By Gord Bowes, News staff
After suffering debilitating injuries in a car crash, Kristina Alfini awaited a “miracle cure” to stop the pain she was feeling.
It didn’t happen.
For three years she tried to cope with intense pain. Then she heard of the Michael G. DeGroote Pain Clinic at Hamilton Health Sciences' Chedoke hospital.
“All you hear is people telling you, ‘You’re going to have it forever, you’re gonna have to live with it.’ Everyone is telling you this and you’re like, ‘Why? Why do I have to live with it?’ ” says Alfini, 25.
“And then you come to a place like this and they help you cope. They give you different coping strategies and they teach you how to pace your day to the point where you are still living with (pain), but your life is more interactive with other people … so you can get something done every day. Before, you weren’t getting anything accomplished.”
The program offered by the chronic pain management unit at Chedoke offers interdisciplinary treatment of individuals in chronic pain.
Each patient’s history is reviewed so that staff understand the needs of each individual who enters into the program.
“We believe that chronic pain is a condition that affects body, mind and spirit as well as the families of the sufferers,” says Dr. Ramesh Zacharias. “Our goal for the four-week program is to help individuals in pain function better and have more successful lives and we know that when this occurs, pain levels come down over time.”
Alfini offered to speak about her pain to help promote the clinic’s upcoming fundraiser, which pays for equipment and other services not currently funded by the Ministry of Health.
The second annual Party for Pain fundraiser is being held Nov. 5, during National Pain Awareness Week, at Michelangelo Banquet and Convention Centre, 1555 Upper Ottawa St. Tickets are $150 ($1,000 for table of 10). See partyforpain.ca for more information.
Alfini was a second-year nursing student when she was injured in 2010. With head, shoulder and neck injuries, she could no longer lift patients so she was forced to abandon that career path.
Between medicine and therapy, she says, her health improve somewhat in the first three years, but her recovery plateaued well below how she felt before the crash.
“When I was awake, I couldn’t get comfortable,” she says. “It would take me hours to fall asleep.”
The pain management program at Chedoke is one of the few of its kind in Ontario. Alfini, a Windsor resident, stayed in a hotel while taking part in the program.
“It’s hard to find any kind of pain program let alone one this good,” she says.
The program teaches coping methods and other ways to deal with a pain that will never go away, Alfini says, and helps patients with each step.
Prior to the clinic, she says, her doctor might give her things to try on her own, then ask her how it went at her next appointment.
It’s different at the clinic, she says.
“They’re not saying, ‘Go do this and I’ll watch,’ they’re saying ‘You and me together, we can make lunch together.’ And at the end of the day, you did it, where before you wouldn’t have even tried it.”
Before going through the program, Alfini says, she couldn’t do something as simple as going bowling with friends, as she couldn’t lift the ball or stand long enough.
Now she knows ways she can bowl using an assistive device and help of a friend.
“Maybe you’re not your own person on the lane, maybe you share with someone,” says Alfini.
“It’s not bowling like you did before, but you’re still out with your friends. Your pain is the same, because it’s chronic, that’s not going to change. But you can prevent the spikes.”
The program also teaches participants how to deal with grief and anger, says Alfini.
Everyone has a role in life, she says, but sometimes you are forced to take on a different role, and the program helps you adjust.
“It’s realizing that this role makes you just as much of a person as the role you had before, then it’s explaining to your family and friends that you’re just as important in this role as you were in your old role, and they help you realize that in yourself and explain that to everyone else as well.”