Make Chronic Pain Treatment Essential Service

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March 24, 2020 

This week begins the shut down of all "non-essential" services in Ontario in order to help flatten the curve of COVID-19. I have many friends that feel their job is non-essential at this time, but according to the Ministry of Ontario, their workplace is deemed essential. This includes car repair shops, car dealerships, liquor stores and more. 

Today I also received a call from my Pain Clinic where I had an appointment booked for treatment on March 28th. I was informed that they were deemed a "non-essential service" and my appointment was canceled. The treatment I would be having is already only OHIP covered every 8 weeks, but due to high demand for these treatments and many others at pain treatment centers, it has already been 11 weeks since my last treatment. 

I have been a registered nurse in Toronto since 2007 in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. This is a career I truly loved, and if I were to describe my dream job this would be it. In May of 2017, I sustained a fall that left me with severe injuries to my right leg. This included a severe sprain which left me with aggravated nerves in my ankle leaving me in daily debilitating pain. This fall also left me with neck and back pain. I have spent the last almost 3 years in excruciating pain, that regardless of months of rehab has only continued to spread throughout my body. Recently I have finally received a diagnosis that explains this, which includes Fibromyalgia caused by trauma/chronic pain as well as chronic myofascial pain. This leaves me with chronic muscle tightness and burning pain throughout my body.

Imagine having a "kink" or "knot" in your neck that causes extreme discomfort, resulting in you seeking out pain medication, massage or even physiotherapy or chiropractic treatments. This is how my body feels daily, with multiple chronic "knots" throughout my body, that because the muscles are so tight, start tightening around the nerve endings which in turn causes a deep burning sensation throughout my body, not to mention the original nerve pain that starts in my ankle and continues to climb up my leg. 

My treatments include light exercise, strengthening activities, myofascial stretching, physiotherapy, acupuncture, massage therapy and chiropractic treatments and several medications. These forms of treatment all give me some relief, but often only short term (a couple of hours) from medication and deep stretching to 1-2 days with physio, massage, acupuncture or chiropractic care. 

What I receive most relief from are my Ketamine/Lidocaine infusions I receive every 8 weeks at my pain clinic. This treatment allows the nerve endings to calm down and give my body a chance to rest. Even though this is my most effective treatment, I still only get up to 3 weeks of mild relief. This may not sound like its worthwhile to some, but when you live your life in chronic pain averaging a 6-8/10 daily, with days it is even worse, any relief is welcomed and celebrated. It keeps me going knowing I have an upcoming treatment and will experience some form of relief. The loss of this treatment will not only affect my daily pain level but also greatly affect my mental health, as now all of my treatment options are being affected. I am a single mom, and these infusions are essential in giving me some time with my son where my pain is not completely restricting how we can spend our time together.

Furthermore, I am supposed to be starting a new group therapy session through a second Toronto Based Pain clinic, as well as a new treatment in a few weeks that will help target breaking down all the chronic muscle aggravation. This treatment is now also going to be delayed. This is an appointment that I have already waited 6 months for a referral for, and 3 more months after my initial appointment to be able to have the actual treatment scheduled. 

The loss of all of these treatments is going to negatively affect my activities of daily living, as I do not even have my complimentary therapies to keep me moving in this difficult time. I know I am not alone in this. Pain is a serious problem for many people, and we have all had our treatments taken away. We have places like the LCBO open to avoid alcohol withdrawal and overloading the emergency rooms, but what does the government think is going to happen to thousands of people that are now struggling even more with chronic pain? Stress alone can cause a flare-up and pain crisis for many people suffering from chronic pain, and this is a very stressful time we are living in.  Individuals living with this disability have been left in the dark, and run the risk of mental health emergencies, pain crisis, seeking other alternatives like opioids that will not treat the cause of the pain and many negative effects to our daily life on top of what we are already struggling with as a nation. 

Prime Minister Trudeau, Mayor Ford, and all MPs and MPPs, I urge you to make treatment for chronic pain an essential service in this difficult time.