The Problem With Being Used to Pain or Illness

When living with chronic pain or a chronic illness, patients are sometimes unaware of other health problems because they are so used to pain and feeling unwell.

For example, someone could have a dental abscess or an ear infection, but they think their trigeminal neuralgia is flaring up. Or a back pain sufferer might not realise their pain is actually coming from a kidney infection. The fatigue someone is dealing with thinking it’s down to side effects of medication might actually be a vitamin or mineral deficiency.

It’s very easy for someone with chronic pain or illness to put up with symptoms thinking they are normal.

This happened to me two years ago.

I was Used to Feeling Unwell

My back pain was bad. That was normal. I had pain across the front of my body. Again, that was normal as I live with rib pain. I felt very lightheaded, but my blood pressure is often low, especially when my pain is severe. I had stomach pain and was feeling generally unwell, but medication often makes me feel that way. I just wanted to lie down and sleep. Pain can be tiring, so that wasn’t unusual.

There was no point in seeing the doctor, was there? I was in pain and feeling fairly unwell, but that was normal for me.

My husband was concerned and talked me into seeing the doctor. I expected my GP to tell me off for wasting his time but he didn’t. On checking, he discovered that my blood pressure was dangerously low. It was so low that he arranged an ambulance to take me to the hospital rather than allow my husband to take me. He didn’t know what was making me ill or causing my pain, but he said I needed to be in the hospital urgently.

The hospital did various tests and gave me morphine injections for the pain. By the evening, I was feeling better and I thought they’d let me go home, but something showed in a blood test which meant I needed to stay in the hospital.

I was put onto an IV drip with a nil by mouth card behind my bed. A nurse from the high dependency unit told me that she and her colleagues would be doing checks on me every few hours.

I didn’t question anything. I hadn’t asked what had shown in my blood test. I didn’t even wonder why a high dependency unit nurse was checking on me. My morphine infused brain had made me so laid back that nothing phased me.

By the morning, I was a wee bit concerned. A surgeon came to speak to me and explained that I had acute pancreatitis. He said that one of the main causes of pancreatitis is drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. That was ruled out quickly. I take a lot of medication, so I don’t drink alcohol at all. He then said the other main cause was gallstones. He asked if I’d ever had gallbladder problems. I hadn’t, but he was convinced that was the problem.

An ultrasound scan confirmed his diagnosis, showing multiple gallstones. Because the gallstones were causing pancreatitis, I needed surgery to have my gallbladder removed.

What is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis (an inflamed pancreas) can range from mild discomfort to severe pain in the upper abdomen, radiating through to the back. In some cases, it can not only result in serious damage to the pancreas, but it can also harm other vital organs. It can be an extremely serious, life-threatening condition.

The blood test they’d done the previous day had checked the amylase score. A score of between 10 and 90 is normal. My amylase score was over 3,600 – not even nearly normal.

That score, along with my symptoms, indicated that I had pancreatitis.

My pancreas had to be rested, hence the reason I was on an IV drip and wasn’t allowed to eat. Even though I feeling better, I was told that I could suddenly become seriously ill, which was why I needed to be monitored carefully.

Pain is normal for me

I am used to living with pain. I am used to feeling unwell at times. Because of that, I thought I was just having a bad day. But I had a potentially serious illness.

Goodbye Gallbladder

I had keyhole surgery a couple of days later to remove my gallbladder. The surgeon said that it had been large and badly scarred and he was sure I must have been living with pain from it for a long time. But if I had been, I had never been aware of it. And that was because I was used to having pain in that area.

It Wasn’t Quite Over

The day after my operation, I was sent home. Two weeks later, I was still in a lot of pain, but that was to be expected surely? Perfectly normal? My GP didn’t think it was and had me readmitted to hospital.

An ultrasound showed that my organs were looking fine. The pancreas was healthy, thank goodness. But an x-ray showed a broken rib. I have no idea how I had a broken rib, but I have osteoporosis, so fractures can happen fairly easily.

