Become a pain relief advocate for patients


Q. My stoical mother-in-law had surgery on her knee and now she’s going through periods of pain that have her crying. The surgeon, meanwhile, refuses to change her medication regimen. Isn’t there anything we can do for her?

A. You and your husband must become her “pain relief advocates.” Get on the phone, and your computer, and let the surgeon know that she’s suffering needlessly. Describe her suffering and angst in writing.

Next, demand to speak with a pain specialist at the hospital. This is not a matter of questioning - or challenging - the surgeon’s authority; it is an issue of correct and empathetic medical care. If you want additional backing, or support, buy or borrow “Living with Chronic Pain” by Dr. Jennifer P. Schneider, a credentialed specialist in the relief of pain.

Here’s a little history in support of my argument. A decade ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association chastised doctors for their hesitation, indeed their reluctance, to prescribe drugs for pain.

“Bringing about significant change,” the authors wrote, “may depend on empowering patients to demand adequate pain treatment.” Note the use of the verb “demand.”

Clearly, this was a case of man bites dog, the AMA actually scolding doctors. The harsh truth remains: Millions of people needlessly suffer because some doctors still do not know how to treat pain, and/or they harbor irrational fears of starting some patient, even ones 80 and 90 years old, down the road toward addiction. Hogwash.

Not long ago, Jane Brody, the highly respected health columnist for The New York Times, and a friend, underwent rehabilitative knee surgery. On both knees. Now I know Jane as a battler, an adult athlete and an unyielding stoic. Yet, she complained of pain with such severity, “it had me crying several hours a day.”

In her column, Jane publicly ripped the surgeon, stating: “Most doctors are clueless or unnecessarily cautious about treating pain, especially chronic pain like that caused by incurable neurological or muscular disorders.”

The veteran columnist, and author, offers two recommendations: 1) Patients need to be proactive, insisting upon help, and 2) The patient in pain must become schooled in the many medications, therapies and remedies presently used to treat pain.

For example, physical therapy, exercise, acupuncture, heat massage, electrical stimulation, yoga, hypnosis, biofeedback, meditation and various relaxation techniques, including writing, poetry and painting can be helpful. Music therapy is also among the innovations.

Finally, this caveat: When someone is in the throes of great pain, it is unlikely the sufferer is capable of arguing against doctors and administrators. For this reason, a “pain relief advocate” must ride to the rescue, ready to take up the just cause.

Health tip: Do you tell your doctors what medications, drugs, vitamins and herbal remedies you’re taking? You should. By one estimate, upwards of 200,000 patients every year die from complications provoked by the harmful mixtures they innocently swallow.

Prime Notes

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  • Lines worth repeating: “When you’re on a fixed income and you’re seeing 15-to-30 percent increases in premiums, it can be tough to handle.” Source: officer with Long-term Care Insurance company.
  • Incidentally, LTC policy sales for 2004 were down 24 percent. Source: Wall Street Journal.
  • Bulletin: By law, drug company reps must tell Vermont doctors what their pills cost, and how this compares with the competition. Idea is to “blunt escalating drug costs.”
  • Books guaranteed not to sell, “The Good Euthanasia Guide 2005,” by Derek Humphry. Meanwhile, a decline in death rates for cancer and heart disease has helped stretch life expectancy for Americans.
  • More reasons to favor this column: You’ll never have to read about Martha Stewart.
  • Author Wilson Mizner, 1876-1933, said, “When you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research.”
  • You can’t make this stuff up: Midwest Airlines is set to give frequent flier points to pets. After a sixth one-way trip, your pooch or Tootsie the cat gets a free round trip.