Published on March 08, 2019

Fly Free

In Her Own Words

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"I suffered through so much pain, and I didn’t want to experience pain again."

Watch Patricia talk about living with pain for years and the class that set her free.

Since she was a young girl, Patricia Elliott has loved butterflies. Perhaps it was fate that drew her to these tiny creatures, which symbolize endurance, change and hope. Ironically, these same traits describe Patricia’s path toward a life free from pain medication. Like the butterflies she cherishes, in the months since taking North Kansas City Hospital’s Managing Your Pain class, Patricia has transformed into a vibrant woman who’s ready to spread her wings and enjoy life.

Endurance

Patricia has had more than her share of painful health challenges over the past 17 years. She’s endured cancer in both legs, a MRSA infection, gastric bypass surgery and aplastic anemia. To help her manage the pain, her doctors prescribed opioids.

Although she fully recovered after each experience, Patricia continued taking the medication, fearful the pain would return full force. “I suffered through so much pain, and I didn’t want to experience pain again,” she said.

“I told myself I needed to stop taking them and that I wasn’t in pain,” she added. “But a little voice would say, ‘Yes, but it’s going to come so you need to keep it under control.’”

smiling woman standing on her deck

Change

Last summer, Patricia was ready to make a change. She registered for NKCH’s four-week Managing Your Pain class, led by Physical Therapist Jason Calder.

The class is specifically for people with chronic pain. “In three months’ time, damaged tissues and broken bones should have healed,” Jason explained.

“You should be starting to get back to doing normal things.”
Jason uses a research-based approach to help people understand pain, their nervous system, alternative pain management strategies and how movement can relieve pain.

For Patricia, the first words Jason spoke opened her eyes to a new path. “When Jason said tissues heal within 30-60 days, I wrote, ‘Then why am I still in pain?’” She left class that day filled with hope.

Hope

That night, for the first time in 17 years, Patricia didn’t take her pain medication. She didn’t take it the next morning either. But, cycles are hard to break, and she took her afternoon pill.

“For 17 years, I had taken a pill every six hours,” she said. “In my mind, it was time to take a pill, so I did. Immediately, I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ I threw the rest of the pills down the garbage disposal.” From that day on, she turned instead to the strategies she learned in class, like meditation.

“Patricia’s immediate success isn’t something we see often,” Jason said. “Typically, when you’ve had pain for a long period, it’s a more gradual process. But for Patricia, it was the fear of pain. The class helped her better understand pain in general and how to manage it.”

Although it’s been almost a year since she’s taken pain medication, Patricia admits there are days she thinks about it. “I’ll think, ‘I still have that prescription. I could get it filled.’ But, I never have, and I’m glad. You have to believe in yourself,” she said.

“I’m not saying I don’t have any pain,” Patricia added. “I have severe neuropathy that causes pain from my knees to my toes most days. Instead of taking medicine, I meditate.”

Life

Patricia didn’t realize how much control the pain medication had over her life until she stopped taking it. “I used to stay in the house and do nothing but wait six hours to take another pill. I let my brain get into a cycle where I thought I needed medication. For me, it was psychological. I wasted a lot of years.”

Patricia’s making up for lost time. She now starts each day at 6 a.m., takes walks with her husband, plays Bunko, lunches out with friends and keeps busy with community classes.

Patricia encourages others with chronic pain to give the class a try. “Maybe it’s not the right time, but at least try,” she said. “A year ago, I wouldn’t have taken the class because I wasn’t ready to let go. But today, I have this wonderful life. The class really set me free.”

Medication Isn't the Only Answer

For most people, pain after an illness or injury is temporary. Yet, other people develop chronic pain that can make even the smallest tasks difficult. Prescription medicines are one treatment option, but they aren’t the only one.

The Class

Our four-week Managing Your Pain class is led by a physical therapist. It explores what goes on behind the scenes when the body is in pain. The class teaches research-proven strategies for handling pain without medication long term.*

The class meets two times each week. The first session helps participants better
understand their pain and how meditation and gentle movement can help. In the second session, participants get to try gentle movement exercises and meditation techniques.

*If you currently see a pain management doctor, ask if this class is right for you.

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