An unexpected and major "aha" moment had my attention. Something strange happened after I read the introductory paragraphs of the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, United States, 2016. My body immediately and strongly reacted before I could logically consider the guidelines and their implications. I could hardly breathe. Hot tears dripped onto my cheeks, and my stomach felt like someone had grabbed it and twisted hard. The unfamiliar and strong gutteral reaction lasted for hours.
Was it despair or fear or deep concern for the people with chronic pain who would be negatively affected? I knew how and why the guidelines were created. What was this new and uncomfortable sensation that rendered me inarticulate and with no appetite for the rest of the day? Was it foresight that in the future people would look back at the guidelines and wonder why it was acceptable for our government to stigmatize, denigrate, and torture people with chronic pain?
Today a woman with fibromyalgia frantically searching for legal guidance called my office. In the midst of a contested divorce, Julie (not her real name) was experiencing fibro flares exacerbated by a car accident two weeks earlier. Earlier that day, she was seeking a delay from the court for the divorce proceedings while she recovered. After explaining that she had fibromyalgia and was in more pain since the accident, the judge asked her, “How did you get to court?” “I drove.” “Since you were able to drive, and you look just fine to me, I deny your petition to delay the divorce proceedings.” And the judged closed her case, changing her life forever.
Through her tears on the phone, Julie told me what she had wanted to tell the judge. “Your honor, I didn’t sleep last night because I was afraid if I used my prescription sleep medication, I’d sleep through my alarm to wake me for this hearing. And then I drove here two hours early and waited in the parking lot so that I wouldn’t be late. I am not able to defend myself and cannot afford an attorney to help me with the divorce.”
Boston Globe writer Ruth Graham’s June 16, 2014 article struck a chord with me. She starts out, “If you stopped the average person in an emergency room and asked why she’s there—not just her guess at the problem, but what really motivated her to show up—the number one answer would be “pain.”