Chronic Pain: Inside the lives of 2 people who suffer

We go inside the lives of two people who have suffered for years from chronic pain.

'People thought I was making up the pain,' says Calgarian who suffers from chronic pain

Henry Kostyniuk shares how chronic pain affects his daily life. 1:33

'The pain was so bad, I can't handle it. I screaming and crying, please take me to the hospital.- Ravinder Khunkhun

It's called a "degloving" and it's as horrible as it sounds.

The skin and muscles are pulled off, in this case, the right hand of Ravinder Khunkhun at her job in a linen factory.

The initial pain was excruciating but it was nothing compared to the years of chronic pain Khunkhun would eventually suffer.

She took a few weeks off to recover, returned to work and it was only a year and a half later, after she'd had a baby and was back to her work at the linen factory that the pain returned.

It made no sense — she had recovered, she thought. But the two smallest fingers on her injured hand started to curl in, eventually lodging themselves so tightly against her palm, they left a dent.

"The pain was so bad, I can't handle it. Please take me to the hospital," she recounts from the sofa in her N.E. Calgary home.

$27K on prescription drugs

She saw eight specialists over three years and was prescribed enough pain medications and anti-depressants to make the days blur into one. Her husband, Bali Khunkhun, says they spent $27,000 on prescription drugs over one year, and took the Worker's Compensation Board to court to get the coverage he feels they deserve. 
Ravinder Khunkhun and her son Gugan with a sample of the pain medications she took at the height of her pain. (Bali Khunkhun)

Khunkhun was eventually referred to Medicine Hat pain specialist Dr. Gay Wardell. He diagnosed her with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a form of chronic pain and started her on what are called regional nerve blocks.

Dr. Wardell injects anesthetic into the nerves he believes were damaged in her accident, easing though not eliminating the pain.

Today she has dyed and straightened her hair by herself, an unthinkable task at the height of her pain. And even though she accepts she will never be able to work again, "I'm so happy now. Before I am so sad." 

Khunkhun's pain may never disappear — she rates it a two out of 10 today, down from the nine it once was but most people with chronic pain will tell you that level of pain is entirely manageable.

She continues to make the trek to Medicine Hat for the regular nerve blocks because the anesthetic wears off after a few weeks.

The cause

The stories of people suffering from chronic pain are varied but there a few threads that run through them all.

The pain may originate with an accident or another disease, like diabetes — or its origins may harder to pinpoint, as with fibromyalgia.

The common thread is the frustration with doctors who often doubt their pain and don't know what to do about it.

The medications are not that effective.  

"We do not have any effective drugs to treat chronic pain," Dr. Wardell said.

And the financial burden of chronic pain is heavy — about half of those suffering are unemployed and many end up in poverty.

Depression, grief and losses

You can do things differently and do different things. You can live with chronic pain.-Henry Kostynuik

Henry Kostynuik knows he's lucky to have a workplace disability plan to help him through his 15 years with chronic pain.

In 2000, he was injured after falling while hiking and has struggled with pain in his arm, neck and back.

"People thought I was making up the pain," he said.

He has not been able to return to his work in IT with an oil and gas company since his injury.

"What you used to be able to do you may not be able to do again. You deal a lot with depression, grief, because of the many losses in your life. Your career is gone. For me, I missed a good six to eight years of my kids' lives growing up. I don't remember a whole lot."

Kostynuik did eventually get into Calgary's Chronic Pain Centre and says the "first thing they did was get my pain under control. They weren't afraid to give me the right meds."

He also credits the self-management techniques he learned at the clinic, like pacing, breathing and setting reasonable goals to getting his life back.

"You can do things differently and do different things. You can live with chronic pain."


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