a ruptured biceps tendon, 2 torn meniscus’ along with ankle and wrist injuries. I had 4 CT Arthrograms, which are grueling and painful tests rarely used today. They aren’t often done now because all of the new technology and MRI machines. But I had a pacemaker placed 3 months after the accident and can’t have anymore MRI’s (luckily I had the brain, neck, spine & shoulder ones done right away after the MVA). I endured 8 surgeries with 2 titanium screws in my left shoulder, and I’m on my 2nd pacemaker. In 2007, following right foot surgery, I was diagnosed with RSD/CRPS in my right foot. Later in 2013, I was diagnosed with “severe systemic/full body RSD/CRPS disseminated” with Lymphedema in my left arm, chest, breast. This occurred after what was supposed to be a simple pacemaker replacement surgery. Instead, when the Neuro-Cardiologist surgeon got inside of my chest, he found that my pectoral muscle had a hole worn right through it from the first pacemaker placement. What was supposed to be an easy 45 minute procedure turned out to be a major reconstruction of my entire pectoral muscle and more.
Pain has affected my life tremendously because I had been a full-time working single mother with two daughters for 9 years. I was an Interpreter for the Deaf at a major University hospital and for several school systems magnet hearing impaired programs. I had gone to College for Sign Language Studies/Interpreting and had received honors. Finally I found my soul-mate, fell in love and re-married. We had only been married 5 years when the car accident occurred, which changed my life forever. We used to win medals in “racewalking” together. For several years I had been an Aerobics instructor. At my daughters school and other elementary schools I volunteered by teaching children about Deaf culture and American Sign Language. For four years I taught Sign language class to the 4th and 5th grade children at my daughters’ school. The kids learned several songs in Sign Language and we finished off the end of the year by performing them for the whole school and the parents. Lastly, I volunteered to chaperone whenever possible and I was the jump rope team coach for several years. Receiving the honor of the “VIP” (*Volunteer In Public Schools) award from our school systems’ Superintendent was an awesome feeling. The award was given to me because of my work with the children and for volunteering my time to Interpret for Deaf parents with hearing students during IEP’s and Parent/teacher conferences. I was thrilled to be honored in our town Newspaper!
In seeking treatments, I was in brain injury rehab for 3 years outpatient and had found a pain management physician. He started out with the usual Epidural nerve blocks, trigger point injections, Pain Psychologist with biofeedback and 8 years of PT and OT. Multiple specialists were visited and it was a different one for each injury. I’d gone to at least 5 different shoulder Orthopedic Dr’s and none of them helped me. It was always more grueling Physical therapy and more pain. One of them even said to me “What part of I can’t fix your shoulder, don’t you understand? Is it the brain injury?” Feeling devastated, embarrassed and defeated at that moment, my driver took me home. (*I had a driving company take me to most of my appointments for several years because my husband couldn’t get the time off needed for everything). I had several experiences with physicians, that were just appalling. One G.I. Dr., said to my husband “Wow, you got way more than you bargained for, marrying this one, and you even stayed?” A knee Dr. told me that “everyone my age has a torn meniscus”. I think I could write a book just on terrible experiences I’ve had with physicians. But you know what? I didn’t give up! I continued to go to 5 different shoulder physicians, until finally one touched my arm in such a way that I screamed instantly. He knew then that my biceps tendon had ruptured a whole year prior! He said it had ruptured and then during all of that year while I was visiting shoulder Dr. after shoulder Dr.; the tendon had been trying to repair itself by reattaching wrongly to the bone. I had to have open shoulder surgery to detach that tendon from the bone and then reattach it with 2 titanium screws.
I feel that part of the barrier to my getting the care that I needed was that I “looked fine”. I suppose that because I tried to brush my hair, put on a bit of makeup and wear clean clothes, that meant that I was “fine”. Though I was prescribed per the PMR physician: 2 AFO’s (ankle/foot Orthotic braces for foot drop), knee braces, a shoulder brace, a wheelchair, motorized scooter, a walker, forearm crutches and a cane; I supposed I still “looked fine”!?? Along with the fact that I’d been prescribed prisms for my glasses (which I’d not worn prior to the MVA) and 2 hearing aids for the moderate hearing loss. My husband and friends, or for that matter anyone who knew me could see that I was in horrible pain. It seemed that many of the Dr.’s were oblivious. Luckily, my GP of many years, the PMR brain injury specialist and the pain management physician knew, understood and helped me and that is what mattered most at the time. I even had one person put a nasty note on my car windshield when I went into the grocery store. I had put the HC placard on my rear view mirror and put my cane into a nearby cart. I went into the store for just something small and came back out to a note that I’ll never forget. It was written on a napkin with purple ink and it said “You don’t look Handicapped or sick. It must be a MENTAL thing! I hope you become handicapped for the rest of your life so you know what it is like to really need this spot to park your car”! I was in shock and devastated. I cried all the way home. Then after composing myself, I wrote a letter to the editor of my town and told him all about my experience. I was hoping to help others to know they weren’t alone. I was also hoping that the person who wrote the note, maybe lived in this town and hopefully saw my “letter to the editor” and maybe they would feel some remorse?
