When I was a second-year medical student, my house burnt down. It was a tragic, life-changing experience that eventually led me to the field of pain management.
On the winter morning of the event, I awoke to find I had missed dozens of calls. You know that feeling when your stomach hits the floor and you know something isn’t right?
“There was a fire. Your sister and roommate had to jump out of the second-story window. They’re at the hospital now. Your sister needs surgery.”
I had stayed at a friend’s that night and immediately rushed to the hospital to greet my smoke-covered sister before she underwent emergency surgery. She had suffered a lumbar vertebral burst fracture and a severe crushed foot injury from landing on a pile of cinder blocks. Thankfully, her spinal cord was unharmed, but the doctors didn’t know if she’d regain normal functioning of her foot.
Over the next few years, I watched as my sister underwent 9 subsequent surgeries and recuperated from each one. Every surgeon sold the hope of improvement in her function and pain, yet none delivered. Some surgeries worsened her pain and needed to be reversed.
After the 9th operation, my sister still had ongoing daily pain and was still told by surgeons that there might be another surgery that could help her. But she decided she was done. She had been through numerous steroid injections, stem cell treatments, physical therapy, electrostimulation, and a variety of medications. None of which were very helpful.
At the time, I was completing my medical student rotations- going through the varying medical specialties to find the one that I would dedicate my career to mastering. It was a natural fit when I discovered the field of anesthesiology and pain medicine. I could help patients like my sister manage their pain during surgery, throughout the recovery process, and beyond.
After 9 years of medical training, I was privileged to be hired as an Assistant Professor at the #1 cancer hospital in the world, MD Anderson Cancer Center. There, I was lucky enough to work with and learn from experts in multiple disciplines, all of whom I would consult with for the care of my patients (i.e. pain psychology, physical medicine & rehabilitation, emergency medicine, neurology, palliative care, integrative medicine, radiology, neurosurgery, and physical & occupational therapy).
However, even at one of the top hospitals in the world, with innumerable resources at my fingertips, I still felt that my team and I were not incentivized to care for patients in the most effective way. We were not immune to the pressures of our problematic healthcare system in which physicians are incentivized to do highly-reimbursable procedures and disincentivized from giving patients much of what they also need to heal: time, guidance, empowerment, peer support, and pain education. Prescriptions and procedures outnumbered interdisciplinary care, health literacy, and group coaching.
I was fortunate to join the Override team whose mission is to raise the standard of care for chronic pain patients. Interdisciplinary care is a proven and more effective model for chronic pain management and needs to be better adopted by the pain medicine community. Numerous studies have shown that a team-based approach not only improves patient outcomes, but also saves health system dollars by decreasing the use of expensive diagnostic imaging, the number of unnecessary procedures, and hospitalizations.1-5
By streamlining the clinical process and making it available virtually, Override is able to exponentially increase access to much-needed pain management care. The majority of people with chronic pain don’t need another stimulator or minimally invasive spine surgery to regain their quality of life. They need the commitment of a dedicated team, empowering them to take control of their own health. This mission is why I joined Override and I am thankful for the opportunity to play a role in changing the way chronic pain is treated in this country.
What has worked for my sister since her accident 13 years ago is staying active and living a healthy lifestyle. She eats nutritiously and exercises daily. She is at her best when she goes on 3+ mile hikes in the woods with her loyal golden retriever, soaking in nature. She still has pain every day, but it doesn’t stop her from living an enriched life full of adventures and exploration.
My sister is one of the many examples of how pills and procedures are rarely the answer. We can do better for people with chronic pain.
Sign up to be notified of new blog posts