Yesterday, I read an article that broke my heart. The article was about the struggle 18-year-old Dominic Boivin from Calgary had with excruciating chronic pain, one that ended when he took his own life this past June. Before he resorted to suicide, Dominic had endured pain for years.
Before junior high school, he’d been an active, normal boy. Things began to change in 2007 when Dominic was in grade eight. The pain started in his right knee and then spread to the other knee. Soon, the pain spread up his body, to his hips, lower back, shoulders and neck. By 2009, the pain was also in his jaw, which eventually became locked in the open position so that Dominic could no longer speak or eat and had to be fed liquids with assistance from his parents. Throughout this time, Dominic saw many doctors, who could not find a diagnosis, and he tried many treatments, from traditional choices such as heavy pain medications to alternative therapies such as acupuncture and biofeedback. These only offered temporary pain reduction, not elimination and certainly not cure. Dominic also had to endure a long wait to get into a specialized clinic for pain management and treatment, and when his program was finished—it was only ever designed to be short-term—he was sent back to his family doctor for continuing care. Despite some modest temporary improvement, Dominic’s condition eventually worsened until it was so overwhelming that Dominic took his own life on June 6, 2012.
This story is shattering and sad for Dominic and his family, but it is not unique. Thousands of other Canadians like Dominic are out there, children and adults who suffer from debilitating pain every day—back pain, migraine and other headaches, arthritis, nerve pain—and who cannot get help in the medical system. Some of those people will also ultimately turn to suicide when doctors and drugs can no longer help and when they have lost hope of a normal pain-free life. Depending on the studies you read and the source of the data, the suicide risk for chronic pain sufferers is two to four times higher than that of people who do not experience chronic pain, and those who do not end their own lives often suffer from chronic depression to accompany their chronic pain.
While my daily pain is not as severe and unbearable as Dominic’s—and I thank heaven for that—I can relate to the physical pain and the mental frustration that come from hurting somewhere every day. No matter where you go or what you do, it’s always there. Some people, even doctors, don’t believe you or think you are exaggerating and those that do believe you (doctors and laymen alike) often don’t know how to help you. You feel badly about yourself for all the things you miss out on and all the things you can’t do anymore or not as well as you used to. You feel guilty for all the life adjustments your loved ones face because of your health problems. It’s exhausting physically and emotionally. What disheartens me as much as my physical state is the state of pain care—if you can even call it that—in Canada.
Statistics associated with chronic pain in this country are demoralizing. According to a fact sheet prepared by the Canadian Pain Coalition and the Canadian Pain Society, “One in five Canadian adults suffer from chronic pain [and] children are not spared with 15‐30% of children experiencing recurring or chronic pain.” Pain accounts for up to 78% of emergency room visits and is the most common reason people consult health care professionals. The estimated annual cost of chronic pain in Canada is at least $56‐60 billion. I could carry on with similar data, because it’s available in large quantities, but it’s so disheartening that I will leave it there. What is even more distressing is that despite the availability of the information, little is being done in terms of pain research or provision of pain care services in this country.
Is chronic pain hard to research, diagnose and treat? Yes, it is. Are these processes expensive? Yes, they are. Should we quit trying because of the difficulty and expense? No, we shouldn’t!
People who suffer from chronic pain need hope as much as they need relief, and right now there is not enough of either. If Dominic had had some cause for hope in his fight against chronic pain, he might still be here today.
To read more about Dominic, find the original article here: When Hurting Won’t Stop
To read the chronic pain fact sheet, click here: Chronic Pain Fact Sheet
For those interested in more in-depth data, try this: I Live This Life in Pain