A few weeks later, I recovered and was back to dealing with my normal pain. However, the whole experience did leave me with the realisation that ‘normal’ pain or illness could actually be something more than that. It could be a worrying problem when people are used to living with pain or illness.

How do you know when to see a doctor if you are used to pain or illness?

  • Learn about your condition so you know what to expect. If you have symptoms which aren’t normal for that condition, see your doctor.
  • Learn about your own typical symptoms. (Using a pain diary helps with this). If something is different from your normal, speak a doctor. Give as good an explanation as possible. Tell the doctor everything, including the small details. Sometimes those small details are important.
  • If you feel that something just isn’t right, trust your gut instinct, and see the doctor.
  • If your best friend were to experience your symptoms, what would your advice be? If your answer is “see a doctor”, take your own advice.
  • Don’t ignore new or worrying symptoms. Tell your doctor.

Do you worry that your doctor will think you’re wasting their time? Don’t. My doctor reassured me about that. She said that when you are used to living with pain, you need to be extra vigilant.

I don’t want people to panic about their health when reading my story. I just want people to be aware that when you are used to pain or illness, it’s easy not to notice when something else is wrong. It’s always better to be safe and get checked out.

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59 thoughts on “The Problem With Being Used to Pain or Illness

  1. I like the tips you give in this post, especially what would you say to someone else. And following your gut is a good one – we sometimes over think things after our initial thoughts but the gut usually knows best. Brilliant post – thank you for sharing x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jason Bowyer

      Similar circumstances to my own story. My gall bladder was paper thin and full of stones, but only suffered mild indigestion as I was on omeprazole for 15 years to counteract the NSAIDs I was taking. Also found non alcoholic fatty liver disease from the meds and I also suffer rheumatoid and osteo arthritis, collapsed valves in my both legs, asthma, migraines, IBS and degenerative spinal disease. I had none of these except asthma 18 years ago, and a car accident triggered it all off like a house of cards. Hoping you’re feeling good, and keeping positive.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, Jason, sounds like you’ve had a horrible time. Sorry about the car accident. That’s bad enough, but to think it triggered everything else – so sad.
        Need to try to stay positive, don’t we?

        Like

      1. Still sounds scary t hough, and never nice to have a body part removed. Dengue fever can be deadly but in terms of pain, a bad flare can be worse unfortunately 😦 I had more concerns about the pain from dengue though haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great topic to discuss. I’m sorry you had to go through acute pancreatitis. It’s a very difficult decision to make if you go to the hospital or not when you’re chronically ill. You don’t want to rush there when it’s a flare but you keep questioning if it could be something else. You gave some great advice. Loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel so sorry what happened with you. 😣 On a personal note… I am getting used to this problem of non stop sneezing in the morning to the point my eyes starts watering…. dont know if I am having sinus problems or what it is. But now I have got so used to it that it has become normal for me. Thanks for this post! You are somehow pushing me to see a doctor soon. And take care of yourself dear. 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You poor thing- what an ordeal! But you are correct! I am so used to suffering and being so ill that I put up with so much before getting checked out and finding out something new is wrong. It has been dangerous for me too-internal bleeding! Dr’s not believing patients certainly doesn’t help!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m glad your husband made you go to the doctor–that’s a scary situation. I can see how you would attribute the symptoms to your pre-existing conditions. A pain diary would be so useful in this situation, allowing you (and your doctor) to see what’s going on.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. sjd68

    It’s important to know your body and trust your gut when you feel something is not right. I can understand how that could be difficult when you are already a pain sufferer trying to determine if it’s your existing pain or a new one. Gallstones are tricky as well. They present as some many other possible issues. Great tips

