Wellness for every body

Chronic Pain

Three years ago I was a busy account coordinator for an industrial dry-cleaning company in Auckland. One day, in a hurry as per usual, I made my delivery to a car dealership, and on the way out, slipped on some brake fluid on the floor. I skidded through a plate glass door, and then down a full flight of stairs. In that instant, my life changed.


Time healed most of my injuries, but I was left with chronic pain in my left shoulder. I visited numerous doctors and specialists, dabbled with alternative treatments and tried cortisone injections, but nothing worked. I was in constant pain and it was getting worse all the time. I couldn’t work and I couldn’t use my left arm.


A year after the accident, I resorted to surgery, which focused on the ball joint in my shoulder and the shoulder blade, to prevent bone scraping further on bone. Initially, the operation took away that throbbing constant pain, but it was quickly replaced by a constant niggly pain and that “pins and needles” sensation in my shoulder and hand. My movement and reach was worse than before, I was in continual discomfort, to the point where I couldn’t sleep, but the worst thing was the degradation of my reflexes. Simple things like getting caught in gate latches – I just couldn’t pull my hand away in time, my reflexes were just not quick enough anymore and I had to be really careful and constantly aware of situations where I could potentially hurt myself.


When you’re in constant pain, it drags you down a bit. I’d always been a really positive person, but some days were worse than others. I’d get really frustrated with the pain and not being able to do the things I’d always done. I’d have to focus on calming myself down and doing the best I could. I’d say to myself: “Look, it could be worse, you haven’t got cancer and you’re not going to die. There are others in a far worse situation.” “I had to give things a go, you can’t stay at a level where you feel sorry for yourself and that the world is against you. It was really important during this time to focus on the positive side of things, without that positivity I don’t know what I would have done.

So there I was, accepting the situation as well as I could and just trying to get on with life, when last year a specialist told me about QE Health, a specialist treatment centre in Rotorua for people with arthritis and other movement disorders. At this stage, I was ready to give anything a try; any improvement would be a bonus. I had nothing to lose, so I agreed to be referred.


Last October I entered the intensive three-week chronic pain management programme at QE Health. This was a real turning point. It was such a relief to be with other people in a similar situation, people who understood you, even without the need for words. The combination of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, a tailored exercise programme, activities and counselling were great, but the real motivator for me was the education –learning more about the symptoms of chronic pain and how to self manage them. And it was nice to know that I was normal – simple things like memory loss, a common symptom, were validated – I wasn’t just ‘losing it’ after all!


The team at QE are fabulous – they are all behind you 100 percent and are very clever in the way they get you to do things, to keep on improving. They just give you such encouragement and have a great positive attitude and you cant alk to them about anything. They also helped me to identify all the bad habits that I’d developed that were hindering my progress – now that I’m aware of them, I can address them. I’m constantly reminding myself and working really hard at eliminating them.


Although I was a positive person to begin with, my time at QE made me even more positive and stronger, and made me realise that I could improve. I knew that although at first the success would be minimal, that it was just early days – like the Pantene ad: “It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen!”


Since my time at QE, I have continued working on my progress. Improvement is slow but it is definitely happening. I continue with my exercise programmeme for one hour each day, and I’ve added some walking and a few other activities that I enjoy.


I’ve accepted that although I’m not that 100 miles an hour person anymore, I can still do things, just at a bit of a slower pace! I’m lucky in that I have a very supportive husband – he doesn’t baby me, he gives me a push now and then when I need it but he’s there for help when I need it too. QE taught me that –it’s alright to ask for help, and that’s been a really important lesson. I also have another motivator – a five year old grandson living with us – he means that I can’t be lazy and laid back, I have to keep up so he keeps me active and provides another focus.


In addition to the support of my family and the phenomenal staff at QE, I’ve kept in touch with several other people who I met through the programme and four of us have formed a regular support network. If one of us is a bit down, a call goes round the group, and between the four of us, we don’t suffer that depression that can go with chronic pain. We don’t give each other sympathy – we spark ourselves into a positive mind frame again and that’s great. The friendships formed have been a wonderful part of the QE experience; it’s like finding a whole new circle of friends who can really understand each other, and that connection has been really healthy. Chronic pain can be such an invisible condition – difficult for others to see and difficult to convey, so it’s nice to be understood!


I feel like I’ve come a long way in managing my chronic pain. My goals keep me going – working on minimising those bad habits and keeping up with my programmeme at home. It is hard work, but you have to keep yourself disciplined – the only one that can make it happen is you! QE Health has been the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m not in the dark anymore and I’m not alone. I’ve adjusted my lifestyle and changed my outlook and I don’t get frustrated anymore. It just goes to show – if you have a positive attitude, mentally you can do wonders and physically you can improve.


By Jennifer Penhale, as told to Jo Thacker