Like anyone who's been in the health care system for 20+ years, Powell River RN Sue Scholtz has seen people in pain before. Enough times to think she understood their plight.
But it wasn't until she started working as a Powell River Chronic Pain Team member in June that she truly began to understand the profound effect that chronic pain can have on the lives of people suffering from it.
“Personality changes, inability to focus or do their job, a lack of patience with kids and family: these are all things I've heard first-hand from people in our program," she says. “It's not just the crushing effects of the pain itself that causes so many problems, it's the ripple effect across a person's life that makes chronic pain so devastating."
As part of a 12-week pilot project involving 17 Powell River residents, Sue works closely with a Chronic Pain Team that includes a local pharmacist, pain GP, psychiatrist and opioid specialist. The team's goal: help people in the program better cope with chronic pain and increase their functionality, reducing the impacts and medication they need as much as possible.
On top of the team, the Powell River Division of Family Practice has played a huge role in getting the program set up Sue explains. “From helping source funding and providing education to local GPs to helping develop the screening criteria and tracking down credible online resources for patients, our local physicians have been really helpful," she says.
After doing a lengthy intake assessment with each patient, Sue's focus turns to self-management and assisting in preparing a care plan, capitalizing on the motivation and unique perspective that each person in the program brings to helping themselves.
“For some of our patients, just having someone take the time to listen to the problems they face on a daily basis, sometimes for years now, is a very emotional beginning down their path to treatment and healing," she explains.
She acknowledges that connecting with people and hearing their stories has been one of the most fulfilling parts of her new role and that, as a health system, we've got a long way to go before we understand the true effects of chronic pain on people.
“We're just scratching the surface," she says, describing the effect that skills such as mindfulness meditation and box breathing can have. “But being a resource for these folks who often aren't able to get enough help in the regular system is an amazing opportunity," she adds.
When the pilot wraps up later this summer, the program's effectiveness will be assessed by an outside agency.