COLUMN: Pain management differs from tent city to suburbia

Appreciating the difference, and the delicate balance, between needing pain medication in different housing situations

This time last year, I was in a car wreck that has left me with lingering, chronic pain.

And there are days I’m so thankful for the lessons it’s brought me. But first let me tell you, it’s given me plenty of complaint fodder. The general aches and pains of life I had been used to just don’t hold a candle to the troubles this new life includes.

Everyone morning I wake up to play Wheel of Misfortune. Will my leg be numb? Will I have a cluster headache? Maybe a morning of tinnitus or vertigo? Perhaps an afternoon where none of my words come out right?

And my old, mommy-centric to-do lists have been replaced ones that include endless medical appointments, phone calls with the insurance company, remembering to do physio, writing down new symptoms, keeping track of medications, Googling contraindications that my doctor or pharmacist may have missed, worrying constantly, and of course, my new favourite — sleeping.

But I still figure I’ve got it pretty good, and this was underlined as we dined on turkey last weekend, laughing with the kids and generously giving thanks for each other’s company. Just a few blocks away, we knew the homeless were struggling to stay dry. Some would be coping with the very same pain I manage, but by stark contrast; they’d be shooting up in the cold and wet, while I’d simply take my pills with water before climbing into bed.

And there’s that huge difference in essentially the same problem. I have a bed to sleep in every night (and any time I need a nap), that helps alleviate a great many symptoms. I can lay in the cozy comfort of pillows and enjoy the sound of the rain hitting the roof and trickling down the waterspouts. I could even toss my blankets in the dryer for a minute if I really wanted to warm up.

Being homeless would take away those joys, I’m sure.

I can take my many medications never worrying about how I will buy the next bottle, because I have a solid job with benefits. I don’t even have to wait in line, because I have a phone I can use to get my refills with the actual push of just a few buttons. Let me underline that. Other than my doctor, I don’t even have to speak to a human to get my free medication refilled.

Talk about barrier-free access to pain suppression.

Add to these comforts the others that fill my life. A loving family. A house. A car. A driver’s licence. Food. Clothes. A washer and dryer. I even have two cats, just in case my family, home, job and food don’t provide enough comfort. I have a closet full of professional clothes and drawers full of relaxing ones.

I can see a doctor any day of the week, and can articulate my symptoms, needs and worries in a way that helps me get the care I need. And if I didn’t make sense, I wouldn’t be called crazy by anyone. They’d be concerned and I would be given help, probably immediately. I would be wrapped in a cocoon of comfort and care until I was ready to face the world again. I know this because I’ve experienced it, as a concussion patient.

I have a life built up on these supports. Most of us do. So when the support of good health was kicked out from under me, without warning, I’d often wonder what would happen if another support fell down. And then another. And the truth is, it wouldn’t take long for me to tumble to the ground.

My injuries at one point were sufficient enough to require heavy medication, even opiates. What would have become of me if I didn’t have the money saved up to buy those first few prescriptions? Where would my family be if I hadn’t saved enough cash to miss that first paycheque?

I spent a lot of time in recovery thanking my lucky stars and examining these perspectives.

Because as a reporter, I know how quickly a family can be devastated by injury. First comes the tragedy, where the main breadwinner becomes ill or injured. Then the medication becomes pricey, and choices need to made. Healthcare or food? Car payment or rent? Gas to get to the doctor, or new shoes for the kids?

It doesn’t take long for the stilts we live on to start getting chipped away, when tragedy hits.

And that’s something we all should remember while looking on from above.