“Left untreated for too long, pain can cease to be a symptom and become the disease itself…”
I play beer-league hockey once in a while with my grown-up sons and their buddies. (They’re way younger and way better than I am). When they were kids, I was their hockey coach. Basketball, too.
Coaching is one of the great joys of parenthood. Beyond the practices and the games, there are the team outings for doughnuts and pizza, the tournaments out of town, the planning with your fellow coaches, and more. When you’re coaching, not much else seems to matter.
So, when a patient came to me with terrible neck pain from whiplash and all he wanted to do was get back on the ice to coach his eight-year-old, I got it. I understood how important it was for my colleagues and me to get his pain under control. Fortunately, we were able to help.
I have a 75-year-old patient—a loving wife who wants nothing more than to take care of her ailing husband at home. He has Alzheimer’s disease and some physical limitations. My patient has pretty severe back pain, and she needs to be able to stand long enough to prepare a meal for her husband and feel strong enough to help him through his day. Again, we were able to help.
There are thousands of Manitobans every year who require pain management to live their best lives. This could be while they wait for surgery, just after surgery as they recover, and even months after surgery when they might feel some residual pain.
There’s a problem, though.
As the provincial surgical waitlist has grown, due in large part to the global pandemic, the Manitoba Pain Care Program hasn’t been able to keep pace. Research tells us that patients have the best outcomes when their pain is treated within six months. In Manitoba, it can take well beyond six months for a patient to get the assessments and care they need. We must fix this, and there is a solution just around the corner through the HSC Foundation’s Operation Excellence campaign.
What is involved in pain management? To me, it’s one of the most fascinating areas of health care. We use a combination of approaches to help patients minimize pain and maximize function. For thousands of patients for whom surgery is not an option, a pain management program can preserve quality of life indefinitely. Pain management can include scheduled injections of steroids and other medications; physiotherapy and occupational therapy; psychology, and other therapies. I’m especially excited about some of the new technology that is available to us such as virtual reality to help patients address the phantom pain they might feel after an amputation. In essence, the technology allows us to do physiotherapy on an arm that is no longer there.
The challenge is getting the people into the system quickly enough to get the care they need. Left untreated for too long, pain can cease to be a symptom and can become the disease itself leaving permanent nerve damage and other effects in its wake. Untreated pain can also sometimes compel us to prescribe opioids to help a patient cope with pain while they wait for more appropriate and enduring treatment. Opioids aren’t as effective as we’d like them to be, they come with some serious side effects (hormonal changes and bowel problems), and they can be highly addictive. I don’t like prescribing them.
At HSC, we see up to 3,000 new patients a year and provide care to another 3,000 or so who are already in the system. HSC is the provincial hub for the Pain Care Program with services also offered in Brandon, Selkirk, Thompson, and at the Pan Am Clinic in Winnipeg. The success of the program at HSC has province-wide implications.
With your support of the HSC Foundation’s Operation Excellence campaign, the Pain Clinic at HSC will double in size and we project that we will be able to double our caseload to about 12,000 a year. Once up and running, I project that we will be able to achieve that six-month benchmark that I mentioned earlier in less than two years.
Chronic pain can prevent you from taking part in the activities you love, it can keep you home from work, it can prevent you from caring for your children or parents, and it can affect your mental health.
Through Operation Excellence, we can prevent the worst effects of chronic pain and aspire to become a pain-free Manitoba. Please donate today.
Thank you for your consideration,
Dr. Ryan Amadeo
Manitoba Pain Care Program
Health Sciences Centre
P.S. The HSC Foundation has a loyal community of monthly donors. Thank you! Join this special group of donors or increase your monthly gift today, and make an even bigger impact all year long on the lives of thousands of patients who rely on HSC every day. To make your gift, please click here.