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Gallstones & long term damage by the time you had your gallbladder removed, and a broken rib… yikes! A very astute point to raise about the danger of getting used to pain and either not noticing something out of the ordinary, or assuming it’s all part and parcel of other things you have going on. Really good pointers on this as it does pay to listen to our bodies, really get to know our symptoms and to trust our instincts.
    Caz xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ll be the first one to admit that I go out of my way not to go to a doctor or hospital, unless I’m basically dying. I know a ton of people who are much the same way, and that isn’t good. I really should be going more often, but I’ve had a bunch of bad experiences, so I prefer to just ignore it. In your case, I can see how easy it would be to ignore. I also wonder how much better care you receive in your country. In the US, we’re basically numbers, get in and get out kind of thing. I’m sure that has a lot to do with why people don’t go to doctors. I’m so glad you receive better care than that, and are not treated like you’re crazy or it is just chronic pain. Thank you for opening my eyes to the need to pay attention to even “normal” pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I run into this all the time. Sometimes I just randomly mention a symptom and my husband looks at me like I’m crazy and makes me book a doctors appointment because its not nearly as normal as I have tricked myself into thinking it is. Oops?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s a good thing your husband convinced you to see your GP. You must have been in an incredible amount of pain to not fully notice these other complications. Your tips are spot on, you really have to trust your instincts be be aware of how you usually feel when in pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lyosha Varezhkina

    I am so sorry you had to go thought this. Getting used to pain is scary and it leads to being insensitive to yourself. There are also pains which could overlap (same position and character of pain) so we need to make extra check ups to see it it’s fine

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ann McMeechan

      Hi Sam went to doctor 2 weeks ago after having back and abdo pain for a month thinking I had kidney infection and trying to treat it with increased water and regular pain meds. She thought I had Galstones as well as kidney infection but I had gall bladder removed year ago so measuring urgent liver and kidney scans. Hope you are feeling better. We do need to pay attention to our bodies.poP

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Sue C.

    When you are in pain do see a doctor and don’t let them tell you it is nothing! I was having trouble swallowing food and had to drink glasses of water to push it through. They did all kinds of swallowing and stomach tests and didn’t come up with anything. What they should have done is a CT scan, My gastro doctor said to me don’t worry you don’t have cancer- just take some vitamin D you will be fine. Well it kept getting worse so finally they decided to do the scan and by then it was very advanced stage 4 cancer! Needless to say three days later I started very strong chemo and survived with horrible side effects. I now deal with neuropathy-fibromyalgia- and chronic pain etc! Listen to your body when it hurts and don’t let anyone tell you you don’t know what you are talking about- it could cost you your life!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Sue, I am so sorry about your experience. That should never have been ignored, should it? I’m glad that the treatment dealt with the cancer, but I am sorry you live with neuropathy, fibro and chronic pain.

      Like

  12. What drives me crazy is when I go to a doctor, explain symptoms I’m having, and they shrug it off and send me on my merry way. I don’t feel like I’m a hypochondriac. I don’t go to the doctor every two weeks with a new complaint. This happened to me when I was having issues with extremely heavy menstruation. I went from doctor to doctor until finally one took me seriously. I ended up having a hysterectomy. I have had symptoms of IBS for years and years, which includes abdominal pain. Not one doctor suggested I have IBS. So sometimes I just give up after a while, and stop bringing up the issue, or I try to figure out the issue on my own. But what if it is something more serious… like gallstones, or Crohn’s disease?

    I’m changing doctors yet one more time.

    Liz, you are completely right about becoming immune to pain. I think I have a high threshold for pain anyway. So sometimes it is easy to shove that pain to the background.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is terrible when doctors don’t listen and shrug our problems off. It’s not them who are living with it.
      It really is easy to push it into the background and ignore things.

      Like

  13. Pingback: Doctors – the Good, the Bad and the Ridiculous – Despite Pain

  14. Perfect timing for this excellent reminder, Liz. I will be including excerpts from this essay (with links and attribution, of course!) in a HEART SISTERS blog post to share your wisdom with my readers, too.

    Thank you for this…

    Liked by 1 person

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