I went to a new doctor today. We have recently moved and it was time for me to renew a prescription for medication that I take daily for chronic pain. The response of the doctor was not to enquire about my background, nor my general health or well being. Instead he proceeded to give me a condescending lecture on how he had been practising medicine for 15 years and had never given anyone pain medicine as strong as the one I am on not even bone cancer patients (Which if true is appalling, because bone cancer patients are generally given medication such as fentanyl - which is literally hundreds of times stronger than what I take to deal with their pain)
He told me he would write one prescription, to give me 'time to find someone else to handle you.' He then said he would be willing to see me again only if I went to a pain specialist... I had already mentioned that I was prepared to see anyone who can help me... but he wasn't listening. He was too busy explaining to me that he didn't want to be getting emails from the government, which he views as threats, asking if he is sure he needs to be prescribing opiates.
Then, when referring me to a pain specialist he informed me that he was going to refer me to someone in Victoria well over 13ookm from my location and I could speak to them over Skype. I asked if I could be referred to someone more local because that would surely be better for ongoing care... so he referred me to both, because the local one costs money upfront and may take a while... I told him the cost was irrelevant and I was prepared to pay anything to get real support, he ignored me, he just wasn't interested in what I wanted, or felt or needed. I left the surgery with my prescription for one box of medication and the referral was sent to the pain specialists.
On the way home, I cried. I am a 38 year old man, and I cried because I had been made to feel like a school boy being scolded by the headmaster. I cried because I was treated like a lying drug addict out to get a score. I cried because I have been struggling to get proper treatment and support from doctors for 16 years, and in my previous doctor I had found someone who genuinely engaged with my care and supported me... and today I took a huge step backwards.
I suffer from chronic pain. I have been suffering from this pain in varying degrees since 2004 when I had a back injury while in the Navy. However over the last 8 years especially the pain has been steadily getting worse. Over that time period I have had multiple MRI's, x-rays, bone scans... you name it. I have been put on countless medications. The only thing that has actually helped with ongoing pain relief is the current medication I am on which is a controlled release opiate.
I deliberately only take the medication once a day, even though it is designed to be taken twice, because I know that opiates are dangerous, I know they can lead to addiction. So I take it in the morning to get me through my day, but at night when possible I just go to bed early because laying down relieves the pain (most nights I am in bed at 8:30). I tried to explain these things to the doctor... he wasn't interested and cut me off to continue his lecture.
Today I cried because I went to see someone who is supposed to help, and instead they put my mental health back to a place that I hate - Today I started taking an anti-depressant again for the first time in 6 months because my mind is back in the black hole.
Why am I writing this? Am I seeking attention? Do I want people to call me or come up to me and tell me how they read it and check on me? No. Please don't - I am ok. I will be ok.
I am writing this because what happened to me today is not OK, and the fact is, it happens to people every day. Doctors are being told that opiates are the enemy - I get that - and it is true when abused they are incredibly dangerous and can cause incredible damage.
However there are literally millions of people like me, who are suffering, and who have found that opiates DO work for us. They do relieve the daily pain we endure, and because of that they help our mental health as well. Suffering chronic pain wears you down, both physically and psychologically, getting relief has a major impact on our ability to think, and feel.
The message needs to change. Doctors need to stop looking at opiates as the enemy and the people who take them as 'addicts' or at best 'addicts in waiting'. If doctors do their jobs and manage their patients well, then opiates are no more dangerous than any other medication. My previous doctor would ensure I was back to see him monthly for assessment, he would take the time to listen to what I was experiencing, and would occasionally change medications (because different opiates affect different receptors) in order to manage the risk and prevent dependency.
The key for me though is that doctors need to stop lecturing and start listening. The doctor I saw today could have delved into my medical history, he could have asked about my general health and wellbeing, he could have checked on my mental health. Instead he lectured, condescended and completely ignored everything I had to say.
I will see the pain specialist, I am more than happy to explore alternative treatments. But I will be looking for a new GP, I will be looking for a doctor who actually considers their patient's wellbeing and doesn't jump to conclusions based on one prescription.
Please pray for me, and pray for the doctor I saw today. Pray that he is willing to open his heart and mind and think more carefully about how he engages with patients. Pray for those who are making decisions about what doctors are told about opiate medications, that they consider that while dangerous if misused, they are vital for the health and well being of millions when managed properly. Pray for the thousands of people who are likely to get treated the same way I did today by doctors who are more concerned about giving lectures than engaging with and caring for patients.
Daryl is a priest and chaplain living in regional New South Wales Australia. Learn more on the About page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my church or any other organisation I am affiliated with.