I mentioned in that post that my pain levels had reached unmanageable levels. Slow release Tramadol was the basis of my pain management - with Endone (an immediate release opioid) as required for breakthrough pain. The maximum dose for the Tramadol within a 24 hour period is 400mg. I had reached a point where I was taking 150mg in the mornings, and 200mg for the evening dose, so I was pushing that. And it wasn't cutting it. Particularly as I neared the end of the four week infusion cycle. Plus, I was SO fogged up with all the Tramadol that I wasn't functioning well, cognitively. As well as discussing a possible change of biologic drugs with my rheumatologist, we did talk about pain management, but he doesn't prescribe my pain meds - so it meant an appointment with my GP.
One of the things about the interstate move a year ago was facing the thought of finding a new medical team - and breaking them in. I'm not a passive patient. I'm compliant, once a plan has been nutted out that I'm comfortable with, but I don't just sit and let the doctors work it all out without taking my feelings and contributions into account. I had a brilliant team, between my GP, rheumatologist and physiotherapist, in Sydney.
Thankfully, my Sydney rheumatologist had someone in mind for me, an old colleague and personal friend. He knew I needed another specialist who would work collaboratively with me and, most importantly listen to me and REALLY hear me...because in the past, that's been an issue. It nearly always is a big issue when you don't present medically within obvious and traditionally recognised parameters. I am sero-negative - ie, I don't have, have never had, a positive rheumatoid factor in my blood. Around 20-30% of people with rheumatoid arthritis are seo-negative. SOme of the more traditionally recognised features of RA don't tend to be as overt with sero-neg RA - such as swelling. I DO swell, but I rarely have the big balloon-like swelling that the doctors expect to see, so unless you know my body well, it's unlikely you'll notice the times I am swelling. My Sydney rheumatologist learned what to look for. My new guy here is learning too - very fast. He's taken good time during consults to check me out very thoroughly, and I'd say, apart from the letter that I had with the referral, my Sydney guy had called him and had had a chat at some point before we met.
The GP was the next person to find. My Sydney GP didn't have anyone she could refer me to here, so I had to play a bit of roulette - that's certainly what it felt like. My new GP is proving to have been a very good discovery. So, I headed in last week to discuss the pain management issue. We went over where I was at with pain meds and NSAIDs. He's stressed the importance of keeping the dose of the latter up - so, that's 100mg morning and night of Celebrex, and Losec in the mornings to help protect my stomach, as they can cause gastric ulcers. Next was the analgesia.
Tramadol is an opioid like drug. It's scheduled, so to get a prescription for more than twenty tablets at a time, AND repeats, requires a phone call to the PBS - Prescription Benefits Scheme - to get permission to make the bigger prescription - which saves on doctor's visits, as it's a drug you almost always have to get prescriptions of by actually seeing your doctor, which means another charge for the visit, and so on... Typically, I've been maintaining prescriptions for the 100mg and 50mg tablets, with authority scrips for three boxes at a time with five repeats.
We batted a number of different alternative options around. The one point of agreement was that I was going to have to have an opioid as the base medication. While there has been huge noise in the media about opioid abuse and there are plans here, I believe, to start restricting the prescribing of them, as is already the case in the USA, thankfully, my GP is a chronic illness specialist GP. He understands chronic pain, and the difference between chronic pain that is chronic illness based and that which results from an injury. He has no issue with them being used - appropriately - to manage chronic pain that's the result of a disease like RA. For me, at this point, it was a question of the mode of delivery. Ultimately, after some discussion, I've ended up with a transdermal patch that I replace every three days. Each patch delivers 12mg of Fentanyl per hour over 72 hours. With that, he prescribed 50mg of Tramadol in the mornings and 100mg at night. And Endone for breakthrough if I flare.
It's been a week since that appointment. I am feeling noticeably better. The pain IS more doable. Overall, the 'normal' pain is less. I'm more aware of the degree of stiffness I'm experiencing - that's particularly noticeable in my hands - typing this post is taking me about twice as long as it should due to all the typos I need to correct when fingers land on the wrong keys! If I sit in one position for too long, I have real difficulties getting up again. I'm excruciatingly stiff in the mornings - all this stiffness was being masked by the amount of pain I was in and being lumped in with it... That Tai Chi I'm doing is going to HAVE to become a regular morning thing - once I'm mobile enough in the mornings to warm up and work my way through the Beijing 12. It will, I hope, then set me up for the rest of the day. I'm much less fogged, and have found I have a bit more energy - that was being sapped by the amount of pain I was in previously. My head is clearer for not being fogged up by the large amount of Tramadol I was on.
Time will tell, of course. I'm now starting week four of the infusion cycle, with my next one due on Tuesday next week - this is the week when I can anticipate some deterioration. So it'll be interesting to see how that plays out now. Hopefully, it will be a bit better than it has been. I'm sleeping better too, in between waking due to pressure pain in my hips and shoulders that wake me and require some major re-positioning before I can drop off again.
I'll be back at the GP next week to review this first fortnight with the patches, and get the next prescription if he decides the improvement has been good enough to settle with this as the plan... So, I'll report back then, if not before!
Poppies, in honour of my new analgesia - photo by me.