For those in the chronic pain community, getting dismissed by medical professionals, even with serious issues, is commonplace. There’s the belief, widely held, that those of us with chronic pain of a certain type just aren’t strong enough, that it’s “all in our head”. I’ve often said fibromyalgia is treated as as the modern day “hysteria” by doctors. And while I should say “not all doctors”, I’m also a firm believer that if people in a profession don’t speak out about the “bad apples” in that profession, then they’re also perpetuating harm.
This had been my experience until about a week ago. And in that moment the same medical professional who had told me on numerous occasions that “we don’t treat pain” when I inquired about so much as a muscle relaxant for my fibromyalgia, not only ordered X-rays, but also ended up referring me to the orthopedic doctor. What was the difference?
I fell. The X-Rays showed damage.
Let me say one thing before I continue: patients should be believed about their pain regardless of the cause. You cannot get into someone’s head to see how their body feels or what they’ve become used to dealing with on a day to day basis. I’m not sure what the ortho doctor will say; we’ll find out. Why am I talking about this?
Because for those with “invisible” disabilities, the cry is often “you don’t look sick” and thus the pain and other issues caused by the disabilities aren’t taken seriously. It’s only when the issue is something that people associate with pain like a fall, or a broken bone, that they think that the pain is real and deserves care and consideration.
There are many reasons why pain may not show up on tests like X-Rays, and none of them are that the patient is making it up. In the US healthcare comes with a steep cost, and the administration of health care isn’t uniform across the country. There are areas where medical professionals are limited both in availability as well as their knowledge and what they’ll do. Again, none of these facts change the nature of the patient’s pain, they just make it difficult, if not impossible to be treated, and without that treatment, some people won’t believe us.
We need to do two things. First, we need to quit relying on other people to validate our pain. We need to believe our own pain and take actions accordingly. We need to rid ourselves of internalized ableism. We need to take our pain seriously and understand that pain is pain. The source, even the immediate cause may not matter if it’s not something that can be determined. I saw firsthand the shift in urgency when the pain appeared on X-Rays as opposed to when it doesn’t. We need to treat all pain with that urgency, and use that knowledge to help further us on our own holistic path to free range wellness.
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