I had a patient come into my office many years ago who represents one of the most remarkable turnarounds I have witnessed. She definitely holds the record of being in pain for the longest time before she pulled out of it. She had been in pain for over 55 years when I met her around 2012 ago. Her pain was located over her thoracic and lumbar spine and she had spent a lifetime trying to solve it.
I reviewed her imaging studies carefully and her spine had an expected degree of degeneration for her age. There was no identifiable reason for her unrelenting neck and back pain. Remember that disc degeneration is not considered a source of pain. It simply means that your spine has lost water content and is stiffer. Disc Degeneration and Back Pain
I was not optimistic that she would do well in that she had been in pain for so long and did not seem open to engaging in a structured self-directed approach. Much to my surprise she worked with one of my colleagues and began to improve. I saw her on my schedule a few months ago and was curious why she was back. From a surgical perspective I had nothing to offer her. She was returning to thank me because she had gone to pain free. She was beside herself to the point of being euphoric. I have to admit that I did not blame her, as 55 years is a long time to suffer from chronic pain. I spent most of the visit calming her down.
Learn to fail
My first advice to anyone who experiences this sudden shift is to prepare to go back to being in pain. The pathways are permanent and will be triggered. Coming out of the pain pathways becomes a learned skill and you will figure out how to go into them less frequently and come out more quickly. Indeed, as I have followed her she has had significant recurrence of her symptoms several times – but she knows how to resolve them. Fail Well
Over 10 years later she has continued to thrive and has been able to stabilize her moods with fewer highs and lows. She remains very excited about her new life.
The enlightenment light and judgment mirror
On one visit she showed me two objects she carried around her neck. One was a small light and the other a mirror. Whenever she found herself being judgmental she held the mirror up in front of her. If she has a moment of insight she turns on the light. Both are great visual reminders of significant aspects of her journey, which entails embedding new neurological circuits with repetition. Not Being Judgmental
Variations of her story are common. Hers is unusual because of the duration of her pain and the intensity of her healing. As pain circuits are permanent after 3 to 6 months, after that the length of time you are in pain actually does not matter. It is also the reason you cannot solve or fix them. However you can shift off of them anytime with the tools that you have learned to work for you.
I have continued to stay in touch because I enjoy talking to her. She exudes optimism and hope and can hardly contain herself. It is inspiring to be in the presence of that level of positive energy. She is one of many reasons why I find treating chronic pain so rewarding.