Myth: If you cannot see the pain, it must not exist

Contributed by: Marsha
Reviewed by: Evelyn Corsini, MSW, May, 2009

Pain cannot be seen. It cannot be touched. You cannot smell it. It is an invisible disability that I, myself have suffered in silence for the past 9 years. When I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, I was paralyzed from the waist down from month 3 onward, with no definite diagnosis as to why or how it happened. Before, I was working a full time job and for the most part, healthy. Since then, I’ve fought to get proper medical care to manage my pain. Doctors and hospitals refuse to take me seriously because they cannot visually see an open wound or swelling. My pain stems from lumbar spinal stenosis, and the pain radiates down both my legs and throughout my body. Injections have not helped, and I get sent from one doctor and clinic to another. I have a new diagnosis of MS, which I still am unable to get proper medication for.

It is my belief that the medical community has a misconception that if you cannot see the pain it must not exist. I have been told countless times that I needed to reside in a mental institution, even suggesting to my family that I needed to be committed to a mental health facility for the rest of my life. This led me into a true depression because my pain was not being treated, and I was being viewed as a hypochondriac. I am on a file in many ERs that state I am just looking for drugs, which is not the case. I come in when my acetaminophen with codeine (that is all any doc will prescribe) doesn’t work, and I’ve been in total misery for days. The last ER doctor told me if I was looking for drugs than I might as well go home. Almost all the time, a psych resident comes knocking on my cubicle asking to talk with me and offers to admit me for a mental health evaluation.

I’m a single parent who now exists on disability. I know there is a better way of life for my family than this. The thing is, I WANT to work. Vocational Rehabilitation closed my case earlier this year that I am ‘not employable’ but would consider me again if I could get my pain under better control with medications and physical therapy, both of which I get denied.

In my case, I am in pain 24/7. I don’t sleep or eat well. I’ve lost weight, and my energy level is near zero. I don’t go anywhere. I have MRIs and CAT scans that show I have a legitimate cause for my pain, yet I’ve been told repeatedly that ‘nobody can be in that much pain.’ I am 37 years old, yet my quality of life is that of someone in their 70s or 80s. The medical community needs to be better educated on the mental and physical affects of pain. I’ve been written off as having a mental problem and all the while my pain is not being managed and my general health is deteriorating. The health care system in this country is not adequately serving the needs of those in chronic pain.

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