I had a pain management Dr. and after doing all that he asked, he wanted to give me a spinal pain pump. I was not a candidate because I have an immune disease called “CID” or Combined Immune Deficiency Disease. He said since I was going to be given only medications, that he wouldn’t see me anymore because “he is looked at under a microscope by the government”. Therefore he turned my pain care over to my GP and told me that the Dr. could call him any time with a consult or questions. The GP did not know what to do with me and gave me a higher dose of pain medicine after pain medicine, which most made me ill. Finally we found something that worked and helped the pain. I was on 2 medications from 2005 thru 2015. Then in January of that year I got a letter from our insurance company stating that they “would not pay for the pain meds anymore after March 11th, unless a certified pain management Dr. agreed with the regimen I was on.” I thought that would be easy, I would just visit my old pain management Dr. and all would be fine. That was not to happen! I went to my GP for my next visit to discuss this letter and what we would do, only to find out it was his last day! I spent the majority of the appointment crying. He promised me that he would speak to that pain Dr. I’d gone to before and send him all of my updated records. He also told me that he would personally speak to that Dr.! We went to the pain specialist that had been my prior pain specialist. I had always been a good, compliant patient. I did everything asked of me. I fought taking pain medications but was told that “it was OK” and to “trust him”. I even had a letter from his own pain Psychologist, stating that I do not have an “addictive personality”. Well, I was astonished to find that he turned me away and told me to “go to a treatment center”! I fell apart and started to cry! Then he told me that my GP had been “investigated by the feds and he was sent to work at an urgent care where he cannot write prescriptions for pain meds any longer”. Then he proceeded to tell my husband and me that “he didn’t want to be any part of that Dr’s MESS”. He told me he would not see me again. I begged him and told him I was a strong person. I reminded him about the letter from his own pain psych. Dr.! I reminded him that I’ve never smoked a cigarette, never drank nor have I ever done any drugs in my whole life! He told me to leave and come and see him “only after I visit and go to a treatment center”. What is wrong with this picture? The problem is that this man is supposed to be a legitimate pain physician. He should know the difference between “dependent” and “addicted”. I don’t get a “high” from my medicine, in fact I despise taking it. I don’t think about it or crave it. If I had a choice, I would never want to take it again!
I never went back to that Dr.! Needless to say, I never went to the treatment center. I didn’t want that following me around in my medical records for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to be taken less seriously than I had been already, because I “look fine”. I went to about 4 or 5 different pain specialist’s who all looked at me dumbfounded or made rude comments to my husband and/or me! Some of them just stood by the door waiting for me to be done with my “story”, so they could say “Ok, well I’ll see you in 6 months”! A few of them said that I was “just too complicated” or had “too many pain issues to deal with”. Finally, I saw one Dr. that was kind, good and respectful towards me. That’s all it takes, folks! It only takes one kind Dr. to listen to you, believe in you and then you believe in him/her. He told me that I had to get off the medications that the other GP had me taking for 9 years. He gave me a different medicine and he told me that hopefully my brain would “be tricked” by the other pain medicine and the withdrawals wouldn’t be too bad. Even though I’d had seizures following the TBI, a heart attack and a CVA already; I wanted to do this at home with my husband’s love and help. I was told to take my last of the old meds on July 12, 2015 and start the new one. I was deathly ill for about 6 weeks. The first 3 weeks were the worst. It felt as though I had the worst flu in my entire life, on top of the flaring of the RSD/CRPS pain and other pain. Finally, I had done it! I had a few blood pressure spikes that were scary and we got some medication to help with that. I earned the respect of the new pain Dr. and I felt some sort of self strength from being able to do it all by myself, for the most part. Today, over a year has gone by and I don’t think about that other medication and I don’t want it. I never want it again actually. If someone offered it to me today, I would say “NO”! My quality of life has gone down a bit. I’m in my chair for most of the days, with about 4 “good hours” per day. But I still prefer this pain medicine regimen that I’m taking now! It works for me and it’s still pain medication but its more than half of what I’d been taking and I feel like my pain is semi-controlled as long as I don’t do too much for too long.
