October 30, 2020

Cerebral Palsy and Chronic Pain

Due to a birth injury I have (very mild) spastic cerebral palsy. As a child this didn’t affect me much. I had weekly physiotherapy at the children’s hospital and a surgery when I was 12 to alleviate symptoms. I have had a lifetime of dealing with chronic pain.

It wasn’t until my third pregnancy in 2006 though that I experienced completely debilitating pain; migraine left me unable to care for my two eldest children. My husband worked 70 hours a week and with very little familial support, I was given two options; place our older children into temporary foster care or rely on volunteers and government funded childcare. The pain management strategy for this condition saw me develop a dependence on opioids and expose my baby to ‘Infant Abstinence Syndrome’ - would he be born a drug addict? 

After birthing a healthy baby, my migraine resolved. I worked closely with my GP to step down and cease all opioid use. This was an incredibly difficult process and I relied on cannabis and a combination of prescription medications to manage withdrawal symptoms. 

Eighteen months later, I developed a gynaecological condition known as Adenomyosis. Some experts claim adenomyosis pain is comparable to being stabbed. I was 28 years old, had three young children and after many months of testing, was told a hysterectomy would resolve my condition. Yet again, I was on heavy doses of opioids as my pain management regime. On occasion, these doses weren’t enough to be effective. During those times I was admitted to hospital as an inpatient and used an IV PCA to administer morphine to get me through. 

While these two times were incredibly crippling and traumatic, I knew they were finite. The end of pregnancy saw my migraine resolve, my hysterectomy brought an end the adenomyosis pain. Each time caused a physical dependence on opioids and a well-managed programme to cease usage safely.

In 2015, while using a pedestrian crossing, I was struck by a car. There were some superficial injuries that healed quickly; one however did not. I now have permanent knee damage and will indefinitely need a walking stick. Along with the stick I also have chronic pain. This time, there is no end in sight. It also exacerbates my pre-existing cerebral palsy.

The injury cost me a promotion, and I was subsequently made redundant from my job after seven years. Entering the job market with a physical disability is daunting. Training in a new role while using diazepam and oxycodone present unique challenges. 

While I have a fantastic and supportive GP, I am now dependant on opioids again. With my GP’s full knowledge, I also use cannabis to help manage symptoms. 

There are weeks with flare ups. Maybe I push through the pain to feel ‘normal’ for a day and walk further, swim longer or spend a day in the kitchen, reminisent of my old life. In the week(s) following I often have to quadruple my prescription medication doses in order to treat the pain.

It’s a dichotomous existence – at the time I relish feeling ‘normal’. The days and weeks that follow leave me incapacitated, still having to manage a full-time job and responsibilities as a single parent. I find the increase in medication dosage leaves me prone to depression and feelings of hopelessness.

I look forward to the day where I qualify for prescription cannabinoid-based medication, as I have far less side effects and find the pain relief more effective than my current pain medications.

This most recent experience with chronic pain is now almost five years running and the knowledge that this time it’s infinite is daunting. The restrictions of current legislation that prevent me accessing a more effective treatment option are frustrating.

That said, I am glad I am functional enough to self-care on a daily basis. I am able to parent my children and earn enough money to live autonomously. I am incredibly lucky to have found a GP who is progressive and supportive of my condition and who regularly checks in on my mental health too. We just need a little more progress towards legislating cannabis for a wider range of health conditions.

Written by: Kate Munn

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