LOW BACK PAIN
"From the Ordeal of Pain and Suffering To the Pleasures of Life"
The Story of a Chronic Pain Sufferer
"My name is Tod. I am 42 years old. For over 20 years I have suffered from severe and chronic pain. A birth defect, a series of accidents and an extremely rare form of viral meningitis (Mollaret’s) have combined, along with the side-effects of two back surgeries, to make my life a miserable existence. My life was a terrifying ordeal. I have gone to one pain clinic after another, hearing the same thing over and over, “You will be in constant pain for the rest of your life.” Despite what the clinics predicted, I never lost hope and I never gave up. For the past year I have been relatively pain-free. For this, I credit the Washington Pain Medicine Center (WPMC) and the work of pain specialist Dr. P.S. Ajrawat, M.D., and his wife, psychiatrist S.K. Ajrawat, M.D.
I experienced my first bout of meningitis 21 years ago. The doctors didn’t know what it was. I almost died. Less than 100 people in the world have been diagnosed with the very rare Mollaret’s meningitis. I have had more than 30 bouts with it. In 1985 I underwent a spinal fusion to correct offset vertebrae, a birth defect. This was the first of two surgeries on the L4-5 lumbar vertebrae area of my back.
A couple of years later, I was crushed by a wave at the ocean, dislocating my left shoulder and I had to have a partial claviculectomy. Then in 1994, a car accident crushed part of my L-5 vertebrae, which was fused to my tailbone, and sprained my neck. I had a second surgery on the L-5 area of my back nine months later. Even though the surgeon was able to remove the broken pieces of vertebrae, he warned me that scar tissue entangling with nerves could become a problem.
Several months after the second operation I began having pain at the site of the surgery, in the backs of my legs and bottoms of my feet. I was prescribed steroid shots, anti-inflammatory medicine, trigger point injections, epidural nerve blocks, a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator (TENS) unit, heat packs, and physical therapy––none of which worked. It was suggested that I try acupuncture, which I did. That didn’t help, either. After having tried everything recommended, to no avail, my doctor said I should try a pain clinic because he knew of no other course of action.
I put off going to a pain clinic as long as I could ––about two years. Finally, in 1999, my pain problem had become so extreme that my fiancée persuaded me to try a pain clinic because it seemed to her there was no other place to seek help.
The first pain clinic I went to prescribed physiotherapy and one Percocet a day. After several months of this therapy not working I switched to another pain clinic. My new pain specialist prescribed 30 mg. of OxyContin per day. As I adjusted to the medication the dosage would be increased. At this point I was forced to change pain clinics by my insurance company. My new pain clinic continued my current pain medication therapy. They also suggested I try a course of epiduralysis, which I did. The five treatments of epiduralysis did not help, as manifested by the fact that over two years, my OxyContin dose had to be gradually increased to 260 mg. a day. At that time my pain specialist lost his license, forcing me to look for yet another pain clinic. The anxiety I was experiencing from not being able to complete the epiduralysis treatment (which was my only hope of getting out of pain at that time) combined with stress from finding a new pain clinic was enough to cause panic attacks. My new pain specialist prescribed Valium for anxiety, Ambien to help me sleep, and OxyContin for pain. I was taking 260 mg. of OxyContin, 30 mg. of Valium, and 20 mg. of Ambien per day. Despite the Ambien, adverse reaction to OxyContin kept me awake for days at a time. I had reached the point where the medication that was supposed to help me caused as much discomfort as I would have experienced if I had not been taking any medication, just suffering with the pain.
I’ll now describe the quality of my life at that point in time. Ever since the first surgery, the back pain has interfered with my sleep and exacerbated the pain in my left shoulder. In fact, sleeping was darn near impossible. All this was occurring at the same time the country was attacked on September 11, 2001. Misery is the only word that can describe how I felt. I was afraid to drive a car because I wasn’t sure of myself. I couldn’t concentrate on the things that usually came naturally to me. I would lie in bed sometimes for days, unable to sleep but so exhausted that I couldn’t get up. My life revolved around when I had to take my next OxyContin pill and whether I had enough to make it to my next appointment with the pain specialist.
By now I had been told by four different pain clinics and two neurosurgeons that I would be permanently in chronic pain from scar tissue wrapping around nerves at the site of the two operations. I requested to be taken off all the medications I was taking because the side-effects were now worse than being in pain itself. The pain specialist I was seeing at that time said he would not help me to get off of the medications I was taking because, he insisted, I would be right back on them in less than one month. This same doctor then wanted an MRI to determine if anything could be seen that might have been missed before, or if anything had changed since my last MRI. I was looking for a place to do the MRI when I saw the phone number of a pain clinic, Washington Pain Medicine Center close to where I live. I called WPMC just to see if they might offer a treatment different from the other pain clinics I had been to. They described what sounded like a different treatment than I had received at the other pain clinics, so I scheduled an appointment.
During my first appointment at WPMC, I met Dr. P.S. Ajrawat who pointed out some fundamental problems with my body that other doctors either missed or didn’t think were important. I was impressed with his all-inclusive examination. He was the first doctor I had presented my problem to who said that, in his opinion, I would not have to be permanently in pain. I was skeptical because of what other doctors had told me, but I wanted off of the pain medication so badly that I hoped and prayed what he said was true.
That first appointment was on November 28, 2001. I took my last OxyContin pill on December 17, 2001, a date I will never forget. After my initial visit with Dr. Ajrawat, he began treating me with trigger point injections, which were very different from the trigger point injections I had previously received. The injections were mostly into the muscles surrounding the operations’ site. The treatments Dr. Ajrawat gave me provided pain relief almost immediately. In group therapy, I learned how vital an all-inclusive program is to the recovery of pain patients. It was also helpful to talk to other people with problems similar to mine. Another important part of the treatment plan included an exercise program specifically designed to my recovery needs. I was also encouraged to lift weights and walk regularly at home. I have other health concerns that I believe have diminished as a direct result of my treatment at WPMC. I have recurrent viral meningitis. I’ve been hospitalized 30 times for episodes of meningitis since 1983. On average, I was getting sick once or twice a year. During my two years of treatment at WPMC I’ve been sick only once.
Over the two-year course of seeing Dr. Ajrawat for treatments, the pain I had been suffering from has nearly disappeared. The number of shots I require has declined from two sets of injections a week to one set of shots per week, and sometimes even more infrequently. I’m an accomplished guitar player and, not being hindered by constant pain, I am able once again to concentrate and be creative.
What I’m really trying to say here is that WPMC treats the whole of you, everything––your psychological as well as physical problems. I believe this is one of the key elements in the successful rehabilitation and relief of my severe back pain.
Dr. Ajrawat’s all-inclusive therapy has made an incredible difference towards the rehabilitation of my shoulder pain problem following the partial claviculectomy, as well as my sprained neck from the accident.
The treatments and therapy I’ve received at WPMC have drastically improved the quality of my life. After suffering for years, I believe I have finally found a successful treatment. These treatments seemed to have changed virtually every aspect of my life––emotionally, physically and spiritually. My endurance level has increased so dramatically that I feel stronger and healthier than I have in 10 years.
People suffering from chronic pain need to know to look for a fellowship-trained pain specialist. If I had that information from the start, my ordeal with chronic pain would have been over years earlier. I hope someone else might find help sooner by having this information. I’m forever grateful for all of the care and concern the doctors and staff at Washington Pain Medicine Center have shown to me. I strongly recommend them to anyone who suffers from chronic pain."
-- Tod Cornett