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Fly 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, hope and new beginnings.

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 spreading her wings and enjoying 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, an autoimmune disorder that required two blood transfusions every week for nearly two years. To help her manage the pain, her doctors prescribed opioids.

After making a full recovery, 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 it again,” she said.

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

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, which is pain that lasts more than three months. “In three months’ time, damaged tissues and broken bones should have healed,” Jason explained. “You should be 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 in my workbook, ‘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, 17-year 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.”

“The class helped me understand what my body was going through,” Patricia added. “You get a book that outlines what’s going on. Each chapter seemed to have something in it that gave me more courage, more assurance that I could do it.”

Although it’s been nearly a year since she’s take pain medication, Patricia admitted there are days she thinks about it. “I’ll think, ‘I still have that prescription. I could get it filled.’ But, I never have. You have to believe in yourself,” she said. “I still go through my book and notes from the class to remind myself why I started this and how proud I am to have taken this big step. I’m glad I did it.”

“I’m not saying I don’t have any pain,” she added. “I have severe neuropathy that causes pain from my knees to my toes most days. But, instead of taking medicine, I meditate twice a day, and I keep busy.”

Life

Patricia didn’t realize how much control the pain medication had over her life until she stopped taking it. “I felt my life was good,” she said. “I had a hard time getting up in the morning, and I didn’t want to do a lot, but I thought that was just my life.

“I used to stay in the house and do nothing but wait six hours to take another pill,” she said. “If I was going out for the day, I’d put a couple in my purse. 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 her day at 6 a.m., takes walks with her husband, plays Bunko, lunches with friends and keeps busy with community classes.

“I go places now,” she said. “My daughter and I do things on the weekends now. My husband notices the difference. We do a lot of things together that I was never interested in doing before.”

New Beginnings

Patricia encourages others with chronic pain to give the class a try. “You have to put yourself out there,” she said. “Maybe it’s not the right time, but at least try. The first time you take the class, it may not hit you. So, take it again. At the very least, the class makes you think about yourself and about why you are doing this.

“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.”

Fly Free