If you ask a doctor how to care for a chronic condition, or read their guidelines, or even go in hospital for a month on an intensive-pain management course (just to be specific) the themes running through them all, their little buzzword, is self-care.
I was reading the papers that have been created in the wake of the imminent closure of the PCTs by the doctors commissioning consortia whose priorities for the future are self-care, with aims to give patients the confidence to manage their conditions themselves.
To be fair, this may help with some conditions where perhaps a specific therapy or medication keeps symptoms at bay, but it gets a little more complicated when it comes to complex conditions where pain and fatigue are two pervading symptoms, amongst many others, because there is no single treatment. There isn’t even ten treatments they can say hand on heart would help everyone with chronic pain.
To be frank, it infuriates me to hear phrases such as ‘take control of your own treatment’ or ‘You have the power in your hands’ etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.
What they don’t tell you is that you have to. Self-care, that is. Because it will make up 99.9% of your overall treatment plan. Oh, it may be occasionally the NHS will think of something – physiotherapy injections, uhh… more physiotherapy, that is if you kick up enough fuss. Otherwise, it’s DIY all the way.
At the age of 15 I visited a Rheumatologist. He said I’d ‘grow out of it’. In the following years I was sent a couple of times for Physiotherapy, but it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference. The NHS then gave up, and in desperation I saw chiropractors, osteopaths, acupuncturists and electro-acupuncturists. I tried the many sheets of exercises and stretches, swimming and pilates and a GP referral to the gym (that I paid for) which put me in bed for two weeks. I then started the ‘alternative’ stuff like the Alexander Technique to improve posture, the Bowen Technique which seemed weird and pointless. I saw Kinesiologists and had relaxation sessions. The only tiny bit of relief came from the many thousands of massage treatments I once again paid for.
I’ve researched madly, kept up to date with papers on pain, studies on medication, and constantly visit the doctor with a new research paper in hand.
I even diagnosed myself – after years of consultants shrugging their shoulders at me, I kept searching and searching until I finally realised what was wrong with me, and then fought to see consultants in London who finally knew what they were talking about.
I now can only exist and function from a mixture of massage and adjustments, which takes the edge off – maybe 5-10% at best. But it’s an important percentage.
In the ten years I’ve been madly trying anything and everything, the NHS gave me one set of facet joint injections in 2008. Some muscle injections in 2011. And six sessions of Hydrotherapy – but I had to fight for them all.
The thing I find infuriating is that no one tells you exactly what IS available. I had severe back problems for ten years before someone said to me there was a spine clinic in my town for people with long-term back issues. Do you really have to hit the ten year mark before they go crap, that is long term for a twenty-four year old?
When you get a diagnosis no one gives you a handbook and says here is what the Pain Clinic offer (if they deem you lucky enough to offer you anything at all) or let you know you can see Osteopaths and Chiropractors on the NHS. Or any other of the treatments they may have available. You have to wait until you stumble upon it yourself.
All they do is hand out painkillers (again, if you are lucky) and tell you self-care is the way it should be.
Sometimes I want to say you know what? I’ve self-cared. NHS – it’s your goddamn turn. I’m just too tired.