As far as distractions, that is what I want to talk about. There are so many good things that we can do to distract ourselves if we only give several things a chance. I started volunteering as a “chemo-angel”, a “card-angel”, “special assignment angel” and “prayer angel” for the “Chemo-Angels” program. What this essentially means is that I get assigned a “buddy”, someone compatible that I would work well with. It’s usually a child, because I love children and I’m a mom of 2 and grandmother of 3! The child is going through chemo therapy and I send them weekly letters, small gifts that are mail-able and cards. When I get assigned children, I use my kitty cat “Angel Kitty Luna” as the writer of the letters. The kids love to hear about Luna running through the house catching spiders in the basement or playing with her “baby” (her 1st toy). They end up loving my Luna so much, that I made her a Facebook “page” and many come to “visit” her there. There they can see videos of her and see that she is real. It’s good and therapeutic for me and it’s very good for the children or adults that I am assigned to be buddies with. I cannot say enough good about distractions. You are helping yourself when you help someone else. As far as the chemo-angel program, I’m never allowed to say a negative word in my letters and nothing about myself, unless its a fun story or something cheerful. I also took my love of Sign Language and changed it from Interpreting which I can no longer do, into signing songs that are uplifting and fun and posting them to You Tube (*@ASLSuzyQ), which I can do. It makes me hurt more sometimes and I must learn the lyrics first. It’s really very difficult for me but it’s a challenge too. You see, with the TBI it’s very hard to memorize and nearly impossible. With my pain levels, and lack of “range of motion”, it’s nearly impossible to actually DO the sign language. I go over and over and learn a song (because it’s very hard to hear words with music when you need 2 hearing aids). I sing it and learn it until it’s “2nd nature”. Then I videotape myself doing ASL covers of fun, meaningful and cheerful songs. I post them to You Tube and then send them to my few Twitter accounts, my 3 support groups on Facebook which I founded myself and admin. by myself (though the one group is pretty large and I have 2 helpers for that group). I also send them when appropriate, to my Facebook “Pages” which I started in order to help with different aspects of Advocacy and to cheer people up. Another one of my favorite “distractions” from my pain, is my blog and writing. I took journalism in College and I always wrote for my school newspapers. I even founded a newspaper at the University of Michigan hospital, where I worked before I got sick. I love writing and my blog called “Tears of Truth” ( @suzydukettes.wordpress.com), has become more recognized and noticed. It started out as a place for me to write about the abuse and an outlet for me, before I had physical pain to deal with. It has progressed and evolved into a place where I write everything from funny stories to informative articles and my opinions regarding them. “Tears of Truth” is also a place where I can have my own “soapbox” about certain issues that I want to challenge. I even have ways to cope and what to do when you are in a situation with a Narcissists! I write during the holidays about how to cope with pain, people and pumpkin pie! I used my bad experiences and my good ones to help others. I even wrote about the day that someone in Wal-mart stopped me in a public store and wanted to “pray over me because I needed a cane and therefore had demons inside of me”! Now, don’t get me wrong, I love God and I’m a Christian! But I don’t appreciate being told that I am in pain because I’m a “bad person”! I try to write about these and other experiences. I find ways to help others should they come across something like that. I just love writing, music and ASL and I use all of that to help distract me from my pain. I have another You Tube account (*www.youtube.com/suzydukettes), where I post videos sometimes about certain issues, such as that “Anderson Cooper’s CNN Town Hall meeting” and the proposed “Opioid Lifeboat tax” and the USPain Foundation’s “People With Pain Matter”. I helped a group of University students with a project they had to do. They had to find something unknown to most people and make others aware of it. They saw the “CRPS” logo sweatshirt I was wearing while in a coffee shop. They stopped and asked me if I would help them with their project. I had so much fun helping them. I made videos, slideshows and we raised awareness about not only CRPS, but all about Chronic Pain! By then I was in process of becoming an Ambassador in MI, for USPain Foundation. I brought my pamphlets and other resources sent to me by USPain and we spread awareness of both CRPS and Chronic Pain.
I do envision a better and lower pain future for myself and anyone else who wants to “come along for the ride”. I can envision that future even more now because though I started out “alone” or felt “alone” on this pain journey. I now have thousands of people who share their stories with me each day from all over the world. I have made so many wonderful, deep, meaningful and strong friendships along the way. We all have to start with “baby steps”. When things feel too big or too much to handle, not only do I turn to God, but I have my loving husband/caregiver and my dear friends from all around the Globe. I’ve learned so much and I pray that I will continue to learn every day. Today I am better equipped to handle this pain because I didn’t give up HOPE. You never know what “good” could be around the corner. So please don’t ever give up! I just try to distract myself, take my medicine responsibly and use the tools that I’ve learned. This is the way I hope to continue coping and to become a better person and health advocate.