Putting Off Pain Treatment Means Delaying Your Life
Many people have chosen to postpone important medical care due to fears of contaminated hospitals and clinics, but there’s a better option than living in pain.
“I shouldn’t have waited,” he said, shrugging, then wincing in pain, “But, with everything going on, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Yeah, it really hurts, but it’s not life or death, so it can wait…’” He looked down, shook his head, sighed. “I wish I hadn’t waited so long…”
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had similar conversations, especially since COVID-19. So many people are choosing to put off what could be life-changing pain relief, because they don’t want to risk contracting the virus. They may have even had an appointment at a hospital or a doctor’s office, but then they started hearing COVID-19 horror stories of cross-contamination, bacterial infection, and a host of other serious risks associated with undergoing treatment in facilities where people are being seen for symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus.
These patients are canceling surgery, physical therapy, even consultations with qualified physicians who can definitely help them, because of their fear that they will go into the hospital for pain treatment and come home with a debilitating or potentially fatal viral or bacterial infection. Pain is stealing the joy from their lives, but they’re worried about other risks, rationalizing choosing a life controlled by pain with, “Well, it’s not life or death…”
What About the Risk?
It’s not just people living with pain who are putting off seeking treatment. Even people with signs of potentially life-threatening diseases such as chest pain, numbness, severe headache, and sudden vision changes, have said they are “trying to ignore” these symptoms of very serious illness, avoiding hospital emergency departments, because they believe the risk of contracting COVID-19 outweighs the risks of living with their symptoms.
With an unprecedented-in-our-lifetime global pandemic, this kind of thinking is becoming common and widespread. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that total emergency room visits in April fell 42% as compared to the same time frame in 2019. And a recent Harris poll conducted on behalf of the American Heart Association concluded that about 1 in 4 adults knowingly experiencing a heart attack or a stroke would rather stay home than risk being infected because of a trip to the hospital.
And, it’s not just immediate medical needs that people are putting off. A growing number of people are choosing to delay routine medical screenings, which according to some predictions, could lead to delayed diagnoses representing tens of thousands of cancer cases that may have been caught – and treated – earlier.
Deferring chronic disease management, even out of a legitimate fear of contracting COVID-19, could have serious health consequences. When you think about the impact these choices could have on our families, our communities, and our country, it’s staggering. Elevated levels of stress and decreasing quality of life, not to mention the higher risks of mortality associated with delaying medical care for serious illness.
We know our colleagues who work in hospitals are doing the very best they can, and we would love to tell you that any concerns you may have about seeking pain treatment in or through a hospital are misplaced, but we can’t do that. The concerns people have of complications from a hospital stay are based on very real risks. And these risks are only magnified now that hospital systems have dedicated so many of their excellent, but limited, resources to treating patients for COVID-19. Local hospitals have become community epicenters for fighting this terrible pandemic, and, while they are doing an incredible job – saving lives every day – this is not the place you want to be if you can avoid it.
We want to be very, very clear… We are not telling people to stay home if they need to go to the hospital. If you need medical care, and a hospital will provide the best care, you should go. And, if you are one of those people who has been putting off finding medical relief from your frequent or chronic pain, because of legitimate fears of the risks associated with hospital care, please understand that you have other, better, options.
If you can receive care that is comparable or even better than what you would receive from a hospital, and you can do so without increasing your risk of contracting a contagious disease, you owe it to yourself to consider those options. Because living with pain when you don’t have to is not really living.
“Not Dying” is Not Really Living
Many times, when we see patients who have delayed treatment, trying to manage their lives around the pain, they tell us the reason they finally came to see us is not because of the pain, but because they realized the cost of what they were missing. They talk about days, weeks, sometimes even years, invested in “just getting by,” trying to make it through the day without allowing their pain to cause them to say or do something they would regret. They tell us about missed opportunities to make memories, about being grumpy and frustrated, snapping and grousing at the people they love. Not because they want to, but because they hurt so bad, and they’re angry about everything the pain is stealing from their lives.
Hurt and frustrated, they lash out, and that just piles on guilt. Their mood worsens, sometimes leading to depression that lingers even in the moments when the pain isn’t so bad. And that emotional toll is only the beginning of how pain can steal your quality of life. Living with chronic pain reduces physical activity, leading to all sorts of long-term health problems: obesity, heart disease, as well as muscle weakness and joint stiffness, both of which can exacerbate many conditions that cause chronic pain. Let me say that again: Chronic pain often leads to a more sedentary lifestyle. That sedentary lifestyle often causes more and worse pain. Can you see how this cycle could quickly take over your life?
If you’re experiencing chronic pain, chances are, you not only understand how this can happen, you’re living with it, worrying about it every day. Sure, the pain probably won’t kill you, but you know you’re not really living. And “not dying” isn’t what anyone really wants out of life.
So, while we know that the risks associated with hospital healthcare, especially in the time of a global pandemic, can be very real, the question for patients living with pain should not be “How much longer can I hold out?” The better question is, “Do I have another option?” I’m very happy to answer that question with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
Every day, we are helping patients find relief from frequent, chronic, debilitating pain. They are able to live again, enjoying a safe, healthier, happier lifestyle, free from pain and full of activities they love. We’re doing this without putting our patients at any increased risk of contracting COVID-19 or any other serious contagious disease.
How We Relieving Pain While Reducing Risk
These days, one of the first questions many of our new patients ask us is, “How are you making it safe to come to your office?” That’s a fair question. In fact, we love hearing that question, because it shows that the patient is taking a proactive approach to their healthcare and protecting their quality of life.
To answer that question, first, it’s important to reiterate that we are not seeing patients for novel coronavirus or any other contagious disease. However, we take the risks associated with COVID-19 very seriously. Here are a few of the steps we have added to our already-strict patient protection protocols to help reduce the risk for all of us:
Everyone in our office must wear a mask