Not all pain patients in the ER are drug seekers

by Melissa Velez-Avrach

About eight years ago, I was in an accident that left me with chronic lower back pain and muscle spasms.

Then, about a year and half ago, I was in a car accident. Bad combo for the pain. I’ve been to chiropractors, orthopedic spine specialists, had MRIs, the works and am following my doctor’s recommendations, doing yoga, deep breathing and physical therapy when needed. It has all helped me very much.

I am happy to say that I live with some form of tolerable pain on an almost daily basis but do not need to be on daily pain medication. This is okay by me because I do not do well with pain med side effects at all. I’d rather deal with more pain than normal than deal with the side effects.

The only exception to my med-free rhythm is that about a handful of times a year I have attacks, pain that I can’t tolerate. The pain becomes so intense that I can’t function and then, I become stuck in a certain position. If I try to move out of that position, I experience such terrible pain that I have screamed and cried myself hoarse. This is the point where I end up in the ER.

Of the times that I have been in the ER, no one has ever doubted that I have been in pain nor did it ever cross my mind that one of the healthcare providers who was helping me would doubt my pain. That is until I ended up in the ER during my vacation. I could tell that the doctor was really surprised that I still had 11 of the original 15 oxycodone/APAP that were prescribed to me after last year’s trip to the ER. In fact, 2 of those had been taken earlier that day in an attempt to forgo the Florida ER. I was on vacation; I did not want to be in the hospital, but no amount of yoga, swimming, water yoga and deep breathing could help me this time.

I was really struck by the whole experience and by how surprised he looked when he saw the bottle. I thought maybe I was imagining things so I told the whole story to a friend (she is an ER nurse) and asked her what she thought. Did I read him wrong? Turns out, according to her, I had probably read him correctly. Before seeing that bottle, he might have thought I was a seeker, that I couldn’t go without a fix on my vacation. She works in a very busy hospital and has daily experiences with seekers. She and I had a long discussion and we both feel that unfortunately, people who are in real pain sometimes look like seekers and the seekers themselves are in pain because of their addiction.

I can’t believe I had not even heard of the term seekers before. And I had thought the worse problem was dealing with the muscle spasms and the medication side effects.

Melissa Velez-Avrach blogs at In Other Words, the MedPage Today staff blog.

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